Jill Balcon (Day-Lewis)

Family name: 
Balcon (Day-Lewis)
Work area/craft/role: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
2 Aug 1997
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

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Jill Balcon Side 1

Roy Fowler  0:00  

The date is August 2 1997. And we're in Streep,

Jill Balcon  0:06  

no, sorry, Steep, Steep,

Roy Fowler  0:08  

Steep, near Petersfield. I'm with ne Jill Balcon and Jill we'll pull ourselves together. And we'll talk about your life and your very interesting family and connections and all those things. So,  starting, I guess at the beginning, you're the daughter of Michael Balcon, who is one of the founding fathers of the British film industry. And I'd like I suppose to start with him, your memories of him going, going  back to your earliest recollections. Is that possible ?

Jill Balcon  0:57  

Yes, it's possible. I really didn't see him all that much. In those days, children lived in a rather remote life from parents. And so mealtimes were had with whatever keeper was looking after me. And I think Sunday lunch with the parents, I was allowed to go and see my father in the morning when he was shaving, which fascinated me to see him sort of covered with  shaving soap and say good morning to him. And off, he went to the studios and I was nearly always in bed by the time he came home. So I can't say it was close in the way that I think families are now because children were so much more circumscribed about. Well, for one thing, there were keepers and he had a staff of servants. And for another thing.

Jill Balcon  1:59  

He didn't play any sort of an active part, let's say in, in my life, apart from providing very generously, which he always did. I can only remember him doing some drawings or something like that once when he happened to be home at tea time. So there was, there was no close association. My first memories of being companionable, if you like, was when I was about eight already, and he would take me for a walk in the country where we were then living and so he didn't play games, and he didn't feature except as the figure around whom the house was run. I think that's very important. I mean, he was central he, the whole house was run round him by my mother

Roy Fowler  2:58  

Two questions, then when was your first awareness of the nature of his business? What he was doing

Jill Balcon  3:06  

Very early on, when I was very, very small indeed, I can't be exact about how small but very small, I was taken to Gainsborough Studios in Islington, where I went onto the film set and saw, I think it was a Pash dance ( ?), I can't remember even what the film was, but I was aware of a film set. And, and also, I think,

Roy Fowler  3:31  

Silent or in the very early days of sound,

Jill Balcon  3:34  

No, it would have been silent. But I can also remember, long after that, when I was growing up, and very aware of films and actors and directors and the world of cinema, that's what my father did ,was the constant stream of visitors to the house. My parents were extremely hospitable. I can remember him at a very, very early age, because we didn't leave this particular flat where I was born, that was  Ashley Gardens in Westminster, just in the Cathedral Close in Westminster before we moved to Tufton Street, near the Abbey and the other faith. There was a German filmmaker used to come to breakfast with my father and I have got a ,I've got a memory of that. And of seeing a cathedral procession from our balcony of number 50 Ashley Gardens, and that was very, very young. But those are those are dim recollections. But when we moved to Tufton Street in 1927, I suppose it was . I can't be more than I was born in 1925. So  I was very small. Then there was there were streams of people that I very much enjoyed to do with the world of cinema, Conrad Veidt, who my father had helped to get out of Germany because his wife was Jewish. Anthony Asquith, who was a great family friend and people of this kind. And so I was very aware of what was going on and where my father went. But he was still a remote figure. Remote in the sense that today, children have far more to do with their fathers and there aren't all these people that separate them.

Roy Fowler  5:28  

Yes. Not necessarily in terms of his busyness, because the film business is one that starts early in the morning and goes on until late at night

Jill Balcon  5:37  

 Yes, yes.

Roy Fowler  5:39  

So what would you say your mother was a more formative influence in your life than he?

Jill Balcon  5:47  

Yes, I suppose you would say that? Yes, certainly. Because some there she was. On the other hand, yes, she was. But all the time I speak about my father, I'm aware that his every wish, and his every need was provided by my very remarkable mother, who was the most wonderful wife for someone who was quite tyrannical. I didn't mean he was I mean, he adored her. I don't think he was a tyrant with her. But his needs were what came first in the house. There was never any question as to who was numero uno

Roy Fowler  6:24  

 That was his choice, as well as her accepting.

Jill Balcon  6:27  

It was exactly, she was willing entirely. I mean, she was not in the least bit. I don't want to imply that she was an unwilling slave, but everything was your father, this your father that the meals, the everything, and because he had very -  I was going to say bad health. Yes, it was bad health. But I suppose thanks to my mother, and very good doctors, he kept going, but under great pressure, because I think they must have had, looking back on it, I realise,and my god mother's still alive. and I were talking about this the other day, they must have had a great many money worries. Yes, it looked on the face of it affluent. But he had to support a lot of other members of his family, who were not at all affluent, and who needed support. And he had no family money, everything he had was what he'd made. My mother had made private money, and they kept up a lifestyle, which looking back on it ,when I talk to you about having servants and all these people that we had, I mean, it seems incredible now. But somebody making his way, in life, as a comparatively young man should have had all these people. But he did and and also an enormous sense of responsibility for the members of the family that needed support, not just us. 

Roy Fowler  7:55  

Why do you think that he had chosen that lifestyle? Was it because it was required in the business as it was perceived? Or was that a personal project?

Jill Balcon  8:06  

I would think the latter, it's impossible. I do wish I'd asked my father these questions. Isn't it sad that when people die, there's nobody to ask. 

Roy Fowler  8:16  

It's too late. 

Jill Balcon  8:16  

And we had so many conversations, he and I about so many things, and there's so many things like that very question that you ask. And I would love to have said that to him because he was an entirely unpretentious person. So unlike the popular misconception about the, I say the word tycoon in quotes, because that was the last thing he ever was, or mogul, whatever you like to call these. You know, they love to attach that to anybody in films. But he was entirely unpretentious. I think this is, I'm now being the amateur psychologist and imagining from what I know about his past, not all that much, but from what I know, I would suggest that he had had such an impoverished and deprived childhood in many ways. But he wanted everything to be as good as it could be forever afterwards. And he also had and this is not just a Jewish trait, I'm sure but he had that feeling of wanting to protect my mother. And to give her a very bad she was always wonderfully dressed and I think an extravagant person she was wildly generous, but she was extravagant and I think he just wanted to have a smooth and rather luxurious life but it was never pretentious or showy ever.

Roy Fowler  9:36  

They were both first generation were  they not?

Jill Balcon  9:39  

 First generation what ?

Roy Fowler  9:41  

 Were they were , their parents were immigrants ?

Jill Balcon  9:43  

 Yes their parents were.

Roy Fowler  9:46  

 Was that an aspect of it? Were they as it were proving something? 

Jill Balcon  9:50  

 I don't know.

Roy Fowler  9:50  

A process of assimilation. 

Jill Balcon  9:52  

My grandmother was, I think was my great grandmother on my mother's side was the immigrant and my father's parents. Once who came from we suppose that it was from Latvia, but there's nobody to ask. We think Riga was where grandma and grandpa Balcon came from. But again, there have been some doubts about that. I think it was certainly from from the Baltic states, my mother's grandmother, my great grandmother, who I remember extremely well, because she lived to be 96 came from. We would call it Poland, then, but since the atlas has changed with all the boundaries so tremendously since the war. She would have been on the borders of Poland and Russia because she was made to speak Russian in school. And I think when she came as an immigrant, as a young married woman to England and landed I think somewhere like Cardiff, if I'm not wrong,

Roy Fowler  10:47  

Which would have been a port of entry. You mean? 

Jill Balcon  10:49  

Yes, I think so. And she was. She had many, many children. She'd been married before. She'd had her second husband. I never knew my great grandfather, but she had been married twice and had some very, very old children, that I thought of antediluvian when I was a little girl. And then she had another 10 or 12, or whatever it was by her second husband, one of whom was my maternal grandmother. My great grandmama certainly spoke Russian, Polish, French, German, and probably Yiddish. And I think may have got a job as a governess. 

Roy Fowler  11:27  

Through her travels or ? 

Jill Balcon  11:29  

I think you see, I think if you were on the borders of Poland and Russia, and my uncle Gerald, now dead, my mother's only brother showed me once on the map, where she had been born. You had to speak Russian. And I do remember, although she was such a remote figure in a way, and I never dared speak to her as a little girl sitting demurely, in her drawing room in London. I never asked questions in those days, because we were brought up to be silent and all that. I do remember her saying in her house in London once that she'd had to speak Russian in school. So it suggests that this was a necessity.

Roy Fowler  12:10  

And they migrated West for I suppose the usual reason I say, yeah, the oppression of the Jews. Yes. And also betterment. 

Jill Balcon  12:19  

Yes. How I wish I'd asked you see, when when I say I never got to know her. I used to go to visit her, which I found as a little girl tremendous. And we  found it tremendously boring because one just had to sit in a quiet day in a corner. We couldn't sort of climb all over her and ask questions or feel that she was close in any way. And she was very, very old, with a strong Polish Russian accent still. How did we get on to her ? immigration?

Roy Fowler  12:49  

Well, immigration and also really the drives within the family,  not exactly an altercation. But this concern about where these extraordinary incentives come from?

Jill Balcon  13:02  

 Well, I think I think it's to be found a lot in Jewish people who've had been in pogroms and and being poor and I mean, you you it's it's quite usual to read about we're not just Jewish people, but people who are immigrants who have to fight for every everything. I mean, they have nothing to start with. Do they? And refugees have so little and they're rootless. I mean, my father became, a host of people ask me this when I've done interviews for about my my father about why it was that  he was saved, particularly keen on all things British He was terribly grateful to Great Britain for giving him I suppose his chance in life and also very proud to be British and all that went with it. And I think people who've perhaps known what it might have been like,

Roy Fowler  14:02  

It suited him in a very kindly, easy way,

Jill Balcon  14:05  

But also that there but for the grace, I mean, for our, my generation, his generation. Once you know about the Holocaust, and all that, and you realise that by the sheer good luck. He was born in Birmingham, and by sheer good luck, I was born in Westminster. I often think about that now. I mean, it's just the chance that one has been so lucky,

Roy Fowler  14:28  

Without it , all would have been lost. 

Jill Balcon  14:30  

Exactly. But I think that driving the drive, there is a great, there's a great work ethic amongst all kinds of people, not just Jewish people. But they had to succeed against terrible odds to and prejudices of all kinds.

Roy Fowler  14:48  

It's noticeable that in the film industry, both here and I suppose more especially in the United States, yes, in many of the immigrant Jewish families that were the great achievers in motion picture.

Jill Balcon  15:00  

 That's true. 

Roy Fowler  15:02  

And where your father is concerned, there is that group of people, C.M. Wolf, for example, and Victor Saville,  Oscar Deutsch. They all were great builders within this particular area of endeavour. And it's very interesting that the Ostrers  a little later, but they were financiers rather than creative people. The influence of Jewish immigrants on the British film industry is Korda is yet another, you know, it's quite remarkable.

Jill Balcon  15:33  

Well not just the film industry that I know we're talking about that specifically. But I mean, they had such amazing, have, I should say, such amazing gifts. And my uncle Gerald, my mother's brother,  again, lived a very long time and used to tell me a bit about her childhood, which she never had told me. used to say, he was rather inaccurate about things . He used to say "you do realise your forebears were peasants? Jill, were peasants?" And I'd say, "Yes, all right fine, but I just want to know who played the violin, and where the acting comes in". You know, one would like to know, because if you move among people who have their ancestral portraits and history all  documented, and they know exactly what Great Aunt Mabel did, and all the rest of them beforehand. So those of us who can't trace our records, it would be so wonderful to know, who was wicked and who was good and who had what talent and where this or that gene might possibly come from. And unfortunately, we aren't able to

Roy Fowler  16:39  

True enough though there's a lot to be said for, I suspect staying on the move and just needing to survive. 

Jill Balcon  16:46  

Yes, that's true. That's true.

Roy Fowler  16:49  

Did your father ever talk about those Birmingham days? Because the names I mentioned earlier Deutsch?

Jill Balcon  16:56  

Not a lot. No, he didn't. He didn't. He had a very, very, he had a very difficult childhood and youth because he couldn't go into the first war because he couldn't see and was not very strong. And his both his brothers went and both of them miraculously survived. And his particular favourite Shan, who was a darling man, my uncle Shan, was always employed at whichever studios my father worked in. 

Roy Fowler  17:26  

He was the older brother. 

Jill Balcon  17:27  

No The eldest was Phineas, Finn, then Shan and then there were two sisters, and my father, and my father really was the responsible one for all of them in a kind of way. They all had difficulties.

Roy Fowler  17:45  

Was it an extended family ?  You said earlier that he had responsibilities. 

Jill Balcon  17:49  

Well no. No when when we came, when he married and had us, he still had his brothers and sisters to give employment to and then when my aunt's husband left her, that family with two daughters had to be helped and so on. And, and his own parents had to be helped and his own father.  I don't know  what my grandfather did, I didn't know that he ever did any work much. I think my father rather despised him, but he always looked after him. I don't know how they ate, I would like to know all these things. I mean, what did granny do with a family of five and a husband that went off on one of those gold rush things? 

Roy Fowler  18:29  

Gold rush ? 

Jill Balcon  18:32  

Well, I mean,

Roy Fowler  18:32  

To the States you mean? 

Jill Balcon  18:33  

Yes, I think he went speculating. And I don't know how she managed, and even she, I think, had a maid or a cook. And I don't know who provided for this. But I do know that my father never went to the University, which is what he wanted to do, above all things to read history, I think. Well, he would have been very interested in in, I think, perhaps not academe so much. He was passionately interested in politics. And anyhow, the thing was, he didn't go to the university. Why? Because he had to earn the money. That's what happened to him. And I think you mentioned all these other people. I didn't know Deutsch and the other people you mentioned I mean, Victor Savile as a little girl, but they, they grew up if you like, my father always said he was born with films. My father's birth being 1896 and the rest you all know to do with the the film world. I mean, the rest is is knowledge to you all .That at that time film was were just beginning. So he always said what a lucky chance that he was born in 1896.

Roy Fowler  19:42  

But on the other hand, films were not respectable.

Jill Balcon  19:47  

 No. No.

Roy Fowler  19:50  

 1896 and what he came into the business I think around 22. Was it ?Yes. Still very young man, but I guess 22 Yeah I suppose films were acceptable. It was in the teens that certainly actors despised them.

Jill Balcon  20:06  

But I suppose that if there's something that's you know, being pioneered, and you're a young ambitious man you you would be inclined.

Roy Fowler  20:17  

How accurate do you think his autobiography is?

Jill Balcon  20:20  

Oh, I don't know I I really don't know it's not an autobiography in my terms 

Roy Fowler  20:26  

Was it aided  or did he write it ?

Jill Balcon  20:29  

I honestly can't remember Roy.  What I do think he's that he skirts the private parts as much as he can. He says almost nothing about his his private life that's why I'm I'm fascinated to know what Philip Kemp is going to come up with. Philip has come up with a lot of information that we none of us had by doing more his archaeological research on the subject. But for a man who doesn't talk about himself and who let i.,All I remember is that the school he went to was called George Dixon's that he was a very keen footballer, he didn't have good eyesight, so I daresay that if he was very keen on sport, but I guess that that probably hampered him from the sport point of view. He must have been extremely bright. I knew how much he would have liked to go to the university. And was obviously the best possible material for it, but couldn't. What else did I know? I knew that Granny Balcon must have been rather a saint because the old boy my grandfather was, I think, a sinner. And she died.

Roy Fowler  21:39  

 Bit of a layabout?

Jill Balcon  21:41  

 I guess so. And I think that's one of the reasons why my father despised him.

Roy Fowler  21:45  

 And philanderer ?

Jill Balcon  21:46  

I would think, say, but again, I mean, I think my father was his mother's favourite of the boys. And therefore, my, again, my feeling is that if there was any spoiling going, he would have caught some. And probably, that's why he he continued to get that from my mother. Everything that he could possibly have wanted, in the way of attention and love was bestowed on him by my mother. She absolutely adored him. And I've often thought maybe that's because he had been a favourite son and wanted to continue to be the favourite in that sense. But Granny Balcon,  you see I've  very slender recollections of her because they lived in, they continue to live in Birmingham where Mick was born. And I remember going up there, she she suffered dreadfully from asthma. And I think that's what killed her in the end. And I guess that although, to a little girl, she seemed very old, she probably wasn't. And that could be verified. Not by me, because I don't have the facts. But I guess she probably wasn't very old when she died. And that's why I didn't get to know her the way I knew my mother's mother. My mother's mother lived in South Africa, but but and only came rarely but but all these visits I remember very, very well, whereas Granny Balcon was this shadowy, shadowy figure in Edgbaston really. And then Grandpa came down to live  I remember I think my father put him up in some private hotel in Hove was where his base was, I think he did with his daughter, Gert, my father's favourite sister for quite a while and then lived in I remember in a small hotel in Hove and was rather a nuisance.

Roy Fowler  23:47  

Out of sight, out of mind, hopefully.

Jill Balcon  23:49  

I don't think my father really. I know he didn't love him that I mean that small children pick up all these things very, very quickly.

Roy Fowler  23:57  

And it was more than the  generational antipathy,a genuine dislike.

Jill Balcon  24:02  

And I mean, Mick had such an enlarged sense of duty and responsibility. And I think that's what gave him ,he had a breakdown, which I do remember with great clarity, and I think that he had overstressed and overtaxed himself and probably things were going quite well. Then he just couldn't sort of keep up the the pace.

Roy Fowler  24:28  

 This would have been - 

Jill Balcon  24:30  

 1931 When my brother was born. It coincided, which is interesting.I always think.

Roy Fowler  24:35  

That's when he is still independent and it's Gainsborough. 

Jill Balcon  24:40  

I think it's Gaumont British by then.

Roy Fowler  24:41  

 Well 31 I'm not sure I'm not sure. I thought Gaumont British was a little later a  year or two later.You may well be right.

Jill Balcon  24:52  

You're much more likely to be right as  a historian.

Roy Fowler  24:55  

 We'll leave that  to Philip Kemp. 

Jill Balcon  24:57  

But I mean, I remember 1931 Because it was the year my brother was born. And because the two things which were great shock to me at the age of seven, the two things coincided that my father had this appalling breakdown and my brother was born at the same time.

Roy Fowler  25:11  

How the breakdown manifest itself ? 

Jill Balcon  25:13  

He used to be almost carried home from the studios He would have sort of terrible kind of passing out fits in, wherever it was, whichever studio we're talking about and be brought home and there was  a sort of hush about the house when he'd been brought home. And I think it was a period of enormous stress. 

Roy Fowler  25:33  

But he still worked, he worked through it.

Jill Balcon  25:35  

 He did. And then But then when my brother was born, and my brother was born in Tufton Street in 57a Tufton Street. A wonderful nurse came ,a monthly nurse for my mother who had been my mother had heard about on the home grapevine, and she'd been with a lot of people that my mother knew. And she was the sort of saving grace of our lives many, many times in years to come. She became very, very close family friend, remarkable woman. And she was officially the monthly nurse for my mother who just given birth. But in fact, Miss (?) was my mother out of childbirth, and Rexy, as we called her was accompanying them to Torquay of all places where it was thought my father needed to have a rest from what had been. I mean, it was a very awkward moment with a new baby. Women didn't breastfeed in those days. So the new baby was looked after by a really terrible woman who became the nanny in the household. And that's another chapter that's not for this particular recording. She was left with me and the new baby, while Rexy, the monthly nurse went off really to look after my father and take my mother and father to the seaside, to a remote place for my father to have a little rest cure. I suppose Torquay was just a way of getting to some. Well, some respite from the studios, but it was not a good moment to go with a brand new son and heir and a little bewildered girl of seven with a really vicious nanny. And you know, in those days, parents didn't know I mean, if you weren't actually hit, and black and blue and bruised in that way, they'd really didn't know as long as the house ran smoothly. What one's feelings were about the people who were meant to look after one that was a disaster woman, she stayed for many years, and I think, was really very bad. So that's what happened. And I just remember going into my father's dressing room for the morning kiss and all that and seeing this ashen face. I mean, it was just, he looked so ill. It's very frightening for a child to see a parent, ill. Actually,

Roy Fowler  28:09  

Yes. And he would have been a very young man, you would say, This was what, early 30s? So he was mid 30s. himself.

Jill Balcon  28:16  

Well, I think he was 28 when I was born, so you can work it out. He would have been about 35, 36. Younger than my son is now.

Roy Fowler  28:30  

Did you feel it was a happy childhood? No, no, not with all those

Jill Balcon  28:38  

Those trappings don't don't make for I mean, I can't say it was unhappy in the way that people ,I mean, one has to get these things into perspective. I mean, there was always enough to eat and there was always a roof and there was always one was clothed. One was educated. But it wasn't. It wasn't really. I don't look back on it with any happiness no. On the other hand, it's perhaps wrong to say that in the light of what real unhappiness is, but

Roy Fowler  29:13  

That's relative. It's really how it affected you.

Jill Balcon  29:15  

Yes. I mean, I was yes. I mean, I was terribly lonely. Because my father after he got ill the doctors, you know, in those days, they thought if you're in films, you had  endless money, which as I have said to you, he certainly did not have the sort of wintering abroad and doing all the things that people, grand people could do and often did do. And so my father's compromise was to take a country house and have that as well as the London house for the weekends and for so called holidays, and we never had holidays, not because he couldn't afford them, but I mean, we twice we were sent off with this dreadful keeper to various seaside places but there was no family fun. There was  immense hospitality so that people came in droves, and were entertained by my parents. And some of them, incidentally became my friends who I love very much like Conrad and Lily Veidt . And Lily to her dying day was my friend I simply adored and there were lots of lovely people that were their friends who were very, very good to me. When my parents went to America, frequently, they were enormously kind in sort of giving me outings and taking me away from the keeper of my baby brother, who were boring, not the company. In other words, one had a very isolated childhood in these places. And as you and I were discussing earlier today, when they went off to America, on these various liners, I mean, there was the journey each way as well as week upon week there. So one was very often missing, them, missing the feeling of having parents in the house. And one particular house that my father longed to buy Henden Monor in Ide Hill in  Kent had a sort of drive a mile long each side down to this lovely old moated house in a valley. But for a child, I mean, one was completely isolated. Stoney mile long drives, not allowed to take one's bicycle on the road.  My father, part of his neurosis was over protection which I did bare bare him a great resentment for this. Again, I can understand the reasons for it, now, but if you haven't had a protected childhood, you tend to overdo it for your own, but

Roy Fowler  31:46  

Part of it presumably was just being a girl that girls were not -

Jill Balcon  31:50  

Partly but it was also partly a terrible fear that he, I mean, I can give you two examples which are I mean, I can never forget.Is your tape ?

Roy Fowler  32:05  

That's fine. I just keep an eye on it from time to time.

Jill Balcon  32:10  

He was terrified of fire and water and those kind of things so that the house which was moated you know  one thing where he was terrified one would fall into the moat. That was one thing but but there came a moment when they had bad advice when they went by a pony for this little girl was horse mad ,as most little girls are, and I'd learned to ride with someone before in another house they'd taken before him and learned to ride well . And then he bought this pony and was sold a dud and it ran away with me, but I clung on I wasn't injured.I clung on, got it back to the stable and my father took it away.

Jill Balcon  33:01  

Another time. My mother who was very beautiful and had a wonderful figure and man, she dressed at a rather marvellous place, used to be obviously used to be very proud of her because she used to go to all these first nights and occasions with my father looking lovely. And as a sort of thank offering to her for her custom, they made me a dress, which I thought was the most wonderful thing I've ever seen, which was all in tulle and was  a little girls dream dress. Not so little. And I mean about 12 or so. Wonderful, wonderful dress. My father picked up the Sunday paper one day and saw that somebody some bride or somebody in an evening dress, I think it was a bride in this case, had caught fire. He confiscated the dress. He actually took it away. Now these things are,  they scar one in a way, that he was, I resented so much not being allowed to be adventurous, not being allowed to take risks if you like.

Roy Fowler  34:13  

Did he try to explain in term a child would understand?

Jill Balcon  34:17  

You see in those days, this is another thing I was coming to. I mean we are perhaps we're all sort of amateur psychologists now speaking for myself, and I don't think I've been ,I'd love to have been a better parent than I am. But over things like that we really did make efforts. I mean, when the new baby was coming or when ,I mean I know there was one particular occasion in my daughter's life when I was petrified that she was going to have the most terrible accident and with every kind of good reason I may say, it wasn't just a fabrication or somebody else but she was she was riding with a lot of very tough people in in Ireland and I thought she was going to be if she was hurled from her horse they'd gallop over her. This was, with very good reason. But in my father's case, he wouldn't allow one, any sort of rope. And I found this so stultifying, and I still to this day find somethings ae the most terrible ordeals, which needn't be, because he didn't give  one  any rope. And then when we did with our children, my husband has had the same kind of, if you like, what we used to call smother love, because his father was a widower. Cecil's mother died when he was four. And  he was the only egg in his father's basket. After all, his father was very, very possessive, too. And so we always decided with our children, we just got to let them take risks and sort of watch them on wall and hope they didn't fall off. I know terrible moments like seeing Daniel strike off into the middle of an Irish lough, until his head was no more than a crotchett head you know it was so tiny in the distance thinking, what if he sinks. I can't swim, like that. And all those things when I had terrible moments, but my father couldn't do that. And I think, to be charitable, when it's too late now, maybe not to be resentful. But to understand him, it was because he wanted to keep us from harm. And he's his, he was a great protector. Now on it's, I mean, the good side of that, as you will know is that to be protected is wonderful ,to be cherished and protected is wonderful. But to be over protected  takes out of the children or anybody else, all initiative.

Roy Fowler  36:45  

 Leads to resentment clearly

Jill Balcon  36:47  

 And resentment comes and it's terribly hard on them. Because I mean, all this ambition you were talking about when it's such a hard life for those people have to make their own way. He'd done all that. So he wanted to make life easy for us. And I think, you know, this is the swing of whatnot. I mean, the pendulum if you like that, then what happens is that we become soft and resentful, as you say, at the same time, because he wouldn't let one do things and was incredibly possessive.

Roy Fowler  37:20  

Now your mother was presumably something more than a beautiful lady who went to premieres? Yes. How does she fit into the domestic scheme?

Jill Balcon  37:30  

Well, he'd married my mother, she very charmingly like a lot of ladies of that period, lied about her age. I thought she'd married him when she was 18. In fact, I now possess of course, their  marriage certificates. Now they're dead, or marriage certificate. And she must have been 20 or 19. when she married and 20 when  I was born because we were like sisters, in a way. I mean, I think I probably looked older than she did. So if you think that my mother had been, as they used to call it ,"finished" in Paris. And my father married her soon after, so she never had to earn her living. She never had an independent life, except as a married woman growing with a husband and they were happy together for what was it, I think was 54 years. Wonderful, it was the most wonderful marriage. The other side, the bleak side, were wonderful marriages that she had no initiative of her own. She didn't do anything without, well  she did have a most distinguished war career. But then so did a lot of women who were in the war, but leaving the war out for the moment. Since all her life was dedicated to keeping him happy and well and running two houses entirely for him. And he dictated all the terms she was happy to do so. As I've said to you, she was very happy to be kept. She wasn't somebody who was sort of craving to have an income of her own and the only the only independent thing that I remember her doing, God knows how she managed it. Given his fears and apprehension for us all, the only thing she managed to do was to get a small car, a little Vauxhall in the late 30s which gave her that sort of independence and relieved me from going in those dreadful huge cars that made me sick every week of my life because they , those cars, the smell of the petrol and the springing in the very grand car, which just made me so ill and my mother's funny little Vauxhall  was a new life. Certainly for her and for me. That was the only thing she must have wheedled out of him that he would have given her the moon but he didn't want her to be driving a car, I guess. 

Roy Fowler  40:07  

Yes, it's very Victorian, isn't it? 

Jill Balcon  40:10  

Oh, and that was one pea souper, if you remember such thing as I do . I mean when she came to fetch me from Roedean where I was at school and had to drive me back to where we lived then, which was Sussex on the borders of Kent and Sussex.  And I should think he must have had almost had heart attacks, because we were so long getting through that, but she did it. She was, she'd driven since she was 11 in Africa, where she was, she spent some of her childhood and, And as you probably know, in those days, you didn't have to pass a test. I don't think she'd ever passed the test. She'd just driven a car since she was 11. And but then a lot of her initiative apart from that car, I was coming to that,  was completely ,I suppose it was obliterated in this her her dedication to him was such, she didn't feel any sort of resentment, I'm sure. But the fact was that she couldn't have an independent life.

Roy Fowler  41:17  

Well, two things come. First of all, she came from what a slightly superior, in quotes, social background, the Balcons.

Jill Balcon  41:26  

 Oh I don't know. 

Roy Fowler  41:27  

More well to do or not?

Jill Balcon  41:28  

I really don't know. I don't think so. I think about probably about the same.

Roy Fowler  41:31  

Well you said she was finished in Paris.

Jill Balcon  41:34  

 Yes she was because my grandmother thought that was the thing you know. Yes, she was finished. Sounds such an absurd thing. She was sent to a finishing school in Paris. Yes, I think my grandmother was determined that she should have all the things that a lady should, should have in those days. And she had the most wonderful clothes because my grandmother had a loyal and devoted, I suppose you'd call her governess, my mother worshipped. And of course, I never knew, called Miss Fisher, she was always called Miss Fisher. And she made my mother's clothes so that they  looked as though they were very affluent, because my grandmother had very high standards and was herself the most beautiful creature. And I can't tell you about incomes or status. I mean, she she lived very comfortably with her second husband, my mother's stepfather. My mother didn't know her own father. He left my grandmother or that my grandmother left him, which is another thing I longed to know the details about, because in nineteen 0 ,  whatever it was, I mean, for an Edwardian lady, to leave her husband with two young children. What did she get him on? I mean, she divorced him. I mean divorce in those days, heaven knows but then she married this dear, sweet fellow that I knew as a grandfather. And he had a business in Africa. And that's how my mother came to, to go there.

Roy Fowler  42:58  

The other ,sorry. The other thing about your mother is more importantly, despite what their relationship was, she blossomed during the war when suddenly women came into their own.

Jill Balcon  43:11  

 Well indeed, and that was, she was absolutely astonishing. And in a way onces she'd done that astonishing job. My word, she was astonishing. It was as though she burned herself out. She wanted to sink back into the life of luxury and be taken care of and not sitting on any more committees, which she did for a bit after the war. She just got fed up with all that she did, briefly stand as the Liberal candidate, not for parliament, but for the local elections. But that was not a very serious exercise. I think it was a mistake probably on her part. I don't think she was dedicated to that at all.

Roy Fowler  43:52  

That brings us on to another aspect which I'll  do after we flip the tape.

End of Side 1

Side 2

Roy Fowler  0:00  

Yes, that takes us on to politics generally, I suppose. Both your mother's, your mother was a liberal candidate. 

Jill Balcon  0:08  

I don't think she was ....

Roy Fowler  0:09  

That was what in '45?

Jill Balcon  0:11  

I can't remember the year

Roy Fowler  0:14  

Not during the war, it would have been ...

Jill Balcon  0:16  

No, no, no, no in the war ...

Roy Fowler  0:18  

... the first election after the war

Jill Balcon  0:19  

It wasn't, it wasn't for Parliament it was for local elections.

Roy Fowler  0:23  

Oh I see. Right.

Jill Balcon  0:25  

 She was she was erm ...  Have you got it running or not? 

Roy Fowler  0:29  

Yes, yes it's running, yep. Your Dad, I'm sorry.

Jill Balcon  0:34  

I'd much rather you asked questions.

Roy Fowler  0:35  

About your mother still and her outlook on the world.

Jill Balcon  0:38  


Roy Fowler  0:39  

Her outlook upon the world. What were her political motivations in other words?

Jill Balcon  0:44  

I don't think she had one. She sort of  went along with him over most things. Occasionally ...

Roy Fowler  0:49  

Then she ran as a liberal candidate it meant she was anti-Tory, but yet not pro-Labour if you see what I mean?

Jill Balcon  0:56  

Well at that time I think she was sort of, my father was always a supporter of the Labour government, though I think he was a sort of lib-lab in a way in his attitudes, but it was the Labour government that enabled him I mean, gave him entitlement, gave him his title. We were great friends of Hugh Gaitskell and also this was quite a difficult thing for Mick to manage because he was devoted to Michael Foot as a friend, a very great friend and devoted to Hugh and Dora Gaitskell. When the Gaitskell, when Gaitskell and Aneurin Bevin and therefore Michael Foot, kind of had a split that was, you know one had to keep the friendships - were privately maintained. But that was how it had to had to be done tactfully with loving both parties as it were. My mother you were asking me about, no, I think, she was a brilliant mathematician. And ...

Roy Fowler  2:00  

Self taught? 

Jill Balcon  2:01  

Yes, and, and a wonderful caterer, we always used to, she was marvellous at running houses and catering, rather over catering very generously. But I'm, what she did in the war, which was so astounding, was she joined the Red Cross and eventually took over the feeding, the entire feeding of the entire Red Cross personnel of London, which in the end meant running five major canteens. And this involves, of course there were what did you, what were they called in, I'm trying to think what the ration there was, kind of ration book you got you know for an organisation?

Roy Fowler  2:50  

Don't know.

Jill Balcon  2:51  

Well, anyhow, the thing was that within the limits of rationing she fed them breakfast, lunch, and those that had to be on duty in the evening some sort of supper.

She organised all the menus, she had a paid staff who actually cooked and worked the kitchens. But all volunteers, including myself in the school holidays would serve the stuff in the various canteens. And she gave them the best possible nourishment under wartime conditions at the lowest possible cost, which was amazing, and then left the Red Cross with a huge profit at the end of the war. And that was her work. And having just catered for a household of children and servants this was pretty amazing. And she looked wonderful in uniform too. But my father, I've got some letters, some copies of letters that Philip Kent let me have, which clearly show that she was trying to placate my father because he at one point obviously resented the time she had to be away from home, although he had people to look after him. She went off, what had happened was that the base was London with all the bombs and everything else and all these canteens and finding the best possible purveyors of meat or whatever was going in those days to provide all these meals that she had to provide. But then when the invasion happened she had to deflect to the hospital trains coming in from Normandy, which required Red Cross stuff. And that involved her staying away a few nights to meet these trains at various places and see that they were being run properly from the Red Cross point of view. And my father didn't like that because she was away he couldn't bear her to do anything independent. Couldn't bear her, they did everything together; I mean, I think this is this in the end, of course was awful because you pay a very, very great price for that kind of closeness and after he died she just couldn't cope with anything. This amazingly talented, brilliant organiser, she was great fun as a person, very lively, vibrant person, love playing bridge and all kinds of things I can't understand. But still once he'd gone there was nothing for her.

Roy Fowler  5:34  

But before that happened with the end of the war and the end of the Red Cross job she went back to being ... 

Jill Balcon  5:41  

Well she went back to being a lady ...

Roy Fowler  5:42  

Mrs Balcon or Lady Balcon ...

Jill Balcon  5:44  

... whatever she was by then. I think she was not quite Yes, she was Lady quite soon. But the thing was that she did sit on various committees to do good works, very proper that she should. And then in the end she hated the infighting of women sort of fighting for power on these committees, and just decided not to do it anymore and didn't. But she had some ever open doors at Upper Parrock their house for, I mean the place was streaming with visitors and people who loved to go there. My father was tremendous company up to the day he died.

Were they people in in quotes for business or very general um ...

Some were. They had a huge, a very wide acquaintanceship and I say acquaintanceship because one always discovers, and now I've been widowed twice myself I discovered it for myself, that once you're on your own it's very interesting who stays to be your friend who was once the friend when you were a couple you know,

Roy Fowler  6:47  

Yes, right, for a degree of influence or status. I wonder if we may go back then to the '30s and those considerable figures that you might remember who were part of the film industry. Then you mentioned Connie Veidt for a time, what are your memories of him a great, great actor.

Jill Balcon  7:10  

My memories, I'm trying to write a book at the moment. So I didn't want to sort of ...

Roy Fowler  7:14  

Well, it won't conflict you can, you can seal these tapes for as long as you want.

Jill Balcon  7:17  

No just that I feel, I have told Philip Kemp that I was trying to do something because obviously you know I don't like to sort of disseminate any little store of memory that I've got. Let me tell you ...

Roy Fowler  7:18  

It won't be used I promise you, right. 

Well, I'll say straight away that I was and you will laugh at me Roy and I don't mind you laughing ...

I wasn't about to at all.

... but I was, I was deeply in love with two people that I've already dropped in the way of names. One was Puffin Asquith, Anthony Asquith and the other was Conrad Veidt. I adored them, they couldn't come often enough for me, they were so sweet to me, and I realised looking back and now I've got children and grandchildren even more so, how much it means to one as a little person that somebody should speak to one like a human being. Particularly in those days I mean, when children were meant to be seen and not heard. I mean, we were not, I don't want to imply that we were dragooned as I did with my great-grandmother, that was a different kind of occasion, I mean, at home we were allowed down with the grown-ups after tea and did meet these people. And and I loved, I wasn't in love with but I was devoted to Sydney Bernstein. He was absolutely charming. He didn't have any children of his own and he made, took such trouble always to be so sweet. And and so did Antony Asquith and I was a budding pianist at the age of eight, I reached my peak rather soon afterwards unfortunately, at the age of 16, so I wasn't going to be any great shakes, but I did play quite well. And Puffin was the most wonderful amateur pianist, as you probably know, used to play Schubert to me and films were being made I think it was probably Richard Tauber or somebody at the time or my father was doing something to do with Schubert, who's been my, one of my musical passions ever since I was eight. So Puffin would come and take me seriously, you know children like being taken seriously and Connie was adorable, but of course completely seductive, I mean the most seductive man.

I think everyone was in love with him male or female.

Jill Balcon  9:48  

Absolutely. And I still to this day, I'm not wearing it today, but there's a Guerlain scent called Jicky which I simply adore, which was manufactured in the '30s and Connie used to use that. Now. nowadays all men can use scents and lotions and aftershaves and things with impunity and nobody thinks, you know how stupid it is for women you know anymore. But in those days in the '30s for a man to wave a handkerchief covered in Jicky was quite extraordinary. And I was very susceptible to voices and his was divine, and very susceptible to scent, which I always have been and the combination was very heady. But I did love Lily so much, his wife, she, she had no children by him and she lived a long, long time after he died, as you probably know, and we were friends all our lives Lily and I.

Roy Fowler  10:46  

I never met either one of them. I knew Viola, his daughter ...

Jill Balcon  10:50  

But that was his daughter by the former wife. 

Roy Fowler  10:53  

Yes it was a mess.

Jill Balcon  10:54  

But I can't tell you Lily was the most I can hear her voice and every inflection now and the sweetness of that woman. And she never, I think she had many suitors after Connie died because she was a young woman and very attractive but she told me when she was an old person she couldn't, she could never marry again, I could quite understand that she could never manage to do that. But so they were uppermost in my mind. I loved Sydney Bernstein's visits, and he was ...  

Roy Fowler  11:26  

One final question about Veidt, which is I always remember Wolfgang Wilhelm saying that he was a very stupid man. 

Jill Balcon  11:35  


Roy Fowler  11:35  

And well, I mean, this is I'm going to ask you this because I think it's an unfair comment on Wolf's part. But that he was totally an instinctive actor. I remember Wolf's story, which was that this was going back to the Berlin days and he was on the site of a silent picture that Veidt was making and it was a death scene. And he died in the scene and you could have heard the proverbial pin drop in the studio. And Wolf said to himself, "My God, you know, he's died, he actually is dead." And suddenly Veidt got up and said, "Oh, my God, give me a beer." [LAUGHTER]

That's a direct quote from a story of 40 or 50 years ago, but again remembering Connie Veidt would you say that he was not dumb or not stupid that's unfair?

Jill Balcon  12:34  

I couldn't possibly tell you that Roy because I was very, very young when he died. He went off, he had a heart attack.

Roy Fowler  12:41  

Yes, what early 40s.

Jill Balcon  12:43  

You see, so I was very young. So I didn't have um, I couldn't possibly judge his intellect I was simply seduced by this, I mean, he was the, he had such sex appeal, I'm simply making the point that if people think children of eight don't respond to that, they better think again. I couldn't possibly tell you, Lily, you see, I went on knowing her and fortunately she went to live in New York so I didn't see her very often. But we talked woman to woman, until she died, whenever she was over here. But with Connie I was still a little girl so I couldn't possibly tell you. I would find it surprising if Lily was prepared to live with somebody who was thick but I really don't know. The sort of person who might tell you that would be someone like Valerie Hobson, who would have known him on the level. Because Valerie was another person I absolutely adored, she was so sweet and is my friend to this day I'm very, very proud to say.

Roy Fowler  13:41  

How is she may I interject, she was being operated on? Is she, she's alright?

Jill Balcon  13:47  

Yes, it's worked good. Yes, we talk regularly thank God.

Roy Fowler  13:53  

Right. Well, coming back then to Puffin. It's interesting as I remember I don't think he ever made a film for your father did he? And yet they were great friends you say?

Jill Balcon  14:05  

Then I don't know why he came to the house at that stage. I know exactly, house the houses because I used to pray that he'd come.  What were they discussing? You'd have to check up on that.

Roy Fowler  14:19  

 I could well be wrong that maybe they were ...

I thought it was something to do with the Schubert but was it only Richard Tauber who made a film about Schubert?  I can hear that serenade distinction in my head as I speak and I'm trying to think ...

Tauber's pictures that I know about were made at Elstree, BIP. 

Jill Balcon  14:42  

Well, then I'm probably wrong.

Roy Fowler  14:44  

Again, I'm no expert we need to look it up.

Jill Balcon  14:45  

But then the other thing is the fact that my father moved in many circles I mean, I know my mother dreaded going to Margot Asquith's but then everybody did.  She was a terrifying woman, I used to hear about that. I don't know, I can't answer your question as to how but they would have met let us say in film circles; maybe they were discussing something that didn't come off if there was a film. But I know from all my colleagues in the theatre how much they loved being directed by Puffin because he had this, he had the most beautiful manners of anybody imaginable, beautiful manners, which is to say that he was the most considerate person, not just gravity, which little girls see through that, too, it was just beautiful manners. And I remember saying years later to David Cecil in Oxford, you remind me so much of Puffin because he too had these beautiful and aristocratic manners, but I mean, Puffin was not an aristocratic in the way that the Cecils were but anyhow he had perfect mannerism. I think they were very great friends at school, anyhow, they were rather alike in that way of sort of consideration, real charm. Not specious child because you know, children, I was I think a fairly perceptive and I always saw through any kind of pretence, or suavity and didn't like it.

Roy Fowler  16:21  

Well the Tennants were all as I gather as mad as Hatter's, but most of them had this extraordinary charm and, and artistic gift...

Jill Balcon  16:32  

A lot of them certainly..

Roy Fowler  16:33  

... musically and theatrically.

Jill Balcon  16:37  

He was he was a marvellous pianist. And isn't it funny I mean, I can't remember who I was talking to yesterday if you were to ask me that question, but every time I eat chicken I think of Puffin saying to me years later when I was a married woman, "I do love the safety pin bone" now isn't that extraordinary and I just every time I look at a chicken wing, I think why do I remember this piece of dialogue which is so trivial really. But somehow he's, he is one of the people who I carry in my heart and will do forever. One of the saddest moments when, one thing that I think young people are naive about are the agonies that grown ups are going through obviously, and I remember when I was at school my mother sending me a cutting because he was had up for drunkenness. And she cut it out of the paper and sent it to me I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't equate it with what I knew, you know, I couldn't then judge as one now can that the whole person can be made up of so many conflicting parts if you like.

It bothered you that he drank?

Yes, it did. But well it did because coming from a family that hardly did and thinking of him you know oh I would like to marry him more than anybody I know. [LAUGHTER] I couldn't, the idea of getting this cutting where he was had up was very upsetting.

Roy Fowler  18:12  

Because a great deal I think of Puffin's sensibilities were gay sensibilities. 

Jill Balcon  18:17  

Yes certainly. Well, I didn't know about that at that age, later of course, I did. And but yes he had ..

Roy Fowler  18:26  

A very gentle man. 

Jill Balcon  18:27  

... that wonderful feminine sweetness. But everything about him, I can see his head on one side and that lovely, I mean, he he was no actor he was actually interested that one had something to say at the age of eight and gave me, I've still got them in the little micro cosmos, those pieces of Bela Bartok's you know, for a young pianist, and, and my first Anna Magdalena Bach album came from Puffin and I just worshipped him really. And I suppose that was telling me something about the qualities that I admired in men, most of all, you know. 

Roy Fowler  19:07  

So both those people had influences upon you?

Jill Balcon  19:10  

Puffin much more. I mean ...

Much more than Veidt? 

Connie was was just, you simply just fell to the floor in ecstasy when he walked into the room, but you didn't think you were, [LAUGHTER] I don't think,[LAUGHTER] I don't think I sort of saw so much. But he he did have yes, he had, but I guess that he was probably acting which Puffin wasn't capable of but he did have a way of addressing one that was entirely attentive. Which is another, that may have been an act, who knows if he was just ...

Roy Fowler  19:50  

You can only act it up to a point if you're interested in a child and then I think that that comes through.

Jill Balcon  19:56  

I think the fact was that he and Lily wanted a child together so much and at that age I suppose I was to some of my parents' friends, you know the little daughter that they hadn't got or maybe, who knows.  Sydney Bernstein, certainly, because he did marry subsequently, as you know, and had a family but at that stage he was married to someone called Chloe who, and they weren't able to have children, he was again, he was a sort of favourite uncle although he wasn't an uncle. And a most generous thing happened you see that portrait up there? That's me and I never normally have, I mean I don't at all like people having portraits and photographs of themselves littered around the house, but one day a packing case arrived here and when I undid it, I couldn't think what it was it came beautifully packed, and when I undid it there was that portrait. That portrait was painted by a very great friend of mine who painted that picture also called Trekkie Parsons, wonderful painter. And Sydney was a friend of the Parsons and had gone to the house and seen that and said, "That's Jill isn't it?" And Trekkie said "Yes." And he paid her for it and boxed, and had it boxed up and sent anonymously. And I wasn't meant to know who it had come from and this was not long before he died. That's why I've got myself on the wall. 

Roy Fowler  21:26  

The context of that Jill was what that your father and he were great friends?

Jill Balcon  21:30  

I don't know if they were great friends. I would be very hesitant I don't know who were my father's real friends. Well perhaps I do if I think about it. But they were colleagues presumably.

Roy Fowler  21:45  


Jill Balcon  21:45  

And Sydney lived at Long Barn you know, the house that Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson had had and Sydney, so when we were at Henden Manor, Ide Hill, he wasn't all that far away. So he would come over there from Long Barn, and I remember him bringing Peggy Ashcroft, who became one of my most cherished friends. But at that time I was a child and she was then married to Komisarjevsky in the '30s, and was staying with Sidney and he brought her over to Henden Manor. No I think it was more being in the industry in one sense and also fairly local. A lot of the people who visited I don't think were very close friends, I think they had ...

Roy Fowler  22:31  

They were congenial presumably were they?

Jill Balcon  22:33  

Yes and they had a huge number of acquaintances. I'm rather prissy about the distinction myself.

Roy Fowler  22:42  

Yes.  Mind you I think it was a very closed little group by and large, the British film industry, seniors in those days,

Jill Balcon  22:49  

No because I didn't think you see that I'm trying to make the point that I know I've mentioned Puffin and Sydney Bernstein, but I mean the people who came are not all to do with the entertainment world, though they quite often well.

Roy Fowler  23:04  

How about the great power players of that particular period? I'm thinking of C M Wolf and his two sons. Do you remember them at all?

Jill Balcon  23:15  

Yes, I remember C M Wolf and I remember John.

Roy Fowler  23:19  

John and James right.

Jill Balcon  23:20  

I don't remember James. Jimmy was he called? 

Roy Fowler  23:23  


Jill Balcon  23:22  

Yes, I remember him to look at but I don't remember him playing ??  I don't think my parents got on with C M Wolf, my impression as a child was they didn't like him. I remember the Osterers of course they were constantly, various members of the Osterer family I remember.

Roy Fowler  23:39  

C M of course backed your father in a very early production.

Jill Balcon  23:44  

Did he?

Roy Fowler  23:44  

Yeah, it was his money. I think it was his money in "Woman to Woman" 

Yes but you see I don't know this. 

That was before your time anyway?

Jill Balcon  23:50  

Yes. I mean, I remember his face funnily enough extremely well. Maybe they fell out then. 

Possibly I should think, I don't remember, I don't remember great bursts of affection.

Roy Fowler  24:01  

I think CM was not a bit of a shit, I think he was a total shit.

Jill Balcon  24:05  

Yes I think that was the impression I got from my parents.

Roy Fowler  24:13  

But you remember John, John Wolf as a boy.

Jill Balcon  24:16  

Well I expect I do but I don't really.

Roy Fowler  24:18  

I mean, he would be about what 10 years older than you? 

I'm 72. 

Well, he was 84 just a month or two ago.

Jill Balcon  24:28  

I don't remember. I do remember, I remember now whose son would Kiki Osterer have been he was known as Kiki was his name Christopher, I don't know. He must have been the brother to Pamela Colleano and Sheila who were very, very sophisticated daughters who ...

Roy Fowler  24:46  

If it were the brother then that would be son of Isadore.

Jill Balcon  24:51  

Well, that's right.

Roy Fowler  24:52  

Who was the senior, the brightest member of the Osterers?

Jill Balcon  24:58  

Well, I remember the girls because they were so I mean, I mean to a to a child they were that much older and incredibly sophisticated and I think ran wild. I don't know who their mother was but I don't think anybody disciplined them at all. But that's not the point I was making Kiki as he was called sent me, now I couldn't have been more than eight or nine because it was still Tufton Street I can see it now. He sent me a bottle, [LAUGHTER] a bottle of scent called Quelques Fleurs by Houbigant, which of course my father confiscated. [LAUGHTER] It's just so bizarre to think of these sophisticated children who did run wild ...

Roy Fowler  25:45  

And your father seemed very Victorian as I ... [LAUGHTER]

Jill Balcon  25:48  

Oh my goodness me. You see my father never recovered from Richard Winnington's accusation of puritan paternalism. And for those of us who knew him, I mean this was meant to be a professional judgement, but for those of us who had [LAUGHTER] it seemed to me that Mick, like so many of us when we're accused of something that we know to be certainly partly true, if not true, we mind far more about it. And I think he never quite got over that.

Roy Fowler  26:25  

Would you say it was justified? 

Jill Balcon  26:26  


Roy Fowler  26:27  


Jill Balcon  26:28  

But whether it ...

Roy Fowler  26:29  

Was it a revelation to him or did he go into denial?

Jill Balcon  26:32  

I think probably what he didn't like was, I mean I'm talking personally about him to you this afternoon on the whole, but I think probably Winnington was writing about him, his influence at Ealing studios, in which case it probably wasn't fair, you know. But if you pursue the metaphor and take away the puritan for a moment then the paternalism was a very good thing. But it was, also could be stifling as we've said, both professionally and privately, the protecting, the giving the nursery to all those  young brilliant people at Ealing but also controlling them maybe too much, I don't know.

Roy Fowler  27:15  

I will not sure that the puritanism is not justified to some extent, I have no idea what his personal attitudes were the private ones, but certainly the movies are very costive English, middle class attitudes of the time, I think. But the establishment was puritan wasn't it, was it not?

Jill Balcon  27:42  

I'm quite certain that he lived a faithful life. It's, it's interesting that he was, its so often the case, of course that one won't have in one's parlour, or we know in one by one's own half, one will tolerate in other people because the lives, the private lives of these adorable gifted, wondrous children, if you like of the Ealing Studios were pretty lurid some of them and he seems to sort of accept it all quite, as long as it didn't touch his own patch that's understandable.

Roy Fowler  28:20  

Would not the difference between what he accepted maybe disapprovingly of their personal lives because they were all carrying on in all sorts of ways, and they drank to excess and but that's on the one hand. On the other hand, the the content of the films which must have gone through his hands over his desk and they really are I think rather limited in very precisely middle class terms of that time.

Jill Balcon  28:53  


Roy Fowler  28:55  

When you, we'd have to go down the list and look at the titles, but it was the world people by John Clements characters as it were.

Jill Balcon  29:05  

But then that was partly the world wasn't it? 

Roy Fowler  29:07  

Well, it was a it was part of the world. 

Jill Balcon  29:10  

And part of the world, stop me if I'm wrong, was the censor  saying that if you had a bedroom scene one foot had to be on the ground.

Roy Fowler  29:16  

That was to get an American release of course [LAUGHTER] I mean seriously it was a requirement of the production code of America.

Jill Balcon  29:24  

Yes quite I mean, that, we're talking about that period.

Roy Fowler  29:27  

And English censorship was even more stringent in some ways, politically certainly.

Jill Balcon  29:32  

When you think what can be seen and done now it is amazing. When you think how much all our lives have changed. I mean, to get back to my father, excuse me I'm going to have to cough but not in the microphone.

Roy Fowler  29:44  

It will take a cough or two.

Jill Balcon  29:46  

I've done that. I mean I'd love to think I was mellowing as I grow into the grave, but I don't know that I am, but I think my father really did.  After the furore that there was when I was about to set-up house with a married man and all that. When with his grandchildren he was far more liberal. I mean I nearly had, I couldn't believe I was hearing correctly at lunch one day when he, this was years later when my children were sort of teenagers, and he said something about I think all marriages should have a trial run or words to that effect.  I couldn't believe it, not believe it that this was the man who had created such hell when I was proposing to [LAUGHTER] do the same thing.

Roy Fowler  30:52  

Mmmmm .... Well, again I suppose people do loosen and change. And um ... Could we go back to the '30s momentarily? There was one period in your father's life, which must have been traumatic, I mean it's legendary his connection with MGM British ....

Jill Balcon  31:09  

"Yank at Oxford" I can remember all that.

Roy Fowler  31:11  

You can? 

Jill Balcon  31:13  

I can remember that.

Roy Fowler  31:15  

And Louis B Mayer.

Jill Balcon  31:16  

He was so unhappy. And I mean he was earning, that was the time when he really did earn money. I don't know what because  I wasn't privy to it and I'm not particularly interested in it ...

Roy Fowler  31:27  

They paid well ... 

... but then they obviously gave him money that, or paid him money that he never had before. And to his everlasting credit, you know, he said, no, well credit I suppose as I like to think to his credit, I mean he and Louis B Mayer were just totally you know on parallel lines that couldn't meet, I would think in every way but the thing was, as it was then I think that he decided that he'd rather be his own boss and sink than swim in such company.

Did he like the Osterers? They Osterers? They closed, I think the policy at Shepherds Bush had not worked in that they tried to make movies for the American market and that hadn't worked.

Jill Balcon  32:17  

I don't know. I really don't know, there were Osterers and Osterers there were so many of them I can't remember them all. 

Well yeah ....

I remember the one you mentioned Isadore with these amazing ...

Roy Fowler  32:27  

He was the financial whiz 

... precocious children who had no mother that I can remember to sort of discipline them.

Who married Jimmy Mason's ex-wife.

Jill Balcon  32:38  

She married Roy Kalina first.

Roy Fowler  32:39  

That's right.  She died just last year.

Jill Balcon  32:42  

And Sheila was her sister and then there was this boy who sent me the scent.  I don't know, I mean I don't remember them coming to the house.  My mother's very great friend, who I still correspond with and love dearly, though I haven't seen for many years, is Miriam Whelan, who is the widow of a film director called Tim Whelan ... 

Roy Fowler  32:58  


Jill Balcon  33:00  

... who lives in Pasadena. And I'm in touch with her all the time. And then there were the Veidts and then there were some people I never liked called the Eckmans, I can't quite think where they came in. 

Roy Fowler  33:16  

Well Sam Eckman, would that be Sam Eckman? 

Jill Balcon  33:19  

Yes, it would. 

Roy Fowler  33:19  

Well he was head of the distribution, MGM distribution in this country, not the film, not the studio, not the production.

Jill Balcon  33:27  

But I rather used to dread them coming to the house. You know, children have very strong views about these things. The people that I adored and my father's life-long friend, oh, he was so heavenly, I wasn't in love with him but I loved him was Bill O'Brien ...

Roy Fowler  33:49  

Sorry something's happened to one of the microphones. I don't know what, mmmm, we're getting a lot of noise

Whatever it is has stopped, let me just make sure that it's recording. Yes, yes, it is.

Jill Balcon  34:15  

No, my father's great friend that I can remember from oh early, early childhood was Bill O'Brien, who was part of O'Brien, ?? and Dunphy the agents. Oh, he was such a lovely man and he married an actress called Elizabeth Allen. They were they were great friends of my parents always and Bill had fought like so many in the First War, had lied about his age and gone into battle at the age of probably 16. And he was, they were friends as distinct from these acquaintances and people like the Eckmans who as I speak to you now I can think how hideous they were. [LAUGHTER] 

Roy Fowler  35:00  

Well yes. 

Jill Balcon  35:02  

And how children respond to attractive people and and they weren't, they didn't have children they weren't interested in us. I'm sure they got a secretary or someone to send us something at Christmas, but it wasn't like these other people who seemed to be friends. 

Roy Fowler  35:16  

It was a business requirement I suppose.

Jill Balcon  35:18  

Yes. So I evaded that one and saw them.

Roy Fowler  35:22  

Going going back to your father's period with MGM British.

Jill Balcon  35:26  

Yes. Well, he was very unhappy and I minded very much of course, when they went off to Hollywood because I was left behind. And it did seem, it sounds like a paradox when I say to you that our lives were separated by many servants and keepers and all that, but at the same time the absence of my parents from the home, and one's, and the presence of this nanny figure, and who was such a snob as all nanny's are that she wouldn't let one into the kitchen where I'd have been much happier. Those times where lonely because my brother was no companion. Being seven years younger we had absolutely nothing in common at all. You know and so I was lonely. 

Roy Fowler  36:17  

Presumably ...

Jill Balcon  36:18  

But I think that's quite good for children, because it probably develops one's imagination and all that. But it's only later you discover those things.

Roy Fowler  36:25  

Well, yeah. Difficult isn't it what one does or does not miss out on?

Jill Balcon  36:30  

I can remember the absolute isolation of that country house with this, it being in the valley with these drives, well one was fairly flat, and this one coming right down and this and they'd never been surfaced properly so they were like rocks, you know underneath the bicycle wheels. And that was another thing I held against my father, he wouldn't allow me to bicycle on the road. And in those days there weren't any cars so there was no danger much, well a bit. And it was so isolating to be in that place with this dreadful nanny who wouldn't allow one to talk to the servants because she was such a crashing snob. And so ...

Roy Fowler  37:10  

May I say Jill it's almost like a three volume novel [LAUGHTER] But it is isn't it?

Jill Balcon  37:18  

Don't think I'm embroidering it you asked me what I thought about it.

Roy Fowler  37:19  

No, I'm not suggesting that for one moment.  The governess character especially I think she was so much ...

Jill Balcon  37:27  

She was evil. But you see my parents, I mean, this is not very credable, creditable. First of all, you know, they, they put a blind eye to the fact that she wouldn't speak to the cook who we had for many, many years and simply adored. They turned a blind eye to that because they wanted the children taken care of. And they turned to, the fact that she didn't rob the till or beat us up, you know meant that as long as the house was running.

Roy Fowler  37:54  

But was there over, was there direct affection display, affectionate display by your parents? 

Jill Balcon  38:00  

My mother? 

Roy Fowler  38:04  

Yes. But dad was rather remote? 

Jill Balcon  38:07  

Oh, yes, very remote. 

Roy Fowler  38:10  

Even even when he was being Dad, not just when he was coming home from the studio.  Mmmmm.

Jill Balcon  38:16  

I remember a terrible episode too, he was terrified when my mum was ill. And we had terrible illnesses in those days children did. 

Roy Fowler  38:25  

Yes mortal.

Jill Balcon  38:26  

And I nearly died from whooping cough, because because people did in those days. And when it was on the wane, and I had, was proposing to live and the pleurisy had gone he came into them, I can see it now. And what is it, we're talking about more than half a century ago, and he came gingerly in in the hoping that I wasn't going to display any ghastly symptoms. And I think he shook an egg cup with a dice in it proposing to play Ludo and I suppose in a sort of awful fit of invalid peak, I probably threw the egg cup or something. And he left the room and that was it that was the only time I ever remember him attempting to play a game.

Really.  Was he articulate to you regards the children?

Yes, what he was marvellous at now we move on that was, I was six when I nearly died from whooping cough. Once we got to Henden Manor and I was allowed to go on a walk with him. This was not only a pleasure, because he talked to me, it was it was a charming encounter I loved that.  We would go out of one of these drives and walk all the way around and come in the other side. Quite a long walk, loved that. But it was also a relief to get away from this dreadful woman you see and have some conversation. I needed that. Because all right I mean it sounds very precocious but you know a child who's bright being stuck with ...

Well indeed.

... a brother who was one and a dreadful keeper who didn't give a toss whether she was happy or not to have a chance to talk to somebody. I can't remember what we talked about, but it was very nice.

Roy Fowler  40:09  

What did he encourage there's music in your life but literature, books?

Jill Balcon  40:15  

Yes, I was allowed, this is another surprise life is full of paradoxes with Mick Balcon and this, we go slightly later on from Henden Manor when they move to their own house, which they finally bought, Henden being the rented one still. I had the complete run of his study and I read anything, he didn't try and censor it you know. But the movies you know we were only allowed to go and see Fred and Ginger well that was fine. But I mean every movie was censored about what we were allowed to see. I don't mean the censorship certificate that it had I mean, what my father ...

Roy Fowler  40:53  

What he chose right.  Did you go to public cinemas or where they shown privately?

Jill Balcon  40:58  

Yes because Mick had a pass and I was allowed to go to the Gaumont cinemas, the New Gallery it was and the New Victoria, whatever the Gaumont cinemas were.

Roy Fowler  41:06  

But you didn't have private screenings at the house or at the studio?

Jill Balcon  41:09  

I once had a private screening for a birthday party when I remember I must have been very small saying to him why didn't they talk? So you can guess when that was.

Roy Fowler  41:18  

He wasn't then, he didn't as studio head he didn't have his own private projection?

Jill Balcon  41:23  


Roy Fowler  41:24  

Oh what a shame.

Jill Balcon  41:25  

Nothing like that.

Roy Fowler  41:26  

That's a pity. A little more on this tape. Just a couple more minutes. Well, I'm coming back to "Yank at Oxford" which must have been a terrible thing what happened then?

Jill Balcon  41:41  

1937 we're talking about now?

Roy Fowler  41:42  

Yes '37 I guess '38 I had a long long talk with Sydney Gilliard about this, who worked for a long time on, he was taken on by Mick at MGM British. And Sydney worked on that script, he wanted to do Mr Chips but they wouldn't, so he said because I wanted to do Mr Chips naturally I ended up on "Yank at Oxford".

Jill Balcon  42:06  

What my father wanted to do Mr Chips did you say?

Roy Fowler  42:00  

No Sydney did, Sydney wanted to write Mr Chips. But two things came out of that: first of all this terrible antipathy between him and L B Mayer and eventually, I think in effect your father was fired wasn't he?

Jill Balcon  42:29  

I don't know.

Roy Fowler  42:31  

I mean, it was it was made intolerable for him. He really had no choice.

Jill Balcon  42:35  

I suppose one of those things when they make it so you have to resign perhaps I don't know. 

Yes, he was just excluded from ... 

Do you know, I mean, I would like to know because I don't know the details of that except remembering how unhappy he was, him coming back and saying, you know, for all the richness of that I'd much rather sink on my own. What, do you know what got a crop with it was it that my father was too stronger character for Mayer who was obviously a tyrant? 

Roy Fowler  43:03  

Well, that's the interesting question. This tape's about to come to an end so we'll start a new one with him.

End of Side 2

Side 3

Roy Fowler  0:01  

It's Jill Balcon and it's the second tape. Yes, we're talking about "Yank At Oxford", the relationship with MGM.

Jill Balcon  0:08  

Whether, whether my father truly resigned or was made to resign. I guess that was it that Louis B Mayer -

Roy Fowler  0:17  

 I imagine Philip Kemp will  be very accurate about this, I'm sure.

Jill Balcon  0:23  

But how can he be Roy because who is left to say what happened between them now? There was no diary kept by my father. 

Roy Fowler  0:35  


Jill Balcon  0:33  

I just knew he hated Louis B Mayer I knew he hated him. And there was a man called Ben Goetz and his wife who was somehow involved in MGM.

Roy Fowler  0:42  

That's right. Well, he was the  studio representative of the Hollywood, the Culver City representive here in London on Waterloo Place. It's a pity that Sydney Gilliat is now dead because if you if he were alive we could question him a little more. But Sydney said one thing: I said, 'What was the reason that LB and Mick Balcon were so at odds?" and Nick said, Sydney said, 'It was because of Balcon's indecisiveness.' Now that never sounded right to me. 

Jill Balcon  1:13  

NO I just don't believe that. 

Roy Fowler  1:18  

Well, I find it hard to believe yah.

Jill Balcon  1:20  

I mean if ever there was a clear cut thinker, it was Mick Balcon. Decisiveness was not something I could ever associate with him, rather than, indecisiveness I should say. Rather, I would say that, I mean, I'm just guessing this.

You were what  12 at the time?

Well I was 12. But I mean, I remember the effects of his coming back and, and the war after all was sh, well Munich was going to be the next year. And my father saying right, I'd rather sink as my own Admiral, as it were. And so I get a feeling, and this is just a feeling knowing him, and that he preferred to run his own ship and sink if necessary but not if it wasn't. That may be he couldn't bear that kind of tyrannical boss. And I also think Mayer very well have been dishonest in some way, because Mick was absolutely, I mean whatever faults my father had he was absolutely straight as a die in his dealings. 

Roy Fowler  2:27  


Jill Balcon  2:29  

And in that sense that I would say a totally moral man.

Roy Fowler  2:33  

And very unusual in the film business then and now.

Jill Balcon  2:36  

And also being married to the same woman, he wasn't a philanderer. I mean I'm not suggesting that that had anything to do with the Mayer business but what what I would imagine is that Mayer met somebody who had perhaps a mind of his own. Is that possible? 

Roy Fowler  2:45  

It could well be yes, yes, oh yes. 

Jill Balcon  2:56  

And that Mayer wished to be ...

Roy Fowler  3:02  

There are all sorts of aspects to it and we're talking ...

Jill Balcon  3:06  

But none of us know.

Roy Fowler  3:06  

 ... about hypothetical I suppose this is why I'm curious about what Philip will come up with.

Jill Balcon  3:09  

I don't know what Philip will come up with. I mean, with all respect to Philip I don't see how he can know if something isn't documented. I mean what will be documented if there are archives of MGM is that Mick left or was fired but nobody will know what the row was about because there is nobody left.

Roy Fowler  3:27  

Oh I think essentially it was a conflict of lifestyles and a conflict of personalities and LB was known as the Hollywood Rajah. There's a book written about ...

Jill Balcon  3:36  

Well that I can see.  My father um ...

Roy Fowler  3:40  

He was use, LB was use to total control ...

Jill Balcon  3:44  

Well, I was gonna say my father was no yes, man, he was no lackey. That's the thing. I bet you that's what it would come down to something to do with power. I mean, my father wanted power yes certainly. But he wasn't, he wasn't in that ...

Roy Fowler  4:02  

Well, I put this to you could you count him as a megalomaniac? 

Jill Balcon  4:05  

Oh no.

Roy Fowler  4:06  

Which LB certainly was.

Jill Balcon  4:07  

Well, this is what I was about to say that very word, that very word you took out of my mouth. But I guess I'm just guessing that Louis B Mayer was a megalomaniac and was a very vile characater. 

An evil man, a totally evil man. 

And my father was a good man, whatever his faults and a pure in heart man. I think to say pure in heart would be what my father was I think that's a fair assessment. Whatever my own conflicts with him are not relevant to this particular part of the conversation. I think that he was, he couldn't, he couldn't have done an evil deed though some would you know, obviously the people that he fired himself would have a grudge against him and he would have had enemies because you can't be a strong character and not but he is not in, I mean I get that feeling that Mick and I always had something in common, we always felt that we could, to say sniff-out sounds rather disgusting, but any hint of pretence or evil and we were there, just instinctively and I guess that that's what happened .  Plus the fact of being ordered about and also on Mick's side that he wanted to do, he'd been used to controlling a certain amount and he wanted, he probably thought he had more control than he had 'til he got there, don't you think?

Roy Fowler  5:39  

Well relying on Sydney Gilliat's account, Sydney as I say was was brought over by your father from Shepherds Bush, where reluctantly he'd been made not a writer but an associate producer and he wanted to get back to writing so he was very happy to come in on "Yank at Oxford". But there was something, the count apparently is that over a period of time like five or six years they were working on that script 31 writers worked on that. 

Jill Balcon  6:12  

[LAUGHTER] Yes, well, yes. 

Roy Fowler  6:15  

And that they sent over people, there was a man called Leon Gordon, who came over ... 

Jill Balcon  6:20  

Yes I remember. 

Roy Fowler  6:21  

... to work on it. So all of this must have upset I think your father's concept of how a picture is made.

Jill Balcon  6:29  

Well I was just gonna say this is another thing we're talking about we're talking about somebody who had only worked in what you might call the confines of small British studios suddenly being in an empire. 

Roy Fowler  6:43  

Right with its own ways. 

Jill Balcon  6:45  

Exactly. And though they weren't the ways, my mother, they didn't like Hollywood. I mean, they had certain friends there that they loved, and I can't remember who they were to drop their names, but, and some of their friends from England were already working out there like Edmund Gwenn, Liz Allen and people like that, that they saw. And for my mother it was a sort of, she loved clothes so she would buy the latest beach pyjamas, which nobody in England was wearing and that sort of thing. But that's about it.

Roy Fowler  7:13  

So they, well they spent several months out there in the course of preparing that picture didn't they?

Jill Balcon  7:13  

Yes. And then well, you know, what happened after that? I mean, there was the whole thing about Ealing and that was very fortunate.

Roy Fowler  7:24  

Well, one final thing about "Yank at Oxford" because I think it's one of those hazy things there are so many opinions about it so so any further information is very useful. 

This is only speculation. 

Jill Balcon  7:35  

Well of course it is yes, but we're talking about what the perceived events are. Your father and Victor Savile had been associates from really very early on had they not? They were two boys from from Brum and they started out together in the film business. And yet this was the period of the falling out, was it not? Over I think ...

Victor Saville and my father?

Roy Fowler  7:59  

Victor Saville and  your father.

Jill Balcon  8:00  

I never knew what that was about.  They were another couple I never particularly, was never particularly glad to have, they were always around Victor and Phoebe. Well, you know, they were sort of yeah, I didn't think they were very attractive people.

Roy Fowler  8:13  

Well do you ever see the Woolfs now?  Mrs, Lady Woolf who ...

Jill Balcon  8:18  

I don't see 

Roy Fowler  8:19  

John's wife is Victor Saville's daughter. 

Jill Balcon  8:22  

Oh is she? I didn't know that. I never see anybody now like that. I don't see anybody now.

Roy Fowler  8:28  

I just wondered. Well there again according to Sydney Gilliat who's my source on this, it, they fell out because Victor Saville inherited your father's position with MGM and went on to go live in California and was a very successful producer at the studio during the '40s and '50s.

Jill Balcon  8:28  

And got on with Louis B Mayer.

Roy Fowler  8:50  

Well, I guess so. Yeah. 

Jill Balcon  8:52  

I wonder how? 

Roy Fowler  8:52  

As I say he was very successful. I suppose it was because he accommodated ... 

Jill Balcon  8:55  

Yes, I was going to say that it was not a conflict of personalities. 

Roy Fowler  8:58  

... he fit into the studio. Well own, the point I'm sort of delving into is that the, your father was immensely upset that Saville had taken ...

Jill Balcon  9:13  

Was he?

Roy Fowler  9:13  

... what in effect was his job? 

Jill Balcon  9:16  


Roy Fowler  9:17  

No, no, no, no, no. 

Jill Balcon  9:18  

Go on.

Roy Fowler  9:18  

Well, that's that's the question. Really?  Was he, did he?

Jill Balcon  9:22  

Well, first of all, I can't tell you that I just knew there was a row and that they weren't around. But I honestly it's awfully hard to remember all the ...

Roy Fowler  9:29  

Well, again you were 12.

Jill Balcon  9:30  

Secondly, on the sort of purely psychological basis however much you don't want something if a friend of yours is your successor it's not easy. 

Roy Fowler  9:39  

Oh, absolutely. 

Jill Balcon  9:40  

So I think that was probably the root of it, you know, and probably if Victor made a success of it, I don't know I don't ...

Roy Fowler  9:47  

Well, he didn't make a success of it, well I suppose he did because there were two very successful pictures that followed. But he did go there and was a very successful producer at Culver City. No I just wondered if there were any feelings or stories or legends within the family about that.

Jill Balcon  10:06  

No, not really, no, I never really cared, I don't think my father was all that crazy about them. They used to, I suppose when they came from Birmingham they used to go to that legendary coffee house called Legrain, which doesn't exist anymore but was one of the few coffee houses in London. 

Roy Fowler  10:06  

Where was that? 

Jill Balcon  10:17  

That was in Gerrard Street, just off Shaftesbury Avenue, very near Wardour Street. And out of a kind of sentiment and because I've always liked good coffee I used to go and buy my beans there as a young, you know when I was a young bachelor girl wanting good coffee that's where I went. I think that's where they used to do quite a lot of business with those marble top tables, you know, coffee houses are everywhere now or coffee bars ...

Roy Fowler  10:17  

 It's all Chinatown now there.

Jill Balcon  10:23  

Yes well, I know. But um ...

Roy Fowler  10:44  

Mmmm.  Well, that does bring us then to Ealing Studios and your memories of that so maybe we should have a cup of tea and refresh our palates.  I'll stop the tape.

Jill Balcon  11:11  

All right I'll make, I'll put the kettle on.

Roy Fowler  11:12  

All set right. Resuming after a welcome cup of tea. We're about to get on to Ealing Studios the move there and again, was there any recollection in your mind of him suddenly getting a new job?

Jill Balcon  11:27  

Yes, I think the recollection was of the eagerness with which he applied himself to running his own ship after the Louis B Mayer experience if you like of saying, obviously at a turning point in world affairs because war was looming, or Munich was looming, of saying I'd rather sink running my own ship than being messed about on somebody else's. So I think there was a kind of excitement in the air is what I remember. Though, of course, immense precariousness and since he did have so much financial responsibility for two children at school and all the things that go with the kind of lifestyle and so on, presumably he was worried about money.  Because I think the only time he ever earnt what was a large salary, and I have no idea what it was but I think it must have been large, the only time he ever earnt what you call big money was in 1937.

At MGM. Did he ask for the job to your knowledge?

I don't know.  You would have to ask the film buffs for that.

Roy Fowler  12:43  

Yes maybe Philip will find that out.  It was Courthauld money I think.

Jill Balcon  12:47  

Yes that's right and he was asked to take over some, what's his name was bowing out, Basil Dean - who later became the sort of my overall boss in the war with ENSA.

Roy Fowler  13:06  

Well, then again all one can ask is is what you recollect of the time?

Jill Balcon  13:10  

And I suppose, I'm sorry to interrupt you Roy but it just strikes me that he was taking over a ship that was possibly sinking before he got on it.

I think it was yes.

But that would have given him, knowing Mick it would have given him a sort of thrill in a way to feel he could do a great rescue operation I think.

Roy Fowler  13:29  

It was a very bad time for the British film industry anyway ...

Jill Balcon  13:33  

Wasn't it just.

Roy Fowler  13:33  

...  because Korda had gone down the drain and Shepherds Bush, Gaumont British too was in a very precarious state. And Rank was busily buying up things but I don't think the Rank Organisation yet had any clear cut aim.

Jill Balcon  13:49  

And he had got, I mean, I have explained that his lifestyle I mean his, it was entirely unpretentious but it was very good living and he had my mother who was a beauty, who required beautiful dresses and things and he had my brother's expensive prep school and I was at Roedean neither of us were on scholarships because we hadn't ... anyhow

Roy Fowler  14:16  

How many cars in the garage? 

Jill Balcon  14:17  

Well he had one and a driver and my mother since the episode I told you about earlier had always had a little car of her own. So there were two but I mean, she had her own and was and thank goodness she did it made her, he was always worried about it, about any kind of independence or danger as I've already explained to you, but the fact was that from that time of, think I must have been about 11 when she had this little Vauxhall which was a blessed relief to us all, she'd always had her own car.

Roy Fowler  14:49  

Do you remember what he's, his was? 

Jill Balcon  14:51  

His was ...

Roy Fowler  14:52  

Was it a roller or something grand?

Jill Balcon  14:55  

It was always a good large car, and I mean there were some very extraordinary early cars, there was something called a Willis Knight, which had, I seem to remember it had a cocktail bar [LAUGHTER] or something extraordinary. And there was a Daimler that made me feel so ill when I think of the terrible, terrible dreaded journey to the country every Friday and back to London on Monday, always being sick. That doesn't answer your question, but they were large, highly sprung cars for highly strung people. One might have been a Rolls at one point, but then after that, what did he run? Oh I can't remember but he always had, he had a driver, he had first of all Old Shackleton who was a wonderful old family chauffeur and then Young Shackleton, his son who drove him till the end. No I can't remember but that didn't sort of impinge and my mother had a modest Hillman or whatever you had in those days, that sort of thing.

Roy Fowler  15:57  

Did you now go to the studio quite regularly to see what was going on?

Jill Balcon  16:01  

No, not regularly, what what year are we talking about? 1938?

Roy Fowler  16:04  

Well, I'm saying throughout the '30s for example.

Jill Balcon  16:08  

Oh no, I went to Gaumont British. I certainly could remember what was called the Polish Corridor at Gaumont British, and later of course I worked there a lot because it was the BBC television as you know after Ally Pally, Alexandra Palace that is. And now we're into Ealing I don't think I went all that often. No, I don't think he liked that and we didn't, we did go from time to time.

Roy Fowler  16:31  

Were you tempted to trade on your father's position at all?

Jill Balcon  16:33  

Oh never, quite the reverse. And that nearly caused the most awful rift of many, many terrible rifts when I wanted to change my name. Because I wanted so much to make my own way and he was so overpowering you know.

Roy Fowler  16:46  

What about at school at Roedean? 

Jill Balcon  16:48  

What about it? 

Roy Fowler  16:49  

Were they aware that father was rather important in the film industry?

Jill Balcon  16:54  

Oh I don't know, I suppose they were.

Roy Fowler  16:57  

But no effect, no effect upon you?

Jill Balcon  16:59  

No I mean they had lots of important parents in different fields, one was just you know, I don't think schools do make a um, um I don't know some of them may do.

Roy Fowler  17:08  

Well the girls do I think don't they, would they not, the boys ...  

Jill Balcon  17:10  

I think they sometimes get the parents to talk about their job. I mean, I don't know about that school, I don't think he ever lectured to that school in the way that we used to when my children went to school be used in the nicest way by headmasters who wanted, you know wanted one to talk about ... 

Roy Fowler  17:12  

Trade on their connections.

Jill Balcon  17:21  

... No, I don't think they did.

Roy Fowler  17:30  

When did you start to formulate your wish, your desire to be an actress?

Jill Balcon  17:36  

When I was five. 

Roy Fowler  17:37  

Ah, well, now, we have skipped over time. 

Jill Balcon  17:40  

Well we have but again this is not about me this story. 

Roy Fowler  17:42  

No it's about both. It's about the family.

Jill Balcon  17:44  

No well.  My mother had been a child actress, and had earned her own school fees in fact.  And you asked me about the formative years and all that, well, if we can spool right back to Tufton Street and the early days before Ealing Studios this is: my mother was rather unusual in being uninhibited about letting me into the bathroom when she was having a bath. I mean, some women would have been extraordinarily petit bon about having their children around but I used to go and sit with her and she used to recite passages to me and she had the most beautiful voice. And I was absolutely thrilled by all this. And so, I think it was, it was partly dynastic if you like in that she had been an actress as a child but never wanted to continue with a career, as I've said before. And partly, I've thought of an awful lot of reasons why people go into the acting business, which is in some ways so difficult. And I think I'm quite convinced that part of it is you know wishing for parental approval, if you like and saying, 'Look, I'm here.' That may be the reason why I did it. But I did from the age of five in my kindergarten.

Roy Fowler  19:15  

And no doubt about it that was it clear cut?

Jill Balcon  19:17  

None at all and partly because I don't have any, I mean, I'm not multi-talented like my children so I just didn't have any, I mean, I didn't. In those days you either, I think it was thought that young ladies were going to get married and that was it and I never thought about that I thought about getting a job as I didn't think I could do many things. And neither can I am not very gifted.

Roy Fowler  19:41  

No, your parents presumably anticipated a "good marriage" for you as it was called then?

Jill Balcon  19:45  

Oh, I expect this in quotes a rich in, my father tried to put all kinds of rich industrialists in my way [LAUGHTER] you know. And I was absolutely, [LAUGHTER] and I remember him saying very angrily once before my 21st birthday - this was long before C Day-Lewis was to become my lover and my husband - I remember my father saying, "I suppose a lot of poets will come and none of them will have dinner jackets." I mean [LAUGHTER] he was terribly conventional about these things. I expect he said long haired or I may be inventing that but he just thought the riffraff that you go out with are not the sort of people to ... [LAUGHTER]

Roy Fowler  19:46  

Well did they dress for dinner in Tufton Street?

Jill Balcon  19:47  

Oh no, this is not Tufton Street this is my 21st birthday party years on when he was getting cantankerous about the sorts of boyfriends that I had.

Roy Fowler  20:18  

Was dressing for dinner part of ...

Jill Balcon  20:32  

Oh no they went out every night. So every night of my life, if I wasn't shoved into bed by the keeper, I was seeing my mother, that was my greatest treat, was to see my mother looking absolutely divine in all her evening dresses. 

Roy Fowler  20:56  

Sweeping down the stairs.

Jill Balcon  20:57  

Exactly going off to the first night of this. And then the KitKat was a great club they used to go to and Ciros where they had supper and all these names that were rather ...

Roy Fowler  21:07  

It's almost like a West End play the way you describe it.

Jill Balcon  21:09  

It is actually. Yes and a box would arrive with the flowers for my mother's corsage, according to what you know ...

Roy Fowler  21:16  

Did you tell your father of your intention to be an actress?

Jill Balcon  21:20  

I can't remember telling him, all I can remember is that he never wanted it. But to be fair to him he didn't stop my going to the Central School because I didn't, in those days, there weren't grants, he paid my fees. He wanted me to go to Oxford and he was disappointed I didn't, and I, I did get my own way. I got my own way with him twice. And at a slightly earlier time, I know we're going out of sequence in time but as these thoughts set-off other thoughts so I have to utter them. Um after Dunkirk and when it looked as though England could be invaded by the Nazis, I mean things looked really black and, of course, we didn't know about the Holocaust nobody did then or at least we didn't, we knew perfectly well about Hitler and the Jews by then. And perhaps I underestimated what my father must have been feeling about this, which must have been very terrible. A great number of friends and acquaintances, probably people like the Wielands whom I love anyhow, all said send the children out to America. And he could have done that many times over and I begged him I remember begging him in Lansdowne House where we had a flat after Tufton Street. I remember saying please don't separate us, you know let's all go down together because we by then were sort of in air raid shelters night after night anyhow. And he did take notice I'm not saying I won the day, but I just begged him not to send us away and thank God he didn't. Because I've met quite a lot of people since then who were evacuated to Canada and America and they had other difficulties.

Roy Fowler  23:14  

Readjusting coming back?

Jill Balcon  23:16  

Mmmm, and feeling guilty, because they hadn't been with us all and so on. So he did, I remember him, I remember also because he did speak to me like a grown-up when when we were in touch, I remember saying once it must have been in 1938 just about Ealing then, will there be a war? And he just looked at me very gravely and said yes, I think there will be.  He didn't try and say no to the truth.

Roy Fowler  23:45  

You mentioned the Polish Corridor a moment ago, which is one of the great lines of Shepherds Bush. 

Jill Balcon  23:53  


Roy Fowler  23:53  

I think I suppose there were two reasons for that. One is, it's because the Balcons were at the end of it. 

Jill Balcon  24:00  


Roy Fowler  24:00  

And the other is that of course your father was instrumental in employing so many refugees. 

Jill Balcon  24:07  

Yes.  I think it was a mixture of the two don't you?  

Roy Fowler  24:10  

 I think it was.

Jill Balcon  24:10  

I mean, he he collected Berthold Viertel and and Lucie, Lucie Mannheim and goodness knows.  The Veidts you see from the jaws of Nazism.

Roy Fowler  24:21  

Veidt left voluntarily I think. Didn't he? He  wasn't a Jew.

Jill Balcon  24:26  

 No, he wasn't but Lily was. 

Roy Fowler  24:28  

Ah. Right? 

Jill Balcon  24:29  

That was why he came away.

Roy Fowler  24:30  

She had no choice. 

Jill Balcon  24:32  

She had no choice. And so that was why yes, the Polish Corridor. That's right. Funny now that's all been dismantled I believe Lime Grove.

Roy Fowler  24:42  

Oh, it's destroyed now, it's gone. Yes. But he did bring over I think he was instrumental in bringing over if not that training, employing so many of those people like Alfred Junge for example, one of the art directors.  Mueller ( ?) ,

Viertel  I remember very well and Mannheim who married Marius Goring.

That's right Lucie Mannheim.  And the end product, especially of the technicians, the great cameramen, especially who came over was that they were marvellous mentors for that very young layer of British talent that came to its fruition in the in the war I think. So that had a great effect because the German film industry in the '20s was the finest in the world.

Jill Balcon  25:34  

Yes. People forget that when they talk about immigrants and what what contributions.

Roy Fowler  25:42  

Oh, you look back at those names and they really are formidable. I watched a terrible film, with respect, [LAUGHTER] it was one of your fathers called "His Lordship" with George Arliss, last week it was on a few days ago, but the sets were designed by Junge, the cameraman was Günther Krampf. They were all immigrants, marvelous, marvelous  technicians. Anyway. Ealing I suppose one can only say in very general terms what are your memories of the Ealing Studio influence on you, your home life, your father.  What were you aware of what was going on in Ealing? 

Jill Balcon  26:24  

One was much more aware because there the people who were round and about him at Ealing were constantly in our lives and ...

Roy Fowler  26:38  

Socially do you mean?

Jill Balcon  26:39  

Oh, yes. I mean, and those that weren't I met later because I did some filming there. But the Danischewskys and the Novandoffs ( ??) and Basil and Melissa Dearden and and Bob Hamer, I don't remember Robert coming to the house so much. But Carl Mason was constantly with us one way and another.

Yes. The house was what then Upper Parrock? 

Upper Parrock, they moved to Upper Parrock in 1938. Just about the time of me, just in time for Munich.

Roy Fowler  27:18  

And disposed of Tufton Street at the time or kept it on?

Jill Balcon  27:22  

I don't know exactly what happened there it must have been about, well Tufton Street was bombed.

Roy Fowler  27:26  

 It was bombed ...

Jill Balcon  27:27  


Roy Fowler  27:28  

...  in your time. I mean, in your -   

Jill Balcon  27:31  

No, no, we were at Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square. And we spent all these dreadful blitzes one after another in London, in the cellars or the what were the shelters underneath Lansdowne House underneath, in Berkeley Square. And I rather think I was asking my godmother, Lillian Browse, after your ceremony the other day, why she thought we'd not stayed on in Tufton Street, thank God we didn't or we'd have been bombed. And she said she thought it might have been money and that they must have had far more crises than any of us realised and maybe my father thought by renting out Tufton Street and renting a flat it would be cheaper. I don't know Berkeley Square seems to me rather a a grand address. 

Roy Fowler  28:10  

I would have thought Lansdowne House ...

Jill Balcon  28:12  

I honestly don't know the reasons I can't tell you Roy except that that was where we were that was, it was from that flat that we trudge down to the shelters every single night. And how we ever got, stayed alive in all those blitzes I don't know, but we were lucky we survived. Upper Parrock they bought in 1938, and it stood in a field, I mean the garden was made by a wonderful gardener at my mother's specifications and others.  She had a wonderful gardener called Ted Pollard who was with us for many years. But there were sheep grazing when we bought it and it had been converted by an ex-Wing Commander and it just suited everybody's purpose. It was the exact reverse of Henden Manor, you approached it from below and it was at the peak of a hill, which I can tell you in snowy weather and with the winds blowing I mean it had the most wonderful commanding views over the Kent/Sussex border that was beautiful, but the winds always blew because it was so high up.

Roy Fowler  29:10  

Right, were they rough winters?

Jill Balcon  29:12  

Very, chains on the cars and icy cold and you know very antiquated heating, big log fires. You know nobody expected central heating in those days to work properly.

Roy Fowler  29:23  

English masochism once again.

Jill Balcon  29:25  

Well yeah.  It was the winds, you can hear the winds in that house, but it had stood since the doomsday in one form or another so I suppose it was likely to remain. So, anyhow you were I'm digressing from Ealing Studios. I got to know them, some of them later when I was making "Nicholas Nickleby" because I knew Cavalcanti and worked for him and also Basil Dearden and Michael Relph, who made "Saraband for Dead Lovers". And I was very shy about working there. Cav, as we called him, Cavalcanti persuaded my father because he wanted me very much to play in "Nicholas Nickleby".  And, and I was against it, because at that stage of my life, I was 20, I was terribly anxious with all the sort of awful innuendos that there were in the business about, oh, well, you got your father and all that I didn't want to be working there, quite honestly. And I suppose I was easily seduced into doing a very interesting job and I'd been spending my war called up and, and I should really have had the guts to say no, because I should have made much more of my own way before going there but I'd been tatting around with ENSA, I'd done very well at the drama school so I had got a sort of beginnings of a career, but it was awkward.

Roy Fowler  30:57  

What, which was the picture you made with Cav?

Jill Balcon  31:00  

"Nicholas Nickleby"

Roy Fowler  31:01  

Oh, you're in that right. "Saraband" was on television again recently.

Jill Balcon  31:05  

Yes, I believe so yes.

Roy Fowler  31:07  

I saw that for the first time since the press show and it was a curious film for Ealing. As a matter of fact ...

Yes it was.

... out of, out of style almost. Well, now should one presume from the fact that these people came to the house that there was a kind of social interchange going on there, that doesn't sound, it doesn't sound as if there were a studio hierarchy in play that your father was boss and the others were subservient?

Jill Balcon  31:36  

No, I don't think. I mean, you couldn't. Did you never know Monja Danischewsky?

Roy Fowler  31:41  

I knew his son better I met him ...

Jill Balcon  31:45  

You couldn't possibly have someone like that.  I mean he was like, the wonderful court jester. I mean, my father adored him and he and Brenda. I mean, it was, it was absolutely sort of on equal terms. You couldn't possibly he was, he was a maverick of a kind absolutely adorable man. Oh I can remember I tell you, nothing to do with Ealing but I know who used to come to the house was that another rebel of a delightful kind was Ivor Montague. 

Roy Fowler  32:13  


Jill Balcon  32:14  

Those I wouldn't say again a close friend but I can remember his presence in the house very well. But no, to get back to Ealing no I don't think so I think, you know, they were friends and much loved and Hywel Mason my father was devoted to him. And we saw quite a lot of Hywel privately and he was always I mean like the most wonderful right-hand man that anybody could ever have had. He was so loyal and true. My father was very lucky.

Roy Fowler  32:46  

Did he bring scripts home?

Jill Balcon  32:47  

Oh I think say yes as far as I can remember. You know, it wasn't the, you are asking me questions. 

Roy Fowler  32:54  

Yes, of course you are away ... 

Jill Balcon  32:55  

Let's get it into perspective I was, first of all I was away at boarding school. 

Roy Fowler  32:58  


Jill Balcon  32:59  

Then I was away at the Central School of Speech and Drama, which was first of all evacuated and then bombed to bits in Exeter, so came back to London. I did live temporarily with them when we were bombed out of Lansdowne House, in Gerrards Cross, which was ghastly and a sort of huge hotel that the Red Cross had an interest in, and my mother got us there because of the Red Cross. So I was vaguely with them then. But then I was called up. And then when I got ill, went into the BBC. So, you know, an awful lot of the time I was not at home ...

Roy Fowler  33:36  


Jill Balcon  33:36  

... I still hadn't seen all the Ealing films there are. And there are lots of people in my parents' lives that I have never actually met, or have hardly met, let's say.

Roy Fowler  33:36  

And also you at that time in your life presumably very much were leading your own life anyway and less interested in what they were doing and what you were doing.

Yes I was.  I had to earn my living from the age of, you know.

Jill Balcon  33:58  

Well you lead the discussion then, where do we go from here?

No, I don't know I'd much rather you asked me questions I don't know where to go because the reason I sort of shuttled between, not shuttled that's not the word, but sort of dropped into various moments that are not sequential is simply because one memory starts off another a sort of butterfly suddenly going into Ivor Montague I suddenly see his presence at Upper Parrock, for instance. But I can't tell you an awful lot because ...

Roy Fowler  34:32  

Well, fair enough how about thumbnail sketches of those people that we've mentioned? What do you remember about Ivor Montague rather ...

Jill Balcon  34:32  

No I don't really, I just remember his face and presence and, and his political interests which interested my father and the fact that he was a brave man because I think he was a communist ...

Roy Fowler  34:49  

He was.

Jill Balcon  34:50  

 ... coming from a rather grand family. 

Roy Fowler  34:52  

A very rich family, right. 

Jill Balcon  34:55  

So thumbnail sketches no, except that wherever the Danischewskys were there was great laughter because you couldn't not, I mean, he was just such a wonderful clown. And um ...

Roy Fowler  35:05  

A character? 

Jill Balcon  35:06  

Well Monya yes.

Roy Fowler  35:09  

The Deardans or Basil Deardan?

Jill Balcon  35:11  

Don't think Basil came so often.  The Relphs used to come because Michael's first wife, Doris, they were very fond of, I don't think, and Mariah the present wife used to I think come occasionally. Charlie Frend and Sonya were very regular visitors, they were real friends and they used to have lovely weekends with us and they were such happy people and it was such a terrible in that they both had and that was the one that was really tragic. 

What happened? 

Well, Charlie sort of got very ill and they had no children and Charlie was sort of her husband, her child, her everything and then she sort of went to pieces in the end. And I think, I'm not sure if she committed suicide but she certainly died in very sort of sad circumstances. But we had, the house was full of laughter when Sonya and Charlie were there. My parents obviously adored, they got on terribly well, and we had, I mean, I just remember roaring with laughter and having fun.

Roy Fowler  36:11  

How did they spend their time on a weekend? 

My parents? 

Walking, playing games, eating, drinking?

Jill Balcon  36:17  

A lot of eating, not drinking neither of my parents, my father drank very, very moderately and knew a lot about wine and had very, very good wines. My mother was never seen to take a drop of anything, except a wine that is now beyond price, which she loved, called Chateau de Kemp, which nowadays you couldn't buy for probably 100 pounds a bottle, but I mean, she never drank. So when people came and sort of lapped up my parents immensely lavish hospitality, I would sort of gawp and think, God, that man's have three whiskies you know. And I remember my father was always quick to chastise me saying, 'You must never say, will you have ANOTHER whiskey? You must always say may I fill your glass' or something like that. You know because he was a very good host and I would go round you know looking after people. And in those days you handed cigarettes from a box because people smoked and you provided them and all those things we were brought up to do he was a very, very good host. But he didn't indulge himself no, no not at all. My mother provided these immense meals. What else did they do? But they used to go to point to points. They didn't garden. They didn't, my father walked, my mother was never known to if she could avoid it. So I don't know really I can't imagine how women of left,  I can't imagine how women spent their days.

Roy Fowler  37:48  

Well, it sounds like country house life of its period yes?

Well, not quite.

Slightly showbizzy?

Jill Balcon  37:53  

No, no, no, no.  There was a lot of talk, interesting talk. I do remember during the war for some reason we were playing cards not my father I think but with the next door neighbours, but there was no television after all, I think we listened to the radio sometimes. There was never enough good lighting in the drawing room at Upper Parrock to read books properly, I used to go up to my bedroom to read.  We had, like many families who had a radio where we heard the first ghastly news about war being declared, there was a big, heavy Bush radio on the floor in the dining room, where you had to have an appointment with the radio to listen. In other words, nobody, there was no such thing as a transistor. In fact, having worked in broadcasting all my life since I was 17 I didn't have my first transistor till my husband left for Harvard in 1964. But then I used to go and lie on my stomach in the dining room to listen to the man who was going to be my husband reading wonderful things, or whoever it was, but he had to make a date with the radio. I don't think they listened in very much except in news bulletins. My father read a lot. His eyes were okay then which was later they weren't. He read a lot, a huge amount.

Roy Fowler  39:23  

Was that for his own edification or related to film ... 

Jill Balcon  39:26  

Oh yes, I mean yes.

Roy Fowler  39:26  

Related to ...

Jill Balcon  39:27  

No it wasn't related, I don't know, I can't tell you at this distance it's so long ago. I can't possibly tell you except that I say from the point of view of periodicals it was interesting that somebody of that generation, I'm now talking about even later in his life, should always have a range of newspapers including always the New Statesman and Private Eye. He knew all the stuff about Lady Fork Bender and all those [LAUAGHTER] things were going on I didn't but he did. He knew everything that was going on. He was very, very well informed say that reading was part of that. 

Roy Fowler  40:05  

Did you and he ever talk politics? 

Jill Balcon  40:07  

Yes because mine was the same as his.

Roy Fowler  40:09  

Right. How, what shall we say how advanced was he? How, was he centrist or left, well he was left of centre presumably? Or a little more than centre.

Jill Balcon  40:21  

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. 

A Labour Party supporter overtly?

Yes, I think so. Yes because of Hugh Gaitskell.

Roy Fowler  40:30  

How about in the '30s would you know about those?

Jill Balcon  40:33  

Yes, of course because of the Left Book Club. 

Roy Fowler  40:35  


Jill Balcon  40:35  

I remember as a child, I'll never forget the marches to Westminster, which I saw as a child I mean I was absolutely scarified. 

Around the corner from them?

Round the corner from Tufton Street, and how could one ever forget or the soup kitchens that the then Prince of Wales set-up and so on. I mean, one saw the injustice of, I mean I, I don't know whether it was by osmosis or by Victor Gollancz's books, or my father as I didn't see him all that much, but but very, very, very early on I was aware that there was terrible social injustice. I think I saw it with my own eyes. So I was a socialist from the start.

Roy Fowler  41:20  

Were Mick and Gollancz friends?

Jill Balcon  41:22  

Don't think so. 

Roy Fowler  41:23  

No. Was he active politically in the '30s in any sense? Or was the studio all-consuming at this time?

Jill Balcon  41:33  

I don't think he had time I don't know. I remember Mosley on the street corners and things and all that must have, one must have heard about,  I don't know how active he, I really can't tell you that. I mean I wasn't at an age when he would have confided in me.

Roy Fowler  41:48  

I'm just fishing. Right well I suppose really the next landmark is the 1945 election. You say he was a great friend of Gaitskell's had he been previously of Attlee's to you knowledge or any of that government?

Jill Balcon  41:48  

No he wasn't a friend of Attlee's  he was a great friend of Michael Foot and Hugh Gaitskell 'til the day that he died and 'til the day my father died. Happily Michael is still with us. He was devoted to them I think probably it was a little difficult to be tactful as I said, when Gaitskell fell out with Nye Bevan and the Foot contingent but he managed it because they were, he adored Michael,

Roy Fowler  42:29  

We discussed that not on the tape that's why I'm going back.

Jill Balcon  42:32  

Oh yes, yes. No, he was devoted to Hugh and devoted to Michael. I remember Hugh coming to my house with a Christmas present for my son because his daughter was godmother almost straight from the Suez Crisis. I was very, very fond of Hugh, we all were, and the girls, his daughters who have gone out of my life unfortunately.

Roy Fowler  43:00  

Well we're almost at the end of this one I'll flip it over and we'll see where we stand.

End Of Side 3

Side 4

Roy Fowler  0:01  

We're on Side 4 now so that's  2 hours of recording. 

Jill Balcon  0:07  

I'm afraid I've flipped about in time because one has to. It's like playing my grandmother's trunk one thing suggests another, but it's not always in sequence, which may be awkward for you,

Roy Fowler  0:19  

Right. Well, again, it's a period of your lives when you were off doing things and you weren't necessarily seeing that much of them. 

Jill Balcon  0:26  

I was at home as little as possible because he was so repressive. And he couldn't stop my being called up because I was 18. He would like to have stopped my going to be the one of the leading players at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre. The only sort of backhanded compliment he paid me as I was leaving home that particular day, having said goodbye, was you could have got work in London. [LAUGHTER] But he didn't approve of any kind of independence at all, he wanted to keep his tabs on everything one did. And of course, he thought my private life was reprehensible anyhow, so I had to be very secretive about love affairs and all the men I knew he wouldn't approve of.

Roy Fowler  1:13  

Hmm. Although you are going your separate ways, I suppose that means when, when since we're talking about him, and if we may we'll come back to you later but when did you then resume a closer contact with him? What period of his life then?

Jill Balcon  1:31  

Closer contact? I suppose  when I was a widow. 

Roy Fowler  1:35  

That's a long time then. 

Jill Balcon  1:36  


Roy Fowler  1:37  

By which time is he still working? Is he at Bryanston now? No he's retired. 

Jill Balcon  1:41  

I can't remember it was 1972, 25 years ago.

Roy Fowler  1:46  

Right. Well, that was getting towards the end of his life wasn't it.

Jill Balcon  1:50  

He was going to die in 1977.

Roy Fowler  1:55  

He's mellowed though this time?

Jill Balcon  1:57  

 Up to a point.

Roy Fowler  1:58  

Only up to a point. Now, now he's knighted he is Sir Michael. Did that. change him? He must be very proud of that. 

Oh yes he was. 

Jill Balcon  2:08  

Did that affect him in any way? Did he get grander?

Oh, no, no, not at all. He wasn't in that sense, he had no folly of grandeur at all. He was very, he was always demanding in sort of getting what he wanted and you know, in the way of service and everything being, that was nothing to do with being a knight that was just expecting the highest standards of everybody, including us and we couldn't provide them always. Nothing but the best, he said once, nothing but the best.

Roy Fowler  2:40  

Good for him.

Jill Balcon  2:41  

Well, and he wanted everything done yesterday, you know, if he went like that [CLAPPED]. It was very difficult, you knew you couldn't possibly live up to such expectations. You knew also that every family not just because you're that kind of brilliant man's child, but every family has a child that wants to plough his own furrow. And the difficulty is when somebody wants you to be in his or her own image he was very, very jealous of older men who took an interest in me and would talk to me because he never had found the time you see. So  he was terribly jealous when one or two people showed interest of this kind. And um and always wanted, I mean the most difficult thing of all was being a student and living temporarily in this hotel in the early part of the war and trying to do all the works I wanted so well to succeed. And my father insisting that I sat with them after dinner until nine o'clock or whatever it was, just because one had to conform to his, there was no give about one having a different way of life at all. 

Roy Fowler  3:56  

How did he express that? I mean was it very sternly, this is way it  must be?

Jill Balcon  4:01  

Yes, absolutely. No question and if you didn't tow the line ...  my brother kind of towed the line because it was the easy way to say you know, yes, sir. 

Roy Fowler  4:14  

And sons invariably are more favoured anyway aren't they more tolerated or treated more tolerantly I think, more spoiled I suppose? I mean your brother is a whole discussion is in and of himself.

Jill Balcon  4:29  

I mean, how one looked and how one was and, and one's manners. I mean, I'm very glad he was so stern. You know ones,  his insistence on good manners, but then some people would say nowadays of the young you know, my goodness that's so boring and you know we don't do that anymore. I remember saying to my daughter, who was also a rebel in her in her way, when she was going to stay with my father, with her grandfather, and I said look Tamsin he does very much like you to say good morning when you come down in the morning and I was trying to tell her what I knew he liked you see.  He could sulk if you didn't do it.  He didn't mind with her, first of all she was a grandchild and secondly she would say 'Hi' what she call him, Cuppy was her pet name for him, 'Hi Cuppy'  but he didn't mind you see because it was a granddaughter she got away with it because she was charming anyhow but with us it had to be what exactly to his specification

Roy Fowler  5:37  

Well yeah. I don't really know where to go from here because yes, I suppose other than his, other than his declining years or his final years.

Jill Balcon  5:53  

Well, then he did sort of become more human, as I say he used to go around Sainsbury's with my mother and he was very funny about that. And I thought that was rather charming nearly 80 suddenly to go shopping when he'd never, I'd say he'd never, he provided money for presents but he'd never gone and chosen anything, gone into a shop, done anything as far as one could see that human fathers did in that way. And there he was suddenly sort of becoming rather mellow ...

Roy Fowler  6:21  

Trotting around Sainsbury's putting things in the shopping cart?

Jill Balcon  6:24  

Yes [LAUGHTER] Absolutely.

Roy Fowler  6:29  

Were his final years happy?

Jill Balcon  6:31  

Oh I think so yes, I think so because he loved being at Upper Parrock and, and my mother saw that everything was comfortable and that he had everything you know the way he wanted it.

Roy Fowler  6:45  

And he'd given up work he had no desire presumably to work?

No I don't think so.

Why at that age, it would be unnecessary.

Jill Balcon  6:54  

But he was always very interested for instance David Puttnam will always pay tribute to the fact that he made a pilgrimage if you like with Patsy and tiny children they were then to, to the father figure of Mick at Upper Parrock and Mick adored, it was about the Bugsy Malone period. 

Roy Fowler  6:54  

Oh yes.

Jill Balcon  7:07  

Mick telling me all about it. I never met the Puttnams unitl oh, donkey's years after he was dead. Mick was so taken, this was one of the great charms he had of his interest in and encouragement of youth. And he saw something in David and David obviously responded to somebody who was like a son figure, if you like in the business, at any rate in the industry and in that way he was absolutely wonderful with young people and young aspiring people. And I mean, his you talk about his declining years I mean I can't remember a week that there wasn't some visitation from somebody wanting to learn from him, talk to him. They would try to get him to talk on the radio at times and I remember him saying to me, we had a discussion once about these interviews and we both knew how technically we would sit there talking for three-quarters of an hour and the editing would get it down to sort of four minutes and one would probably come out looking like a fool. But and he got, in the end he said I don't want to be pronouncing on the British film industry or whatever it is anymore because I know what their game is, you know I don't come out sounding like anything I said. But he would do that and like all of us as we get older endlessly supporting people having memorial services, their friends dying, but always hospitable immensely, I mean, the open house for, was absolutely amazing. Mind you, they managed to have people who wonderful, wonderful Mrs Pollard, our gardener's wife, who cooked so beautifully after our cook had died and they had people to do it but they were enormously generous hosts.

Roy Fowler  8:58  

All right, did he have interests other than the film industry in those last years?

Jill Balcon  9:04  

Well, I think he was always interested in cricket, like so many men, as I was made to play it at school I couldn't join in that one, and football because he'd been keen at school.  He wasn't ...

Roy Fowler  9:15  

I meant causes actually.

Oh causes, oh I see what you mean. I don't know about causes. I know ...

He always kept an interest I know in the British film industry, he invariably if there were yet another emergency problem, he would always contribute, offer his opinion would he not?

Jill Balcon  9:33  

Yes, and I remember certain times when THE CRISIS wasn't only 1938 I remember at one point in 1949 something major must have been going on because he booked a ticket to go to France with my mother, first time after the war on a sort of wine and food society peregrination and he couldn't go so gave me his ticket very generously, and I went with my mama. I don't know what was happening then but for some reason he had to be wherever he was.

Roy Fowler  9:33  

I guess that was the incipient collapse of the Rank Organisation.

Jill Balcon  10:09  

Maybe, yes, it was the summer of '49.

Roy Fowler  10:12  

And I think the beginning of the decline of Ealing too, which was because of Rank Distribution and the financing. 


Did John Davis ever cross your path, must have crossed his?

Jill Balcon  10:26  

Yes they disliked him so much. I mean, I think more dislike is much too easy a word I think they thought he was very evil. I think that was another one. I never heard them say a kind word about him.

Roy Fowler  10:41  

Good.  Right, you said a moment ago about David Puttnam and the encouragement of youth but surely that was one of the great secrets of Ealing that he gave so many young, talented people their chance?

Jill Balcon  10:55  

It's true. But I also think it was one of his very great charms. I mean, I've just done done, spoken at a memorial service for somebody who was a contemporary of my brother's at school and who lived fairly locally with, had divorced parents and so on. And the youth round and about not just David Puttnam and people in the films but my father's interest in and encouragement of youth, young people was so touching. And he taught them, some of them had never been spoken to as equals before. It's always so sad that's that one's own father who can't talk to one, you know, can be so wonderful with other people's children. And I sometimes think that'll be my epitaph, you know other people's children, family, better than my own you know as a mother, if you like, but just that one can somehow, he was so good and say unjudgmental, because of course they weren't, they weren't his own. And um ...

Roy Fowler  12:02  

Well, it was a remarkable father to have really absolutely with all the ups and down.

Jill Balcon  12:07  

One is more grateful for instead of resenting the confiscation of the evening dress and the pony one should be more grateful for all that was offered in the way of chances and opportunities. I just, I wish, of course, that he had given one more head but then parents now have to see their children off to the other side of the world with backpacks and worry about terrorists and all those things. And it would have been nice if he had just, I suppose, I suppose I should be grateful to the war that it forced one out of his clutches, you know from, from examining every moment of one's day, what one was up to and why one wasn't at home. And the worst thing that ever happened, the first big rift was when I went, because I could not cope with this country hotel and trying to do all the work for the Central and eventually, you know, do very well well there but I, I went and moved into a bedsit in London, which was an attic of my own, a room but it was an attic where I could touch all four walls, in the same lodging house as his secretary. I mean, we went that far and and he thought that was the end of the world and I thought to myself, if only he could see that at this age one's got to go and be a student and do one's work.  And you know it was so extraordinary that someone so intelligent could have this complete blackout about what young, his own young should have been doing. 

Roy Fowler  12:07  

It isn't unusual though ... 

Jill Balcon  12:18  

It's not at all unusual. It just was very difficult to deal with and the guilt that goes with it and all that.

All the things that might have been.

I mean I got the gold medal and he was very, very pleased but you know, he didn't encourage one much and ...

Roy Fowler  14:10  

How did he come to his end Jill was it ...

Jill Balcon  14:12  

He had a heart attack and my mother felt very guilty about that. He had a wonderfully happy day with Tony Pelissier  and Ursula Howells, Tony's wife, who he was very fond of and they talked and they laughed and they probably had wonderful food and he just died in his chair in his dressing room. My, my mother didn't realise, you know, at first but I mean it was a terrible shock for her of course but he just went so peacefully and quickly. He would have been a very difficult invalid poor darling but you know it was terrible for her because I mean one moment your, you know, all your plans for the next week and the sudden death is dreadful. I've had that as well as well, I know all about that. But it was wonderful way for him to go and he was 82 and had had a lovely day and a very full life and all that. And we were very good friends at the end, as I say partly because he, he had begun to see the point of my working hard for the children when I had no husband and partly having had two cancer operations. And, you know, we were, he was very good to me about that time, wonderful, absolutely wonderful. And I really felt very, we used to go for walks on the old railway line, because he was a bit lame by then and he could walk on the flat and when Beeching took away the local railway line I would drive him down through his own land down to the old railway line, and we'd walk on the flat together and talk and, and he was, he was very sweet. And I used to spoil him sometimes because they were always sort of having what they called 'servant trouble' and I would sort of rush down with a few fish cakes, which he loved, and try to please him in fact, you know ...  He was um, he was so funny.  That's the other thing you know, two elements when one's talking about somebody who's difficult um lovable but difficult, there are two elements that are very, very hard to describe to you or anybody else, two tremendous elements I've decided in his life and a lot of other peoples that I love, and they are charm, which you cannot possibly define, and of which he had a great deal and also this wonderful sense of humour. You know, laughter is such a binding force.

Roy Fowler  14:39  

It's interesting because out of all our conversation today none of that yet has come through ...

Jill Balcon  16:11  

I'm saying it now because I suppose you know, one has to kind of distill it in the end and I realised that this is so much part of one's love for so many people. I've often thought people go on about sex, a great deal and it's wildly important, but laughter is I think one of the most binding forces between human beings that ever was and I know my beloved husband 'til the day he was so ill, he nearly, well until just before his death, I mean, we laughed every day, the house was ringing with laughter. And I realised how much I miss that in people and my father was so funny. But of course, being so touchy you never knew you were, you would never knew you were on safe ground. 

Roy Fowler  17:37  


Jill Balcon  17:38  

That's not easy for a child, you, you have children who are deprived in every kind of way, which I wasn't materially and, and from the education point of view, and all the, those advantages, but for a child who doesn't know how the wind is going to blow every day, it's a pretty precarious existence of another kind.

When you say he was funny and there was a lot of laughter, how did it come about? Would he make funny remarks, jokes or tell stories?

Oh you can't, you can't, I can't do that for you, no, no.

Nothing in particular that comes back  to mind?

No you can't.  Laughter is such a spontaneous thing I mean somebody's account of some episode, or they're, disarming even laughing at himself sometimes, I mean it was utterly disarming. And  I know I've said this in this broadcast about him in the series of fathers and daughters I was telling you about, I remember saying to June Knox-Mawer he was absolutely fizzing with vitality you see. And if you're interested in other people as he was, there's a sort of ??? of laughter and conversation. It's a shared it's not he was, yes, he was a 'Pasha', as my friend Patsy used to call him but he was genuinely interested in all human beings and that creates great warmth and the exchange of views and you know, forgetting the children and the parents in this case, I mean he was wonderful company,

Roy Fowler  19:14  

But there was a boundary which ...

Jill Balcon  19:17  

Huh, oh ...

Roy Fowler  19:17  

... one overstepped at one's risk, and then what an explosion? 

Jill Balcon  19:21  

Well, yes. And I mean, you know they talk about Victorian values and all that rubbish. The Victorians were such hypocrites my father was not, I mean, he may have been a Victorian born in 1896 but ...

Roy Fowler  19:33  

He was abstemious and he was faithful ...

Jill Balcon  19:35  

Abstemious, faithful and and, you know appalled you know that I should be the co-respondent in a divorce case, which in those days by by laws it was then and poor man I realise how he suffered now but it was one night on the Evening Standard, you know, that's, then it was over but for him it was a shock. No. He was very, he was full of prudery about - yes, all kinds of things. Yes, You couldn't step beyond the bounds my word and you didn't know when those were coming and that was so frightening because you either got wrath, rage, or you got a sort of total sulk because you hadn't said good morning, or you'd put lipstick on or you hadn't put lipstick on or whatever it was, you know. I could, I mean, I can't describe to you and I don't suppose to for this purpose some of the things you wouldn't believe that were so trivial that may cause offence let's say. That ...

Roy Fowler  19:37  

Unkind you make him, well not that you make him sound, but he must have been unkind in that respect to be have been that careless of other people's emotions. I'm not sure, did, were we  talking about the horse or the pony and the and the dress that you had off tape I think we were. Didn't we do that over a cup of tea. 

Jill Balcon  21:04  

I don't know, I have no idea. No, I think we did all that.

Roy Fowler  21:07  

On tape? 

Jill Balcon  21:07  

I think so. 

Roy Fowler  21:08  

Right okay.

Jill Balcon  21:10  

That was not, I mean, it was unkind in its effect on a child who was not being encouraged, you know, well done, you stuck on that horse, you know, we better get another better one sometime. Or else that dress didn't go to near the fire, you know those over protective things one sees all the reason for it and the fact that he was a man of great neurosis and fear about his loved ones coming to harm and one can see that as the extension of the protective man. And God knows one would love to be protected more sometimes now or to be protected at all, but to be over protected. It's that balance, which is so difficult, and I think my children will probably tell you if they were recording that they might even accuse one of not protecting them enough, though I hope that's not so. But I'm, Cecil and I were so anxious to give them what Cecil called a loose rein.

Roy Fowler  22:03  


Yes. All right. I mean, you know I'm going off to Africa for Christmas so have a good time, you know, that sort of thing, which we did. My goodness we did. But then, you know we're not regarded as ideal parents either.

Oh how can there be such a thing? 

Jill Balcon  22:22  

Well there are people who are ...

Roy Fowler  22:24  


Jill Balcon  22:24  

I've just been staying with one, you know who is obviously the perfect mother and what happened to her her daughter was killed in an avalanche. You know you just ... but ...

Roy Fowler  22:39  

You know, that's the random nature of life again isn't it?

Jill Balcon  22:42  

I think I'd like to know so much more about what went into that man and it's all too late. And once with an aunt, the last remaining aunt, and once with my cousin, there are some cousins left as you know because they came to the ceremony you organised, but you know, we ought to be able to find out, there's no one to talk to us, but there should be some archives that provide perhaps a bit more information. I mean, I would love to know what genes went into him, and also what concentrates it out of five children he was the brilliant one. 

Roy Fowler  23:19  


Jill Balcon  22:43  

They were all very dear people but he was the one into whom all this sort of ambition and drive and hard work ... And I remember him saying, he didn't complain about money, but I remember him saying at one stage, and I forget what the government had done, you know that they talk about unearned income, and he said, you know, being taxed with every penny that's gone into this land and my house, you know, every penny has been earned, there's nothing inherited there.

Roy Fowler  23:26  

And that was the era when one paid 19 and 6 pence in the pound income tax.

Jill Balcon  24:04  

And he was yes, he wanted, I mean, as you say it's not exclusive for Jewish people to want their children to have what they call security. But what I think he overlooked and I think this is very, very important for a parent, I hope I've not done too badly in this way, is that he never once said, I'm so glad you're happy. Which I patently was, just all that stuff about, you know, well ... yes, he had me on the mat at Ealing just after my first child was born. If I had directed your life, it would have been very different from this and I thought that's an indication for any psychiatrist if ever there was one. 

Roy Fowler  24:06  

Well surely, surely.

Jill Balcon  24:06  

I was made to stand in front of his desk while he told me what he disapproved of, and it was something so trivial, and I was ill at the time. And you know, you can't be like that really you've got to let them go.

Roy Fowler  25:02  

You said a moment ago about what Jewish parents want for their children ... 

Jill Balcon  25:08  

What every parent wants ...

Roy Fowler  25:09  

... what every parent needs ...

Jill Balcon  25:10  

 Is secure ...

Roy Fowler  25:11  

... I was curious about his as it were Jewishness do. You weren't practising?

Jill Balcon  25:17  

Not at all. And this is another flaring row, which I must say I am, you know, I suppose I'm responsible for, what I mean he, we were not brought up in the faith at all at all at all. Except that I do remember as a youngster going to the odd Jewish wedding and somebody's funeral obviously here and there in a liberal synagogue, but not one scrap of it was kept. So what did he do, he sent my brother to Summerfields and Eton and me to Roedean, where we practiced the CofE and sang in the choir and had to learn it all aurally and I'm talking about a u r a double l y. Because there was no other way to know the Lord's prayer except by listening, we'd never been taught anything. And years later when my niece Deborah, who was the daughter of my brother, obviously Jewish, my sister-in-law, who was not, like my own children in other words half-Jewish but had been confirmed in the Christian church, mine were not confirmed but they were baptised in it, wore a crucifix and he just exploded. And after she'd gone, I know it was asking for trouble but I just couldn't help it, I said to him, well really Mick you nearly it's better than a swastika, isn't it? Or something and I said, besides, I said, could you tell me what the passover was all about because I don't ... And he was furious, he was furious. I thought, I don't know. At school, there was a group of children who went off to Hebrew lessons who thought I was, practically persecuted me because I didn't, the Jewish Brigade. And there was my father, you know, blowing off about a perfectly innocent emblem that I thought was not altogether a bad thing if you came from a mixed parentage. But there you are you see ...

Roy Fowler  27:22  

But there again, what difference does it make a Star of David or a cross? 

Jill Balcon  27:27  

He wouldn't come to my daughter's christening, because he talked about his place in the Jewish community. Well, he was, he never denied naturally, how could he? But he didn't take part in any of the exclusively Jewish things. 

Roy Fowler  27:40  

There was never any thought that Jonathan would be bar mitzvahed for example then?

Jill Balcon  27:43  

No, nothing, none of that.

Roy Fowler  27:47  

When was the time when you were able to stand up to him? The wrath, the paternal wrath?

Jill Balcon  27:57  

Well, that's an example, isn't it Roy? I mean, I don't know how old I was then but a married woman. I, my niece was probably, oh, yes I mean, I stood up, but I paid the price. And then as I say, when I was, you know, a young widow with children to go on raising and, and then then then I didn't have to.

Roy Fowler  28:21  

How long did his furies last? Was he unforgiving?

Jill Balcon  28:27  

Sulks.  Oh very, his sulks could last of gosh, and they were always in the right. Whereas I do think from the word go with our children if we felt we criticised them unjustly or done anything we always said we were sorry and I think that's so important. That they shouldn't be I mean, it was always I who had to make the, Cecil my husband was so wonderful about this, because he used to say, look, you've got to do it because he wont and it's much bigger if you will. I mean here's an example of the worst ever silence if you like, there was several terrible ones: when my first child was born, who was a daughter, Cecil had wanted a daughter very much because he already had several boys and this was a big excitement and he went up and had a glass of wine with some neighbours when the news came through to him that I got this little girl and they composed the notice for The Times, you know, over a glass of wine. And Cecil did not put nee Balcon he just put 'to Jill and Cecil Day-Lewis, a daughter' da-da-da-di-da my father never, I mean, never spoke to us for month upon month upon month. He thought it was a considered slight it was the last thing in the world we would have thought of doing to slight him but you see that was what I mean. So he never sent a message, I never had any visit at the hospital and he never saw the child until I sent her down, under escort at three months, and of course, they fell in love with her. But that was a really tricky one.

Roy Fowler  30:09  

So he was thin-skinned  along with everything else then?


Did it never occur to him that other people were as strong-willed as he, because clearly there is this line of dissent where some very, very tough people involved. I mean, there was he, well, in other words, very strong-willed people, people of convictions. You yourself are one. Certainly he ...

I'm not quite sure what you are asking me.

Did it never occurr to him that there's more than one side to a question or an attitude?

Jill Balcon  30:44  

[LAUGHTER] Not where his, not, not where family life is concerned. It was, what I and what and and the sort of why do I do this because I say so, I mean, that was how it was then. Children wont stand for that anymore.

Roy Fowler  30:59  

Yes I understand that. Yeah, my my father was the same way. And school teachers were too in those days.

Jill Balcon  31:05  

I think what I, again, like everything else there are two sides, the good and the bad on the good side of an upbringing, like that one is very, very sensitive to atmospheres and people and how they're feeling and that's a good thing. But on the bad side, the really bad side, I do regret very much, I mean, I want - it's not rain is it?

Roy Fowler  31:33  

No it's your fountain. 

Jill Balcon  31:34  

I want people to be happy, but I don't want to be placatory in that sort of psycho-fantic way that sometimes I think that an awful lot of my life was spent trying to sort of anticipate what might make him explode and therefore being too placatory. I mean, it's, it sounds as though one's always a rebel, but one isn't once half the time trying to offset anything to offset it not to have a row.

Roy Fowler  31:59  

And I'll tell you what, it leaves one very insecure for the rest of one's life.

Jill Balcon  32:02  

Of course, absolutely. Are you sure that isn't rain because if it is I should put the chairs away.

Roy Fowler  32:08  

I think it's your fountain but I'll stop ...

Jill Balcon  32:13  

No, it's rain. 

Roy Fowler  32:14  

Oh God.

Jill Balcon  32:14  

I'm sorry, can we switch off I must put the ... 

Yes, I think I remember saying to him as I left, and I can't remember whether it was the last time before my second operation or when, but I remember saying something about guilt at feeling very priviledged, being a privileged person, of course I was. And I remember him looking at me with those very, very, very, rather burning brown eyes looking straight at me saying 'Not any more Jilly', Jilly was what they called me. Not anymore, rather as though and he was right. The days of privilege, the days of wine and roses were over. I suppose one of the things that is set-up in families like ours, was, I wouldn't put it that way, I'd say one of the things, one of the conflicts in me was the enjoyment, obviously the enjoyment of a certain amount of privilege and at the same time guilt because I felt that life was very unequal for other people. And because in my profession I met after I left school obviously, I met people who were very under-privileged and I was very conscious of the fact that if I did run out of cash, which I frequently did because I didn't have a large allowance or anything, that I could go home for Sunday lunch, and some of them couldn't.

Roy Fowler  33:59  


Jill Balcon  33:59  

Just that and that man one this kind of backup and I've always felt rather guilty about that and thought I'd have been a much better artist if I'd had the kind of struggle that my father had. But then that's arguable because with really other dynastic families like the Redgraves, I know they're much more talented, but at the same time there are a lot of families that have children and grandchildren who do the same job and have had certain privileges if you like of wealth and comfort. But I was very torn between the Sybarite and the Puritan in myself in that I had to wear a hair shirt at a certain point because I was, wanted to get rid of that sort of background of comfort and try and struggle and become somebody worthwhile in my own profession. The other thing that's happened a great deal, and I was by no means a fool ever but I was a little bit naive about this, was the number of people who I thought were my friends who were simply using me as the gateway to Ealing Studios, so they thought, or they almost said, 'How are you, how's your father?' you know almost like that. Not that he did casting or anything but that I was the gateway to a powerful man born in on me when one or two quite upsetting things happened and people I had thought my friends were only interested in what I could, what they could get out of my family. But that's the way it is with power of any sort.

Roy Fowler  35:43  

Well, looking back these 70 years um, yeah, I mean clearly you have mixed emotions about the whole thing, but was either one of them a role model that now you appreciate? 

Jill Balcon  35:57  

What my parents? 

Roy Fowler  35:58  

Yes, of your parents?

Jill Balcon  35:59  

Well, certainly from the point of view, I mean, I've talked about some of the more difficult things, but one of them, the best things that a child can have is to have two parents who love each other, which they really did 'til the day he died I mean, no question. 

Roy Fowler  36:17  


Jill Balcon  36:17  

So that um obviously, I remember thinking not oh how awful marriage is but how will I ever ever find somebody when this is the model I have of what is nothing's perfect, but of a very, very good marriage and I thought this can't happen very often, probably. 

Roy Fowler  36:35  

And that you've enjoyed, have you not?

Jill Balcon  36:37  

And I yes I have but the fact is that, that was a great blessing when I think of all the people I know who had unhappy parents and unhappy backgrounds. There was that kind of stability if you like, and also certainly my father's honesty but that in itself was a lot to live up to. Like I mean, I'm never quite sure if my own honesty, I hope I am honest, isn't partly the fear I was always had of my father [LAUGHTER] especially trying to bring a watch back from Switzerland after the war, things like this. Him saying you have to declare everything to the customs, you do know that don't you? And always paying your bills on time. You see I've done that and other members of the family are not so conscientious let's say.

Roy Fowler  37:35  

There's one thing we have to say in his defence too is that however he behaved at any particular time he had his demons to which had been passed on to him, I suppose.

Jill Balcon  37:48  

That's a very important point Roy, which my son has always pointed out to me and that is absolutely true. Of course he did. And one is so impatient as a youngster when one's critical and one must learn to forgive them.

Roy Fowler  38:02  

Oh we are so intolerant as young people aren't they?

Jill Balcon  38:04  

Yes and wanting one's head. I mean, I still remember the indignity of of that kind of possessing: What are you doing? Why didn't you come to lunch with us on Sunday? I heard in the Garrick Club that you were staying with Ian Parsons and his wife. They are only X number of miles away why weren't you having lunch with us? I mean, it was that kind of possessiveness, which I could not take. And I think I'm not guilty of that with my children, though. I'm guilty of so many other things.

And it isn't supportable, it isn't rational. 

Roy Fowler  38:37  

Well, it's very difficult to deal with. And um ...

It's something I think daughters invariably, invariably suffer.

Jill Balcon  38:44  

And um ... But they were, they were, they were very remarkable in their way. And they were very lucky to find each other, my goodness he was lucky and so was she.

Roy Fowler  39:04  

Your mother survived him for a number of years, did she  not?

Jill Balcon  39:08  

Yes, he died in 1977 and she died in 1987. She was 82 years because she was 10 years younger than he was. And it was a miserable end. I mean, she had Alzheimer's, she let herself go. I mean, this beautiful, fastidious creature became dirty and impossible, and no servant would want to stay, no nurse and she was, it was just dreadful to see what, how the mighty have fallen to see this little crone curled up in a bed in an old people's home at the end when she had been that beautiful woman and that portrait up there, and svelte and fastidious and fun and all the things you know. A terrific rallier you know my mother was when people were in trouble.

Roy Fowler  39:56  

Well, I don't know about  you, I want no part of that. Do you ? 

What ?  

I don't, I want no part of that at all. I want to go neatly, tidily and well like your father.

Jill Balcon  40:06  

Well she has such a wonderful sense of humour. I mean we had, we laughed so much she and I and we that, she could always manage to laugh in the most dreadful situations when we were bombed to bits and all those things. She was just amazing my mother and she was, they could usually laugh each other out of their sulks with each other because they had these rows, but in the end, you know they always got together. And um that was lucky.

Roy Fowler  40:34  

Well, we're approaching the end of this tape. In fact, it's just time I think to say I hope by and large we haven't done too badly by Sir Michael. All sorts of sidelights, which I know historically are interesting. And I want to thank you so much for your hospitality and for your kindness in contributing to the archive.

Jill Balcon  40:56  

A great pleasure, I don't know that it's a contribution.

Roy Fowler  41:00  

Oh yes, yes, no doubt,

Jill Balcon  41:01  

It all seems rather trivial what I've said and I may regret a lot of it in the middle of tonight when I think about it. And as though I've rather loaded it I remember saying this to June Knox-Mawer for that series, and I hope I haven't loaded it in his favour. I tried so much to be fair and you can't make someone into a plaster saint who wasn't, on the other hand, one must be fair.

Roy Fowler  41:28  

You've spoken about him as his daughter and I think that's really what one wanted to hear. And in terms of historical impartiality we'll leave that to Philip Kemp, when finally he gets around to writing the book.

Jill Balcon  41:28  

Yes I don't know what he's up to Philip.  

Roy Fowler  41:41  

Oh he's still working at it I ask him from time to time.  He's making a living I think more than anything.

Roy Fowler  41:58  

What I will do before we get on to that is conclude the tape right, ok? Before we get on to Philip.  So thank you very much Jill.

Jill Balcon  42:06  


Roy Fowler  42:06  

End of Side 4


Daughter of producer Sir Michael Balcon, wife of the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, and mother of actor Daniel Day-Lewis and Tamasin Day-Lewis, RADA-trained Jill Balcon (born in London on 30 January 1925) worked in repertory and as a BBC announcer before entering films as Madeleine Bray in Nicholas Nickleby (d. Alberto Cavalcanti, 1947). She scrapped memorably with Jean Kent in Good-Time Girl (d. David Macdonald, 1947), but after three more small roles was away from films until two '90s appearances for Derek Jarman - in Edward II (1991) and Wittgenstein(1993) - and as Lady Bracknell in the play-within-the-film in An Ideal Husband (UK/US, d. Oliver Parker, 1999).

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film