Behp0410t – joe-busuttil -transcript
12 hours 25 minutes
The copyright of this recording is vested in the Bectu History Project.
Joe Busuttli - Studio Electrician, Artist, man of many different talents.
Interviewer - Alan Lawson. Recorded on 30 June 1997.
Q First and foremost, where and when were you born?
A 36. Mary McCall(?) Nursing Home, Fortnam Road, Stockwell.
Q And schooling?
A I went to St Mary’s Catholic School - I went to the Infants in Alfonsus Road in Clapham and then I went to St Mary’s which later became St Gerard’s opposite Clapham Common. Oh my first school I went to was actually Hazelrigg. My mother sent me there for a while but there was some - I got bullied a lot there - so they moved me out of that school and they sent me to the Catholic school. Now my mother - I never found out about my mother - what she actually was - my father was Maltese and he came over to this country in the twenties and my mother came from Germany in the twenties. She came over - it was a very sad and bad life actually, my mother, and my father was a bit of a lad. He committed bigamy and he married my mother. But he left Malta because he was messing about in those days. The Maltese - you know, I mean, the old thing about vendettas was very, very serious business and he had mucked about with some other bloke’s wife and he was more or less given the thing about ‘never set foot on the island again’. And he joined the Merchant Navy as a barber. He was an atrocious barber actually but he was quite good at shaving but haircutting he was dreadful. And anyway he was a very temperamental - basically quite an illiterate man but he had some good points - typically Maltese - had a really fiery temper. And my mother and father, they used to fight like cat and dog, day and night, I mean, they were at each other’s throats. I remember once - looking back on it now it is funny but I remember he was chasing her around the garden once with a cut throat razor and he was saying ‘you German cow, I am going to cut your throat’ and my mother was throwing bricks at him and she was saying in Maltese ‘bastard’. It was nerve-racking to put it mildly and the war was on as well because we got evacuated and then my mother spoke to me in German at this place and the woman was from the East End and she went bananas when she heard my mother speaking in German. So my mother left this place we were evacuated in - Newbury actually and I have some strange memories about there, you know, almost like the film that Rod Steiger was in when they were in the wheat(?) fields(?) before they get caught by the Germans, you know. Anyway, we came back to London and this was just before the blitz had started and then we were living in 101 Bedford Road and it is still there that place and the air raid shelter out the back. I have memories of going in this air raid shelter during the bombing raids and I think we spent a couple of nights in there. Most people went in them, found they didn’t like them, and came out again.
Q Was that an Anderson?
A Yes. Old Anderson, the old, dark, stingy, cold and.... And we were dead lucky really with the bombing and the doodlebugs because we moved from Bedford Road - I mean, before that I think we lived somewhere else in Clapham - I have vague memories of it - and we moved to Kings Avenue and we were there and then the V2 hit a place called Queen’s Court. They took the middle block out about three o clock in the morning and there were about a hundred and forty people killed because the V2 were horrible things. The doodlebugs, you would watch them, I mean, I remember watching one on a Sunday afternoon - it was the one that landed on Clapham Common - and killed the woman with the kid in the pram. We watched those. But the V2s were...... The funny thing was when we were in school, I mean, the school regime was tough, a lot of Irish kids, we were all pretty poor in those days, in fact, we were very poor. It was quite a rough environment and the cane ruled, you know, you got caned and the old nuns, bless their hearts, came round and wrap you on the knuckles with a ruler or slap you on the back of the legs and all that kind of thing, you know. And you sort of made your pecking order in the school playground, you know. And I have always been a bit of a manipulator, I suppose, as I have grown up, because it is survival and I used to get sweets from my old man and I used to have a big guy called Buddy Crease and I still remember Buddy now and he was my bodyguard. He was a huge big guy and I used to give him sweets, say he was my sort of minder. So anyone that bullied me I used to say ‘I’ll have Creasey on you’. I suppose that’s how I survived one way or another at school. You kind of got by somehow you know.
Q What age did you leave school?
Q Did you get any passes or anything at all?
A No. I mean, I could barely read and write when I left school. I could have gone to Art School but my father died when I was twelve and he left my mother in dire straits. He died with £1 10/- in his pocket and left £12 of debts. And then my mother ended up - my mother, by this time, she was schitzroid paranoiac, she had gone, she had lost, well my mother’s side was quite, she had had an illegitimate son by a Belgian bloke and she had left the boy with her mother in Germany in - it’s difficult to know all these dates - sometime - and the mother was killed in a bombing raid in Cologne but, it would have been my half brother. But in 43 she lost what would have been my eldest sister. She died of gastro-enteritis and they put her in this mental home in Epsom - St Eber’s or something - and it was pretty grim in those days. I mean, you know, mental thing and that was pretty severe and she had a really bad time of it. And I think - I met a woman years afterwards who knew my mother and she said ‘you know, I remember her when she was a real live wire and she used to go dancing’ - met my father at the Lacarno, not the Lacarno, the one on the corner of Leicester Square, it used to be two rooms, they used to do Sunday dances...
Q Princes Restaurant.
A Was that it? This woman, she married a Dutchman called de Klerk, but she knew my mother and a couple of people who used to work in Woollies in Clapham knew my mother - they had been on the stage before the war, they did a strong woman and a strong man act or something - a family called Whistler. I always remember Doreen, I still remember Doreen. They said ‘we knew your mum, she was a real live wire’. So she changed completely. I never knew my mother - I mean, I get glimpses of her occasionally she would come across. But she was always depressed, you know, one thing and another. I mean, my old man was a crazy bugger in a lot of ways. And so my mother lost a brother and that and she died when I was twelve and then we went on the National Assistance in those days which was horrendous. And when I was fifteen - I was sitting in the cinema, the one escape we had, getting back to this, and harping on about that programme with Ken Russell and quite a lot of other people in my generation and - who spent their time in the cinema - I virtually did the same and having no money I became a past master at bunking in, you know, I could bunk in almost any cinema, I could get in without paying, you know, I knew how to get in. And I got to laugh at under age going in the film as under age because I remember when “Rash Mon” came out, do you remember that, and it was all about the rape scene and all us kids, I think I was about fourteen, thirteen or fourteen at the time, and we all got in to see that, you know, because we want to see what’s this rape scene, you know and all this. And it was so naff boring, I mean, the thing about, I shouldn’t say that, but I mean, do you remember the bit where the woodman’s walking through the forest? I mean, I know Kay S(?) made the film but I mean, quite honestly, and we used to get hooked on these Japanese films. But anyway I am diverting. Let’s get back. Where was I? Oh yes. It was pretty bloody grim, I mean, my mother used to feed us by going down to Brixton market and getting all the old stuff off the floor and that sort of thing. I joined the Scouts which was great. And I think the scouting, thing I mean, I loved the scouts, I loved the camping, the dirt, the camaraderie. A mate of mine I went to scouts with now is a world famous author. I mean, Dave Yellop. I was the Buffalo’s patrol and he was another patrol and we had this silly punch up on Clapham Common. But old Dave was in the class lower to me and he had quite a turbulent background as well. But most of us did actually. I mean, blokes had been away and they lost their fathers and all that kind of thing you know. And things weren’t open in those days, I mean, it was all swept under the floor sort of thing, you know, a bit under the carpet. And so my old scout master, I would have loved to have met him again, was a bloke who was in the Chindits during the war - Jackie Harris - and that was the scout group attached to the local church. I was still religious. I mean I kept going to church until I got married actually. I mean, I’m still religious in a way, I mean, I am still a pie in the sky merchant. I think if anybody ever got near what religion was about it was in Star Wars with Alex Guinness, the force be with you, you know? I mean, that is almost, I think that’s how it is, I think there is this two currents of good and evil and you have got a choice, you know. And I think that’s what your destiny is. I think you make, I think man makes his own heaven and hell, you know, I think he self inflicts himself and God, whatever you like to think of him. I must tell you this. I think this is funny. I know this is side-tracking. But my mate once, he is in Australia now, and he was telling me about - because we used to discuss all these things when we were kids about religion and what is God and all that, you know, and it is really quite funny - he said ‘I think when we go we go to heaven, you see’. You remember that thing with Dudley Moore and Peter Cook he goes ‘ bloody hell, he’s up in heaven’. Well my mate’s version of this was ‘here we are in this big church, a great big church, and God is sitting on this throne at the end, you know, with all these lights, sort of lit up, and all these people looking at him, you know, like what I call the spaniel dog look. You know these Spanish painters with the sort of wet eyes looking up at the crucifix, you know, and there’s all people sitting round and he says all we do is we sit in this church and look at God all day long. I mean, this is the kind of thing you have got this idea of Catholicism and heaven and all that and it is all - absolute - I mean religion and religious....... and he said if you want to start a business, start a religion. It’s true. Like one of these Hari Krishna blokes when they come, you know, an American guy, you know, and I was in a really foul mood, and he was round the corner, and I come round and he started dinging his bell and.... and he said to me ‘are you local?’ and I turned round and said ‘I’m a fucking Londoner, you daft pratt’. And he got all upset and that you know. I shouldn’t have said it to him but I got, you know......
Q You used to go to the cinema.
A Yes, we used to bunk in. And my mother, bless her heart, I didn’t realise this, she was mad keen on that German singer, what was his name, that sang - Richard Talbiese. She was mad keen on him and she could actually all the songs and she had got a beautiful voice and she was very musical and we used to go and see this. And the only time she would go, and I mean I love them to death even now, I mean I would watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers and all that, you know, I mean, it brings bloody tears to my eyes. And I always remember that one film I saw “We’re in the money” because my mum was always so poor and always so, you know, and she always used to sing that, you know. She got little songs she used to have, you know, “Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Down” and all that kind of thing. I mean, considering the state she was in, and what she had to put up with, and the pressures that were on her and no help whatsoever from the sort of medical or the state or whatever, I mean, she did surprisingly well and she died only a few years ago. She was 87 and she had gone quite, you know, a bit sort of eccentric in her old age. She put up with a lot really. But she gave me all that love. I suppose really, if I got anything out of art, it came from my mother’s side more than my father. I mean, all I got out of my father was bad temper and a few things like that! He was quite a courageous sort of bloke in his way. He used to breed dogs. He had this thing about breeding dogs. He got alsations and he had this white alsation and he had it - do you remember Rin Tin Tin? - and he had this obsession about breeding this world champion. So every penny he ever earned he spent it on these alsations, every penny. I used to have to go down to Brixton market with this old leather handbag thing, I still remember it now, I was going to this butchers down in, where the Pavilion used to be, I forget what it is called now, and I used to go and get seven pounds of horseflesh. And we used to get it for human consumption as well because we used to eat horse meat. We used to feed these alsations, they were little more than wolves. I remember these, I can still see them - Sally and Bruce - and we had a bulldog as well. These bloody dogs of his. It was crazy because, I mean, he was totally out of his league, you know, and he had all this sort of, I mean, alsations are funny animals, I would never actually trust one completely. I have never had a dog. I have had a cat but I never had a dog. I always say that having a dog is like having another person in the family and you have got this liability of having this creature with you that, you know, can rule your bloody life actually. My old man, he had a heart attack, and when they dragged him off to hospital, after a lot of hassle getting the GP to get him off, and that was 49, his last words to me were ‘look after the dogs’ and that was the last time I saw him and then three days later he had died. He died in St James’s in Balham. In those days you went in the morgue and saw all the bodies. I don’t think they do that now, it was a bit gruesome.
Q And what were you doing then?
A I was just twelve. I was at school. He died when I was twelve years old. So I kept up with the scouts, you know, I kept going to the scouts, and then my sister was only four and then my mother - a bit like Marlyn Munro in a way - interesting because there was that bit in her life when her mother comes back, you know, total dreamer, can’t cope with anything, ‘honey baby, I have got this, you know, I have met this guy and we are going to have great times and we are going to do this and we are going to do that, you know’. And that was almost a dream. I mean, that’s everybody’s dream and, of course, in most cases it doesn’t come out. People end up with bitter disappointment, you know. My mother was a bit like that. So my sister got dragged off to Ballet School and she would spend all her money getting my sister ballet classes even though, if we didn’t have any food in the cupboard, she still would go and pay this 3/6d to this woman, this is Mrs Bough, I always remember because she lived in this, this is a big bone of contention between me and my sister actually, anyway she was quite a nice woman but very sort of a bit toffee nosed, middle class as they were in those days, you know what I mean? There was always that dividing line between the suburbs and where you came from. I mean, I remember, you know, in Clapham as a kid you kept to your manor in your little bit of territory and you didn’t really cross over to anywhere else because you either got duffed up by the local gang that ran that area or you were sort of kind of trespassing. It was a funny sort of, well you know. Well anyway my sister used to go to ballet dancing and that, she is short and she is fat and she wouldn’t have been a ballerina in about five million years, you know what I mean? I read a book by Anton Dolan(?) and he wrote he said that only one person in three million actually has the build to be a ballerina and it gets back to the old song of Ivor Novello - “Don’t put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington”.
Q That was Coward.
A Oh yes Coward. Yes, that’s right. But, I mean, that’s - I often think of that, you know, people - and it’s a bit like the art world. I often say to people - I say ‘well learn to be a plumber, you’ll make a fortune and you can sort of finance your art, you know. You can go round and charge some old dear fifty quid for mending a washer on a tap as a plumber. But as an artist it would be like you would earn sixpence an hour for the rest of your life, it’s a mug’s game’.
Q What did you do when did you first started working?
A In the cinema I was watching this film about cooking and there was a chef on and he was preparing this huge banquet, I think it was like, not ‘like to be a chef’ - it wasn’t a career film or anything like that and I looked at this and I saw this fantastic sort of layout on the table, you know, all this pineapple and chicken and all lot and looking at all this food sitting in the cinema -this was in the old cinema in Clapham Junction - and I was sitting there and I thought to myself, I was just over fourteen, fourteen and a half, ‘that’s the game to be in, you know, all that food, you must get some of it in the process!’ And, of course, I left school and I got my own job because by this time I had enough of the set-up there and I went out and I got this job in the Strand Palace Hotel as a Commis Chef and my old headmaster said to me ‘well, you can go to Art School and all that but it wasn’t really explained or anything like that, you know, if you got a grant or anything like that. So I said ‘no, I have got a job, I am going in the catering trade’. So I went to the Strand Palace Hotel. I started work there as a Commis in the cold larder. It was gruelling, I was badly paid, I think my wages were about £2 something a week. I used to give my mother £1, I spent about ten bob on fares and cigarettes and I think ten bob was pocket money. And I stuck that out for a year and I used to, in the afternoons, I used to occasionally pop into all the comedy, cartoon cinemas around and I used to see all the newsreels and Laurel and Hardy and all those sort of things, and the early cartoons. So that’s what I used to do, you know. It was quite an interesting thing there, working in that kitchen - it was rough - I mean we still had coke ovens and the heat in there was phenomenal. It would always be up in the hundreds. You would be sweating. I have got to tell you a funny story about there - well I could tell you loads of funny stories about the kitchen, I could keep you all morning talking about the kitchen. But one I have got to tell you about is that Salmon and Blackstein were like the chiefs and his daughter, or one of them, was a big art collector, I found that out years afterwards. But anyway, Salmon and Blackstein came to dinner, the whole place was panic because it was like God had come to visit the kitchen and it had better be right. And all the chefs and sous chefs would be running around. They would always be doing these little specialities for them. And somebody got this thing up called Pom Pom Neuf, and it was just ordinary potatoes, you know, cut in squares like dice, and fried. But the thing was, they all had to be the same sort of shade all the way round, these potatoes you see - culinary bullshit - you watch it on the tele now you know. I wish I could impersonate that American guy, you know he sounds like he’s got something shoved up his arse. You know the one I mean? Anyway, old John who worked on the fish, dropped this platter of chips on the floor and it was all sawdust on the floor in those days. They spent hours to prepare these bloody things and they had gone flying all over the kitchen floor. And all us commis, we were rushing around, picking these chips up, and scraping them off and throwing them back on the platter. So it went up to old Salmon and Blackstein. I’ll say this about people eating in restaurants or eating out. I’ll say if you worry about what you eat, if you are really concerned about what you eat, then don’t eat out, don’t eat the salmon mouse that’s what I say to people. Old Tim (?) said ‘what do you do about salmonella?’ ?????? Remember that joke? The real thing was when they got done for the bluebottles. I thought it was so funny. We used to spit in the fat. To know if it was the right temperature for the chips. And this old chef used to say to me ‘never eat cold food, never eat stuff with sauce on or that kind of thing’. We used to put the lobsters - funny things about this, lobsters, if you put them in a cupboard in a cold safe and you put them right down the end, when they start to go off, because fish is really dicey, you are really in bad news, worse than chicken, and they go phosphorous - they have a green light. And we used to put those lobsters down the end of these cold stores which went back, you know, about three foot like, you know you would peer in through the door and you would see the lobster was blinding, it was aglow. And we gave it a bath with vinegar and salt. That was a great get-out. If you give it a nice bath with salt and vinegar and then heat it well, you eat it. I don’t know now because - my daughter did food sciences and she runs a Yorkshire Pudding Factory now up in Leeds - all kids are good cooks actually - but the catering trade is hilarious but I mean it is sweat and blood.
Q .... for a year.
A I studied for a year and then I got into a big - I always had this idea of wanting to work with the top chefs. So I was offered a job in a very big club in Whitehall with a bloke who was real top cordon bleu chef, a bloke called Crammer, I think his name was. And I never took the job because it was shift work because by that time I was sixteen and I wanted to go out with the lads and all that kind of thing. So I left and I got a job in a fairground for about four weeks at Battersea Funfair and I spent all my time in Battersea Funfair on the Rotor. I worked on the rotor, you remember? I spent most of my time hanging upside down like a bat. I worked on the motor boat pool for a few days, got fed up with that, and of course in those days - I am talking about 51-52 - it was just starting to be that you could change jobs and it weren’t that difficult, you know. So I stuck the Rotor out for about four weeks and then I got a job in Rossie’s in Clapham, I think my mate, I’m not sure if Billy’s father worked in Rossie’s, I think George worked in Rossie’s and I got a job in Rossie’s as an apprentice, not really an apprentice more a trainee. And I remember - you know an epidiascope? - and I had this - it was a dreadful job - badly paid. And all those jobs in those days, you talk about youth opportunities - but you used to get crates of these boxes of epidiascope and we had to debore them and they were but out and you had to file the edges off with a file and, you know, you were covered in grease and crap and that was the job there. And anyway I got in the - there was a social club there, I don’t know if Rossie’s is still there or not, and they had a snooker table in there and I got in there and I started playing snooker. And there was an old boy in there and he had been like the real top pro in his day. His eyesight had gone. And I used to play snooker and I got quite good. I was quite good, you know, I could get a break of 37 and all that. He sort of said to me - this is long before snooker ever - I mean snooker was everywhere in those days, I mean, some of the blokes that played snooker in those snooker halls a lot of gambling used to go on, I mean, they were fantastic players. And there were some old guys used to play - I mean Jesus - you see some of those blokes on the box now - I mean, I’m not saying they are not good, the game has changed as well, there are lots of shots now you don’t see. So I stuck that out for a year and then my mother met some Polish chef and eventually they talked me in to going to work for this guy in this restaurant in Kensington Church Street, run by a guy called Vic Dyer - he was ex Battle of Britain pilot and a very nice bloke, very kind hearted and a bit too easy going. I worked in this kitchen in Kensington Church Street and had some great times there. Saw the Coronation there on tele, used to drink all his booze in the afternoon - me and a Polish waiter, we used to get in the bar and get stuck into his cigars and booze and ate the best there was, really, in that place. I remember - do you remember George Dawson, the old scrap millionaire - we were closing up the kitchen one afternoon and he came in with a crowd of people and they said ‘anybody in the kitchen? Mr Dawson’s coming in can you do him something?’ So I knocked up some grub for this lot, you know, steaks and that, pretty dead simple and got a fiver, which was quite a lot of dough in those days, as a tip, give this to the chef like. Yes, it was a different world. You realised in a way, you sort of saw the divide of working class or whatever you like and how the other half lived. Then I went to the one at the George and Dragon in Brompton Road and I worked with his wife there - Mrs Dyer - that was a funny relationship - she was a lot older than Victor and looking back at it now I think Victor was gay. I think it was a marriage of convenience or something, she was Austrian, but she was loaded, she was a nice woman but she was a tough old cookie. And she used collect all these rare carpets. I remember I went round there once - I mean they must have been worth a fortune - she had all these carpets - I was a totally naive stupid sort of kid you know - what do you call these bloody carpets? - just call me Duster - anyway old Terry Thomas was in there one night and he could be quite moody and somebody was wanting his autograph and wanted to talk to him or something and he virtually told them to piss off. And she went over to him and she said ‘Mr Thomas, you are in the public eye, you come in this restaurant you have got to be nice to my customers, if you are not going to be nice to my customers then you don’t come back’. And that was quite something to sort of tell - because he was very well known then, you know. But she gave him a bollicking actually. Then I went back there and then I left because the head waiter had left - Harry Brown had left - he was as good as gold, and it sort of changed and then Tony left and it changed and then I left and I went and worked in the Strand Palace. I had some good times there as well. Yes, the old chin room, old Grummie there, you know, poor old bugger used to be cleaning those huge things that used to come down the lift, you know, those copper pots. All going down and out working in London and Paris you know working in these. A lot of these guys were casual. |’ll tell you a story. I have to tell these things otherwise I’ll forget them. When I was doing National Service I used to go back during my leave and work in a kitchen to earn a few bob. I was whinging one day about National Service and there was this Scots guy there. They used to take them on casual on the door in those days. This Scots geezer there and said to me ‘hi laddie, you don’t know what you’re talking about, National Service - over at Monte Casino, I’m the only one who came out of Foxall alive. I was covered in shrapnel from top to bottom. You know, Gerries flung some grenades in and he was under a pile of bodies’ and he said ‘you know what was the worst part about it - I got a piece of shrapnel in the top of prick and that was the most painful place ever.’ I always remember this guy. A lot of these guys - and I used to meet them at Victoria years afterwards, you know, they were out and they had been in the Irish Rangers, they had been in Palestine and they were just out on the street, nobody would say ‘you’ve done your bit, fuck off, sort of thing. And terrible really, you see these blokes. I always remember that Scots guy. But the old kitchens - you got into. Anyway I went in the Air Force, I got called up. I wanted to join the Paras, funnily enough, because one of my mates was in and I wanted to join this. Anyway, the old Recruiting Sergeant took one look at me and he must have thought ‘Christ, can’t do nothing with this’ and he said ‘I don’t think the Paratroops are really for you, my boy’. So I ended up in the Air Force. I ended up square bashing up in - of course, National Service is something else, you had to have done it. You all griped and groaned about it but I think some of the best times of my life and pals I had when I was in the mob. I mean stories, mates, especially. With all the military it is a funny thing. I had this idea a long while ago to sort of try and write occasionally, and do a play on heroes from various - including the enemy, you know, including the Germans and the Japanese and all that, because going back to that first world war film, you know, the two guys in the trenches - what was it called now - “All Quiet on the Western Front”, you know. Because in the end, you know, this is the sad part about it because your mates stayed together and you are in this battle zone or area, you know, and you mate gets killed and you think ‘oh the bastards have killed my mate, I’m going to have him’ and all that kind of thing. And that’s the tragedy about it all. Anyway, National Service was a - I think there was a programme on - the one thing I learned about National Service was how to skive. I could have written a book about it. I was a past master at it. I got to be -I’ll tell you what - I got this idea about going on the stage doing comedy and we were pretty skint in those days and my mate gave me a haircut with a pair of nail scissors and he cut all my hair off and it was literally like Jerry Lewis, you know. And I used to do these - I can’t do them now - but I did these impersonations of Jerry Lewis, very badly I might add, and there was this Scots guy there and then they had a sort of show in a camp and we did this Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis act, which went down very well actually. But in the process of this I was always playing practical jokes on people and it had snowed and we were out in this field kitchen where we were learning how to cook out in this field kitchen, and I had got this snowball and I lobbed it across and I hit this corporal in the back of the neck. He came steaming over like ‘who slung that?’ So nobody said anything, so he said ‘right, all of you are going to be put on a charge unless you come clean about this’. So I said ‘all right, it was me’. So I got seven days chankers(?) you see. So there was this little dolly, a little pilot officer, woman, you know, sweet little thing, actually, and she was doing the entertainment thing, you see, so I went along for rehearsals and I was sitting there and I was all sort of glum on purpose. She looked at me and she said ‘AC run’, she said ‘you’re not your usual self today’. And I said ‘no ma’am, no I am not feeling too good’. She asked what was the matter. ‘Flight Sergeant Humphrey put me on fatigues ma’am’, ‘You can’t be on fatigues, I can’t have you on fatigues, you are one of our star performers’. So she get on to old Flight Sergeant Humphreys /???????? Good old bloke. So they get me off these fatigues, you see. So he sees me outside and he says ‘you skiving bastard, I’m going to have you, crawling up a woman’s skirt’. His exact words ‘crawling up a woman’s skirt to get off’. Anyway, we had some laughs at that place. It was hilarious. Anyway, I did National Service, I got a compassionate post because of my mum, I went and saw the old priest and sort of told him the family background and so I used to travel - I was stationed at Uxbridge which was a square bashing camp - there were DIs that went there, the drill school, you know, I mean the really used to put them through it - and you saw the old American drill unit there, that was fantastic, the old, I mean, unbelievable - and anyway we went there and I came out of National Service, I vowed I wouldn’t go back in the kitchen because I had spent two years in the kitchen. I’m a fool really. Looking back on it the old man there, he was an old ex Battle of Britain pilot. I must tell you a story about him. Got to tell you this. The Goons, you know, they were everybody’s sort of you know. This guy was doing all his Goon impersonations and they had a bloke there - Eddie Good - he was an airman there and Joe was a sergeant - and little Eddie Good was one of these blokes, he was a comedian’s ideal audience. They only had to go ‘ooooweeeee’ and Eddie Good would collapse down laughing. So we used to muck about all the time and we used to have hilarious stunts we used to get up to. And one day we got these new dustbins, I think old Milligan had done this thing called “The Dustbin Dance”, if my memory serves me correct. And Eddie Good’s in this dustbin and I understand he went ‘Yingtongyingtongyingtong’ and Eddie’s jumping up and down in this dustbin, you see. And the old man comes round the corner, you know, and he sort of grapples because he used to drink a bit but he got badly shot up in the war, I mean, he had got one arm and a dodgy leg and one eye gone, you know. He came round the corner and he sort of stood there, you see, so I froze ‘oh Jesus, it’s him’ and he sort of stood there and he said ‘airman,’ and the next thing he is standing in the dustbin. And he said ‘what are you doing in my dustbin?’ So he said ‘dancing sir’. So he said ‘Ah, I don’t want you mucking about with RAF property and he sort of walked away and there was a glimmer of a grin on his face as he walked away, you know. But I always remember that. Eddie Good and the Dustbin Dance. That’s Milligan’s fault.
Side B of first tape
So I came out of the RAF and there was lots of work about then, this was 56, I had just missed doing the Queen’s year, I had just got out when Suez started and one of the blokes at the demob site said to me ‘don’t leave and don’t come back. He said ‘ just keep out of the way’. I suppose if I had been around longer I would have been caught for what they call the Queen’s Year or whatever it was. Anyway, so I got a job as a Fitter’s Mate, I think, and then..
A Heating and Ventilation. I went down the Labour Exchange and in those days they used to give you the jobs - you know, they used to have the cards and they would ask you what you wanted to do. And I said Fitter’s Mate. And he said £15.00 a week. Well, I had never seen £15.00 a week in my life, you know, and I went off and I was earning £15.00 a week and I felt like I was sort of, you know, I’d won the pools or something.
Q In the money!
A Yes. We went jobbing around doing these heating and ventilation and the whole period of the boom sixties was like it was awash, it started to become awash with money and everybody was spending and everybody was ? like mad, you know, it was a bonanza. It was a gravy train. Where were we?
Q You were a Fitter’s Mate.
A Oh Fitter’s Mate, yes. I used to travel all over the country with that and then I changed jobs in rapid succession. You know, I would get fed up or I would get pissed off with who I was working with or something like that and I would go and get another job. Through being a Fitter’s Mate I got a Sparks ticket. I got a job at Victoria Street for Wagorotis(??). This is a funny thing. I range Wagorotis out of the blue - it was the only time I got a job out of the paper - and I rang the bloke up and they were looking for Fitter’s Mates, you see, so he said ‘what’s your name?’ so I said ‘Bustettl’ so he said ‘look, don’t think I am being funny, mate, but we don’t employ blacks’! He said to me over the phone. So I said ‘as it happens, mate, I am not black’. ‘Oh,’ he says ‘I’m sorry mate, you had better come down to the office’. And I went, and I think he was embarrassed and he gave the job as a Fitter’s mate. And I met this guy called Bob Peake and Bob was a total nutter, a very clever guy, brilliant bloke - a lot of them were, you know, they were working class kids, had no education but they had got loads of nouse and intelligence, and Bob was a really gifted guy but a total loon, total loon, total nutter. And we worked on this Wagorotis job in Victoria Street in these lift shafts, a dodgy old game that was an’ all, up and down, you know, and it was the first time in my life I actually experienced chucking stuff around that weighed, three, four, five hundred weight steel. And you had to be careful because, you know. So anyway, I got a ticket, a union, Bob said to me ‘well, join the union like,’. So I said ‘why’. And he said ‘well, once you join the union you have got a Sparks ticket, you will be able to go anywhere in the industry as an Electrician’s Mate, you see’. So I didn’t know the first thing about electrics. I couldn’t even wire a plug up. So I got this Sparks ticket and I drifted around with Bob. We went from job to job, we were frigging, and cattle, oh I can’t remember the companies. And we drifted around, jobbing around and then Bob was also quite militant. He was quite, you know. And I got in between jobs and just before I got married I was really foot loose, you know, used to go out with the lads in Clapham, drinking and all that, the usual way - trying to chase after women. I mean it was a different ball game in those days. You were lucky if you got near a woman for about six months. You would go back and they would say ‘how did you get on?’ ‘Well, no’. I got a bit of tit off her but that was it, you know what I mean. I mean, it was just a different time. So there I was with all the lads, you know, drinking and running around and all that you, driving my old mum mad. And of course she used to worry, you know, where are you going tonight, are you going out drinking again and all the rest of it. And of course it was all Irishmen that I went out with most of the time and we went round all these pubs and we used to get plastered, you know. We used to have drinking competitions on a Saturday night, how many pints of Guinness you could drink, and all that kind of thing, you know. That was the thing. I was going to tell you something about Clapham, wasn’t I?
A I have lost the thread here.
Q Never mind.
A I am trying to think......
Q You had got a Sparks ticket.
A Oh yes, I got this sparks ticket, yes. So I would be in and out of jobs and when I was a Fitter’s Mate I worked for a firm and we did shop blinds. And one of the guys I worked with was a guy called Tommy, an Irish guy. And he had been - and my mate Pete worked there, he was in the RAF regiment, we were at school together, life long mates - and we went with Tommy and he came up to Soho to do some shop blinds. And on the corner of Berwick Street, which is where the flats are now, there was - it was like a big old greengrocers or something - and Tommy had met this builder there - a guy called Jimmy Walder who worked in Mere Street and Jim was a real rough diamond. He had been an ex wrestler, a huge big man, swear and curse like the best of them, but basically he had a heart of gold. And we got working for Jim and he was always short of dough. And we were sort of working for the Teegents(?) during the day, they were a marvellous pair, a pair of twins, Charlie Teegent and his brother Albert. They were lovely, a little family business. And I think the liberties we took with them, looking back on it now, I mean, it was disgraceful. They were a good crowd. So we worked for Charlie Teegent in the day and we sort of went round doing little bits on the side - mainly just to get beer money. We never used to drink in the French, it was quite funny, we went in the French once and the bloke in there like, they only do half pints, my mates said ‘what kind of bloody pub is this that you only get half pints’. So we never went back in there. People used to say to me about the French, you know, people don’t drink half pints, they drink pints. Going back to the Soho connection. When I worked in the Strand Palace my half brother used to have a club in the West End - part of the Maltese lot - that was Joe. So I used to come down to Soho a bit when I was sixteen and that was - used to go down a few of the old basement clubs the Maltese used to have and that was a bit like sort of something out of Dame Runyon, you know, Guys and Dolls, you know, all the big old tarts down there and the Maltese, you know. And so with Tommy anyway we got to know Jim and then I used to go and work for Jim quite a lot on and off, you know, days off, signing on the dole, dodging off, you know, coming down. ‘I’m going to the dentist today son’ because that was when we used to sign on because in those days you had to sign on three days a week - Mondays, Wednesdays and you go and pick your money up and if you didn’t sign on you didn’t get your dough. It was a funny sort of way I mean it was quite a good system in a way, it was quite, yes, you got a job and they would want to know after a while why you hadn’t got a job, you know, about three or four weeks. They would say ‘why don’t you have any work. I’ve got a job here, go here, you know.’ Anyway, so, I mucked about with this. Got back into sparking with another bloke and then when I was unemployed a guy said to be about ‘why don’t you try getting in to the film studios?’ And also I had got married in between that time, just got married, and I had just started to get an interest in art. I went with a mate of mine to Ireland in the sixties - 61. There was a very, very, old republican family actually and they were all ‘get the Brits out’ and anyway I came back and I had - it’s a funny thing, just before I met my wife I sort of fell for this other girl called Ros, I still remember to this day, and she had lovely long hair, I always liked women with long hair, and painted her portrait and she said ‘you are a no hoper, you never do anything, you’re always talking you never do anything.....’ you know, sort of thing. So I had just started painting and I had painted this portrait of her from a photograph and she was quite impressed, I was quite impressed myself, I mean, it was a terrible picture thinking about it now, but at the time. I went with a pal of mine and my missus, it was my girl friend then. We went to picture and we saw Vincent Van Gogh “Lust for Life”. I saw that film with Kirk Douglas, you know, and I think it’s great. I think it’s one of the greatest films he ever made. And I saw this film, and I came out and I said ‘that’s the game for me’. Art. So I went back home and I said to my mum. ‘Mum I’m going to art school’. That’s it. Because while I worked for Charlie Teegent I had met a kid there who was an artist and I had done a bit at school, you see, but I had never done any for years. And I met this young guy called Bob, I can’t think of his second name now. And he said to me ‘you just get a sketch pad and start drawing, draw anything, first thing that comes into your head’. So when I was a Fitter’s Mate I used to have one of these little sketch books like this, I used to go round - cause I used to make all these plastacene soldiers when I was a little kid, cause that’s all I could afford was plastacene. I used to make huge armies of Romans because I always loved, you know, I’m a great one for epic films. I used to love these great big - used to have huge armies of Roman soldiers and me and my sister we would spend days making these soldiers and then we would have these massive big battles. I had boats and dragons and Trojan horses and everything. So I started drawing all these battle scenes, I mean, they were hilarious, I mean, they really were infantile. I mean, I wish I’d got them now because I would love to..... I have got very few of my early drawings I did of these sketches. Anyway, I used to draw these huge punch up scenes and then I went into the library and I got this book out, I think it was Leonardo, I got this book out and it was the Battle of Kalahari or something and it was all these horsemen and Romans and Trojans and Athenians or whatever. And I started copying these, literally out of the book, I would copy them. And I have still got some of them at home. I think I have still got this, have I got it, I’m not sure. And I copied this battle scene and then I started painting, you know, and it was...my mother knew this little old woman who used to paint lampshades. She was an arts and crafts person from the sort of twenties and she painted lampshades for Liberty or somewhere. She was a phenomenal painter actually and she used to paint all these hunting scenes by hand and she had loads and loads of old colours and brushes and she gave them to me and regretfully I wasted the colours because some of those colours were really good colours and expensive. Now they would cost a fortune. And you wouldn’t get some of them now, you know, because modern colours are nothing like the old colours. And of course this Van Gogh thing - it was straight on school you know. I would sort of trowel the stuff on the canvas, you know, pasta and all this kind of things, record players. I played the trumpet at the same time. So I used to play the trumpet, you know, dreadful. I worked on the buses as well and I spent five years trying to learn the trumpet and I think I came out of that and I was as bad as the day I started. It’s like you have got to be born a musician. If you haven’t got it like, from the word go, you ain’t never going to get it. I messed about with that. I did comedy - stand up comedian - I tried a bash at that. I even auditioned at the Windmill. I used to get terrible stage fright, terrible, terrible, terrifying it was. Once I got started I was all right and I got a reaction from the audience. But when I did the thing at the Windmill, there was old - she was still alive then - ? ?. She sat there with her aid and I came out and of course all the old boys at the back of the thing, they were nearly all gay those young lads, ‘go on love, give it your best’ and all that kind of thing. I just froze, I went out there, because I was into surreal humour, I mean, the kind of stuff they do now. Not so much now because they have gone past that but Monty Pythonish. I was very much, because of the Goons, because Milligan, without a doubt, is the comic genius, I mean, if anybody - him and Hancock - I mean, are the two great geniuses of comedy in this country. Milligan has never got - well they are now - they get recognized - but they never gave him the just, what he was really due, because I mean, that humour of his is something else. I had all these silly ideas of wrapping myself up in a plastic bag with a sort of three halfpence. I have got photographs. Anyway that went down like a lead balloon so I never made the Windmill. But it’s just as well because I had gone the night before and I had watched an act and I am sure the bloke that was on, I think it might have been Les Dawson, I’m not sure because I still remember this patter about ‘my dad used to take me down for a treat at Christmas to watch the traffic lights changing colour, and he would wash me in the sink so he would let the blood run away’ and this kind of stuff. And it was these kinds of gags, and it was told with that northern humour, that kind of hard..... I watched it the night before and I thought to myself, well, you’re not going to make this one. Anyway, so I figged around with loads of things, you know. Then I got into art and I sort of ... I had gone to art school and my mother used to run up backwards and forwards to the cathedral and she was very friendly with Father Carroll there who was friendly with Carol Wake. So, Father Carroll came round to see me and said ’you can’t go to art school, you know, you are the only breadwinner in the family, you have got to go to work, but go and see Carol Wake’. So I went to see Carol Wake and I went along with all these pictures of mine that I had done, you know, ghastly thinking about it. And I knocked on the door this Saturday and he opened the door and he was right in the middle of his lunch, he was eating spaghetti, because I still remember he had got bits of spaghetti down his mouth and he opened the door and he thought ‘bloody hell, what’s this that has come round here at this time of day’. I handed him two piles of canvases and said ‘Father Carroll sent me round to see you Mr Wake’. So he said ‘oh well, you had better come in, sit in here while I am having my lunch’. So I went in there. Eventually he came out and he sat there and said ‘do you want to be an artist?’ ‘Mm yeah, yes’. ‘Well, go along to this school and see Elizabeth Fitzgerald and don’t give up your job and good luck’. And that was it. So off I went. I went off the City and Guilds School at Cannington and this was 60 and it was like, that was something else in those days. It was all starting to happen, you know, you could still get around, things were cheap, you know, I mean, I remember I used to go to the Arts Theatre Club, I saw the caretaker’s - Harold Pinter’s plays for three and a tanner and all that. You know, you have to have an overdraft now to go and see her. It was unbelievable. I went along to this school and old Elizabeth sat there and she is still alive now, I think. She sort of said ‘yes, well, you can lifography with Mr Wilkinson Mondays and Wednesdays, life class Tuesdays and Thursdays, Friday is painting and Sunday is all day portrait painting’. So I had just got married and Wendy had just had a baby and I am missing a bit here actually about the studios but. So I enrolled at this school and I used to spend every minute that I could for about ten years in that place, backwards and forwards, you know. I don’t think I had much talent really basically as an artist but at the end of it I had got the kind of language that I got out, in a way, that I sort of developed. But going back to the studios, being on the dole, I signed on at, one of the lads told me ‘well, you want to make money, get in the studios, you know, you would make an absolute fortune if you could get on a film.’ You know as a sparks. So I signed on at Highbury Place and they used to have the DO’s register in those days and you waited for ever really. And I was about six months and I suddenly got this call - now how did I find out? - was it a letter in the post or whatever? - go to Sheperton Studios.
Q How in hell did you get there?
A I got the coach from somewhere. I think it was Baker Street but I can’t remember. I think I went by tube and then we picked up this coach and then we got coach out there. I know we used to go in by coach. So I went along as a Sparks at Sheperton - well mate - and we got in there and I met Denis and we got on a heavy gang which was like taking the boots and the pucks and all that, trunting them around and then eventually we waited for the film to start and then eventually I got on the Beckett thing and then, of course, I was there for a few - I couldn’t stand heights, I mean, I have been up high but I hate heights. I was right at the top there and they had done a replica at Canturbury Cathedral and it was an enormous set, I mean, it was a fabulous set, thinking about it, it was an enormous sort of huge and it had the altar and everything where Becket’s murdered and all that, you know. And so I was up the top there, you know, and the bloke was shouting out about - ‘I want a yashmak’ or something and I didn’t quite know what to do and then the bloke came over and he said ‘get out of the way,’ Because you went in there, you never had any training or nothing, you were just taken in. You either bluffed your way through or whatever, I mean.
Q You talked about Denis. Denis who?
A A guy called Denis Hand.
Q He was what? He was chargehand was he?
A No, he was just a sparks. But Denis was a phenomenal chess player and the reason I got to know Denis was, I was still sort of more or less still catholic and his daughter died when she was nine and we were talking about the existence of God and life ever after and all that kind of thing, you know, in those days. And he said to me ‘well, I don’t believe in a God, you know, my daughter’s gone. I would believe in anything to get her back’. And I said ‘well it’s all free will and this kind of thing’. We had had these arguments, you know. But he was a very dedicated, sincere, straight bloke, you know. I mean I had had dust-ups with guys that had been party members, well not so much party members, but Trotskeists prior to that, especially one but I won’t mention his name. I met my wife at Clapham Labour Party and we used to have verbal punch-ups with ? like the office over the road on the corner of Clapham there, do you remember?
A And so anyway, the Trots and us. Looking back on it. I used to be school chess champion but Denis was a phenomenal player and we used to play chess up on the top there and I never beat him once, I mean, he used to thrash everybody. I don’t think anybody beat him at chess. When we were there like, we had a shop meeting and this is interesting from the union’s point of view, the shop meeting was that - the guys that were on regular salary at Sheperton, that were there permanent, like permanent staff, and this is where the situation was funny. They were always hustling to get more overtime - you know, the thing was if you could get double, treble time, you know, can we make it so he has got to go over twelve o clock and all that, you know the usual thing, and all the agro. So we had this shop meeting about something, so Denis went round and he said ‘look, what this lot want to do, they want us to be militant, to get more overtime and they push so they get more money, they won’t do it themselves because they are all on a steady earner and they won’t jeopardise this so they said ‘they want us to fire the bullets’, he said. So when they vote for this, and I can’t remember, I have got a drawing of this, I tried to find it this morning, at this shop meeting, and he said ‘they want us to vote to take strike action’. He said, ‘well don’t do it’ he said, ‘because what will happen is that we will all be out on our earholes, we won’t have any jobs, this lot - they will still be there. Or maybe putting pressure on the guys running the film or whatever’ he said ‘so just’. So we had this resolution and this thing came up and they said ‘right, all those in favour of taking action’ and we all sat there and nobody put their hand up. They were really pissed off. So we all went back on the set and that was the end of it. But, I mean, there was always this thing about people trying to get people to be militant to sort of like you know let’s make the bullets for them to fire, you know, there was always that people prodding you on. And Denis was clever like that, you know, he said ‘no, we would be the fall guys here’. Anyway, while I was there, you know, I mean, I even got slung back on the heavy gang and I got offered this job - it’s ironic ????? - I got offered two, I had spent almost two years trudging around studios trying to get a job as an artist’s assistant, you know, and I got offered two jobs in one bloody day. I got offered the job at Covent Garden which is the job I wish I had taken and I got offered this job at Key Studios which was over the road here and I worked there with - the guy that was in there was all right, I mean, the money was... I mean, I was a fool really because I was earning quite good money at the studios and I chucked that in and my wife said to me - we were living in Balham in two rooms there which were really quite grotty - and she said ‘are you really..... ‘ you know, and sort of, and I had gone, because I had always this thing about wanting to be an artist, want to be an artist, know what I mean? So I went and worked for Key Studios as Scenic Artist Assistant. Of course, when you got in there it was a totally different ball game, I mean, your idea of art and all that went out the window because we used to paint huge backdrops with midnight blue, you know, and you were all in relays and the thing with midnight blue is that you didn’t want to get it on yourself because it would take weeks to come off and also the other thing was that you had to keep the thing going with the brushes because otherwise you got marks in it because it was wicked stuff actually. All these old guys I worked there with and the bloke that ran the studio - this is what I learned about the art game - these guys had never been in art school and one of the best guys there that was painting had never actually been to a bloody art school in his life. He had picked it up as he went along and came with this floral garland things to do, you know, cut out of wood, and he said ‘ now look’ and he got this red, pink and ? paint and he sort of sploshed it on the board and he said ‘ look, garlands, like that dab, dab, dab’. I looked at that and I did it and I mean, and he looked at it and he said ‘a load of crap, all you bloody art students are the same’. You know. And it was true. Like when I worked at Poster Publicity and Display there was all these old boys in Curtain Road, all these old boys that worked there, they was stencil cutters and they used to do, you know, victor value and all that, early supermarkets, they used to do all this threepence off and all that. It was all done by hand and these guys, they could knock out a sign like nobody’s....and even Michael there, the artist, had never been in art school and I remember I worked on the first James Bond poster - on “Dr No”. You build this thing up in a projection room, you know, you project it on the wall, you traced it out and then you just painted it in, you know, and Michael could do these huge - and paint big areas and make them look realistic. It was very difficult. And he could paint these things like.... I remember Craditz there, old Mike Craditz. I’ve got to tell you this cause it was yongkipur and it was nearly Jewish at this place and Michael came in the next day and he said to Mike Craditz cause Mike Craditz, he got taken on, you know, I don’t think he was any good at painting, in fact, he was terrible, he put black in this bloody paint pot of yellow and everything came out grey Anyway it was this day and he said to him ‘what did you do yesterday’. He said ‘oh I went to the pictures’. And Michael went spare he said ‘you went to the pictures........bloody hell’. I always remember that. That was funny that was. But see that was a totally different ball game in those days. You went along to a firm, or huge cars, I mean, if you were any good you stayed, if you was not good they said ‘well sorry son’, lick em and stick em. And that was it. And now you get a job, you have got to have CVs, you have got Personnel Management, they have got to interview you, they have got all this. And at the end of the day you get some little twenty year old kid, you know, don’t even know what day of the week it is really, life-wise. I am not being nasty in the sense about that. I had a bit of a breakdown a while ago and they sent me off somewhere, the old shrink sent me off to go to some, what do you call it?
A No, not rehabilitation. Oh God, don’t talk to me about rehabilitation. Rehabilitating who? Counselling.
Q Oh yes.
A So I got this twenty year school kid really. And he said ‘well, go to these sessions’. I said ‘look, there’s light years between me and her, she wouldn’t even understand, she wouldn’t even know where to start to understand what my background is, where I come from etc. I couldn’t sit there and talk about your, you know. I mean, in the end you ought to talk about, you come out there, I mean, I had done these, because I wanted to do art therapy and you come out and you end up and you are depressed and you know it can make you worse actually. But anyway. So I’m not being unkind to the younger generation, in a way, but it is ..... My son said to me ‘bloody old reactionary’ you know. It was more like Steptoe and Son. I have got to give him his due. He is a clever lad and he does listen to me now but he started to listen a bit but I could see him making all these bloomers and I said ‘look Junior I have been there you know I have done it, you know’, but they won’t listen to you.
Q Well, they have got to find out for themselves.
A That’s right. Wise head on young shoulder and all that jazz. So anyway, getting back......While I was at Sheperton I had some lithographs I had done at Kennington Art School and I had a fabulous time there that I used to be there. I was a part time student and - I’ll tell you that in a minute - but I had an exhibition of lithographs at Sheperton I can remember a few bits and pieces in the canteen there and I remember old Mo Gillick came up to me and I had got this gladiator’s helmet and he said to me ‘what’s this?’ I said ‘it’s a gladiator’s helmet’ cause I had cobbled it from the British Museum. ‘Oh that’s a funny sort of hat’. I was a really stroppy git when I was a kid, I mean, I was really balshy, you know. I mean, if anybody, don’t matter who it was, if they rubbed me up the wrong way, you know, I would give them a mouthful. I mean, I remember I went to one job and the bloke started sort of whinging on at me about something and I turned round and I said ‘look mate, I have just done two years in the RAF being told where to go from A to B, and you can stick it. And I just walked out the door. You could do that then. You can’t do that now. Sadly in a way because it wouldn’t be bad if people could do that in some ways. The most awful period of my life was when I worked for British Rail for ten years, I mean, that was ughhhh.
Q What did you do?
A I was a ticket collector at Victoria. Oh God. It was awful. I think I would have been better off trying to rob a bank and doing ten years inside! I mean, quite honestly, you have got no idea of the railways, I mean, the way they treat the staff.
Q Anyway, coming back to Sheperton, did you go to any other studios?
A No. I just did Shepterton. When I got sort of taken off the set by the director for doing those drawings I showed you - cause he asked me what I was doing, you know, I had got these sketches of these guys, cause I was quite, in those days I used to draw every day, I used to take the sketch book anywhere and I would draw anything, you know, I mean, that was the idea - the world was a studio in other words, didn’t have a studio so whatever I saw I drew it, you know.
Q Do you remember his name?
A No. Young fellow - third assistant, he was third assistant, I don’t know who he was. And I think he thought I was doing something for advertising, I think he was just a bit worried and protective. I mean he said to me ‘what are you doing these for?’ and I said to him ‘well, you know, I am just doing them for myself, you know, is anything wrong in that?’ And he said ‘no’. But anyway I presume that’s why but that might not have been the case. I mean, while I was there, I mean, as I told you, what’s his name -
Q The director?
A No. Thurton was there wasn’t he?
Q Yes. Paul Scofield was there.
A I can remember this other actor Sir...
A No. The one I always forget is like the three ....
Q Ralph Richardson?
A There was Richardson...
Q There was Paul Scofield.
A There was Scofield, Richardson, Gielgud and there was another one. Another Sir. Actor Knight. There was another one. He looked a bit like....
Q Not Horden? Michael Horden?
A No. He looked a bit like -what’s his name - the one who played Long John Silver? Robert Newton.
Q Oh yes.
A He looked like Robert Newton but he wasn’t. He was queer as a coo. That I remember. Because he had designs on all these young lads that were going round. Altar boys or whatever. I remember him saying because he was getting changed in a caravan somewhere and he said something about ‘ohhhh,’. But Burton was very imposing sort of, quite frightening, actually. I was driving past - he came out of some office at Shepterton - and I drove past and he came out and I saw this kind of, this sort of, you know, his pock marked face of his like a kind of, you know, it was almost like he was the Tyson of the acting world, you know what I mean? He came out and he had got this - I’ll tell you a weird story about this thing about Burton and Taylor. When I started working for myself, years later this was, I was self employed and I worked as a Sparks, I used to work for a company called, well we used to call them ‘Gross, Fine, Cheap and Adam, they were a big property company, I mean, they were stitching the tenants up all the time you know, sticking on the old, you know they would stick on the ? ? ?, poor, rich and all that you know. One bloke used to work there and he would say ‘Oh I’ve just put thousand - I knew this MP’s sister - old Makado, I knew his sister, she used to call me ‘Come and Go’ because she would ring me up even to change a light bulb, she would ring me up from Maidavale and her sister was quite neurotic but a sweet old thing. What she used to call Denis! He was the little bloke that went around sticking the charges up all the time and he used to get a kick out of it an all, the little sod. But getting back to - where were we?
Q You were working at a studio.
A Oh yes. I got this job to go and repair some lights in this flat and I went in there and there were two huge big photographs signed by Burton and Taylor ‘to so and so’ and it was “The Taming of the Shrew”, the film, and that was a fantastic bloody film, that was, you know, that was really them actually, you know the pair of them. And this guy, I mean, life’s weird isn’t it? I mean, fact is stranger than fiction every time. This guy had been their chauffeur and that was how he had got this photographs and we got talking and this guy had been in the Foreign Legion and he was actually one of De Gaulle’s body guards. You know the story about the guy who took the pot shot, you know, they made that film “The Day of the Jackal”, well that’s almost true, because they actually did take a pot shot at De Gaulle and he actually did bend forward in the car when the bullet went through - he actually did, you know, somebody saying ‘well, bend forward’ and the bullet missed him and this guy was actually in the car when it happened. Whether that is bullshit or fact, I mean, that’s the story he told me. He was employed by Richard Burton and Liz Taylor and he used to tell me about them - they both used to drink and fight and all the rest of it you know. I suppose the terrible pressure they are under all the time to perform and all that must be horrendous. So I always remember that guy. The other time I worked on - and this is prior to going to Sheperton - this was when I worked for Charlie Teegent, there was a guy round the corner in Brixton there, a guy called Len Campling and Len Campling ran a film catering set up. And Len was an ex prisoner of war and he had got the military medal during the war, supposedly - there are a lot of stories about him - he was supposed to have been tortured by the Gestapo for seven days and helping blokes with escape rations and all that kind of thing. How true it was? I mean, Campling was a weird guy. Anyway I went and worked for him and he sort of said ‘well you know you can go on film’ because the thing was I was very much a kid, like I suppose what you would it star struck about anything that would get you out of the boring norm and get you anywhere that would seem to be...
Q A fantasy world.
A That’s right, that’s right. I always look back at that film - what was it? - anyway, Shadrack and he works for the undertaker and he tears the calendars up and stuff them down the loo - Albert Finney, do you remember?
Q Billy Liar, do you mean?
A Yes, Billy Liar. I always remember that. Anyway, where was I?
Q We were talking about Elizabeth Taylor’s chauffeur.
A Yes, I was telling you about - so when I went to work for Len Campling. So I was working for Charlie so I went round and saw Len and I said ‘I have been in the catering trade’ so he said ‘well, I need a cook’s assistant, you know, and as soon as I get a film I will give you a call’. He gave me a buzz and I had got the flu. We weren’t on the phone so I can’t remember how he told me. I always catching the flu when I was a kid.
Q Could have been a telegram.
A Don’t think so, I would remember a telegram. But anyway so I went down to this place, they were making was it “Whistle Up the Wind”?
A Alan Bates, Richard Attenburgh, John Mills, Hayley Mills. Anyway so I went there as a catering assistant on this....and it was bloody hard graft. And old Campling, bless his heart in a way, but he was an arsehole.
Q It was a big bus you had wasn’t it?
A Yes. That’s right. This big converted bus. And actually he was a bit of a jack the lad in stitching up. Because I remember I actually heard Richard Attenburgh sort of looking at the bills and said to him ‘take it easy Len’ because he was clobbering him for - he was a mean bugger because I never actually got paid because I rowed with him. I tell you, it was quite funny, but I must tell you some quite funny incidents about that.
Tape 2 - Side A
A Yes, so. That’s right. So old Len Campling. He had two bull terriers - Crinie and the other one, I can’t think of it’s name now. But Crinie had got rheumatism in his bag legs and we were in this caravan and the dogs were - they were like one man dogs - but for some unknown reason I have got a way with some dogs, I’m not saying all dogs, and this dog - we immediately hit it off straight away, you know, sort of buddies - and I used to fight with it and roll around with it and sort of tease it. Its favourite little trick was if he wanted to get up the steps he would bark and if you didn’t more or less come over straight away and lift him up the steps he would come round and kind of give you a little nip in the ankle - not hard - it was just like it would feel like ‘don’t ignore me I want to get up the steps’ you know. The dog got on the film set, I don’t know how this happened, I don’t know if it went for walkies or what, it got on the film set. They were shooting out in a field and I think one of the crew aimed a kick at it and the dog started having everybody, he went round, you know, generally sort of planting his choppers in anybody he could get near. I went over and I dragged the dog out and they all thought I was some kind of hero. It was only because I knew what Crinie was like. But he was a lovely old dog actually, he was a good laugh. What got me about that particular thing being on the film, I have got to say this, I mean, it is so bloody boring. I think for the people who are doing it and probably they are into it but I always think this is something where they fell down in those days, they didn’t really explain to people why you are here and why you are here for so long and why we are doing this, you know. It is only like you being the cameraman and you would know what was going on, you had read the script. But, I mean, most of the crew there - and it was that kind of barrier thing.
Q This was because of the finishing of the kind of staff crews really.
Q When you had staff crews it was quite different.
A Was it. I never experienced that.
Q Everybody was in.
A Yes. It must have been like that in Hollywood in the early days when....
Q No it is just in, bricks and mortar only, it’s an entirely different thing.
A It’s a jungle now. Talk to my son about that. Anyway, that shoot was quite interesting, I mean, it was amusing in a lot of ways. I still remember John Mills, I know he is Sir John and all that, he was very much like, in the films and in real life. He is like this kind of public spirited, get stuck in. Because old Campling, you know, he had a big old Jag, you remember the big old jags, you remember the type that old Mike Hawthorn, when he killed himself - what were they these old beetle nosed Jags?
Q I know the things you mean.
A I can’t think what they were called. Anyway he had got one of these and he had got stuck at this place. All I can remember about that film was that it pissed with rain and it was mud, I mean, it was like being at Glastonbury, it was dreadful, it was the most godforsaken place. It was in Lancashire somewhere I think and it reminded me of my square bashing camp we did near Gloucestershire, can’t think of the name of it. It had been an old marsh. This Jag got stuck in the mud and I remember old John Mills came out - they were trying - Campling had this driver working for him, can’t think of his name - trying to push this car out of the mud and then old John Mills came out, jumped out of his caravan where he was getting made up or whatever it was and he had got this lovely pair of suede shoes on and quite a natchy suit, I mean, he was a smart dresser, and he starts pushing this Jag and he starts sinking into this mud up to his... you know, and I’m looking and I thought to meself ‘I don’t believe this’, you know. And his little daughter was there at the time and she was so shy and sort of sweet, you know, sort of cute. You know what the crews were like, when the foods going they are like sort of kites, you know, the first ones in there, you know, queuing up. But Campling buggered off the weekend and he said ‘Oh I’ll leave you some food and all that behind and you can help yourself and do what you want’ and all that and he then locked everything up, he didn’t even leave me a tea bag. Everything was sort of locked, you know. And I actually had to go out and buy food and I had actually gone up there and I was absolutely skint, I just about had the money for the train fare. So he had left this four wheel drive car. I tell you how I got my driving licence! I worked as a milkman and because I had worked as a milkman, I worked with one of these pull-along trolleys, and in those days, because it had a reverse on it, you got a full licence and I had actually got a driving licence before I could even drive. Anyway I drove this bloody landrover - this four wheel - cause what I didn’t realise was that they ate the juice up you see. So I got this landrover like and I thought to meself. I drove down to somewhere - was it Bolton or somewhere - I drove in this land rover with this thing, bombing off down the road. I thought I would go down to some dance somewhere and pick some woman up, you know. So on the way down I hit this lamp post, sort of dented the front wing. Anyway I came back and I had got the hang of this four wheel drive so I was going round these country roads with this four wheel drive thing, slinging it all round these country roads. And, of course, in those days there was hardly any traffic around anywhere. This is 61-62. I was zooming around these country lanes and when Len came back on the Monday he got in the landrover and he sort of drove off with all this food and he got about half way there in a country lane and it konked out, it had run out of petrol. He came ‘what have you been doing with this landrover?’ So I said ‘well, I have been driving it’. He said ‘but I had a full tank in there’. Cause they only do about eight miles to the gallon or something, you see. So I said ‘well, I had to go out and get some food’. And he went bananas. Cause he had to go and petrol and all the rest of it. But he used to have nightmares. He literally used to lie screaming in the night, he would wake up and he would be screaming and his mate said to me ‘oh he gets these nightmares, it’s due to the war or something. I don’t know what it was. He was a hard nut though. So that was my first experiences of filming, you know, on a scene. I got talking to Alan Bates on the set briefly. Cause in those days you would not sort of talk to them, you know, cause the cast were the stars and you were the crew and it was different with an American guy. And I got talking to him about “The Caretaker” cause I had seen Pinter’s play “The Caretaker” at the Arts Club, over the road there. At the same time that we were doing that film with Beckett they were doing “The Vikings” - I loved “The Vikings”, well they cut it all now but I mean it was hilarious. The bit I liked, cause all the feminists had cut it out, but I loved the axe sign, pinned up on the door. But Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh and Kirk Douglas? - male chauvinist crap but it was wonderful. They were making this film. And, of course, they had got this tank flooded in the studio and they did all the rowing scenes in that - I still remember it. I still remember the music. I got talking on one set. Because when I was on this set I used to wander off all over the place, I mean, being like in the RAF if one could skive off I would do it. I was a great one for disappearing. And I got talking to Dan Drury. You remember Dan Drury - he was an American actor, he was a bit like Alan Ladd. Similar sort of features and that. He was a helluva nice guy and his great hobby in life was Do-It-Yourself and he was telling me he had got this garage at home, you know, and he must have been quite well off and he had got this place back home and he was into making things, you know, and he said ‘oh, I’ve got all these tools and everything like that and I make all these bits and pieces, you know. He was slightly pre-do-it-yourself thing. My own experience was working for Jim, working for Hammers....
Q Where was that, over at Bray?
A No, just next door here.
Q Oh I see. That was the offices?
A We didn’t actually work in the studios we worked in the offices and we were and Jean used to work for Careers - Mike Careers - and the stories I could tell you about working in those offices next door, I mean, it was just so funny. Jim, always being stuck for dough, he was always stitching the bill up, he was always putting something on the bill, trying to charge for something that wasn’t done and all the rest of it. We did De Langlee Studios at the same time when they built they first big one over the road there somewhere and this was all being kind of like coming out of its slum area, you know, like, and lots of places were being done up and all that kind of thing. You know it was the start. The builder’s greatest friend was the invention of Pollyfilla. I think there are more buildings held together with Polyfilla than anything else. But Jim used to take blokes on and I remember he took my mate on and he said to him ‘can you paint son?’ ‘No’. He said ‘you can hold a brush!’. He would take them on because he needed bodies. But the thing was that he got this job to redecorate the studios and the offices and you are going to think I am bullshitting you but this is a true story. There was Tim, there was me and there was another guy, I think there were three or four of us working for Jim at the time. He was also working at the studio De Lang Lees and I think the guy that was running it was a guy called Michael Something. So he was charging Mike Careers up on a daily basis with men and he said to old Careers he said - ‘I am going to put ten men on the job’. I don’t know what sponge he was working with De Lang Lees but the sort of stroke he was pulling there. So we had to sort of go and work in the offices there for about half an hour and then one of us would have to disappear over the road to there and the guy over there would come across to here because it would be a different place and the thing was we had to make sure that we were always in the vicinity of the bloke that was the accountant who had the sort of first floor. After about three days he sussed it out. And he said ‘I only seem to see the same three or four guys’. So Jim had got this painting the offices up and in those days the offices didn’t have this - it was metal partition here of some sort - and it had got this frosted kind of glass in it and we had got this grey paint from somewhere and I called “Mental Asylum Grey”. I always remember this artist who used to paint these things at Bayswater Road - old Harry - and he had been a ship’s painter. The only attraction I had was to paint the sides of battleships. So Jim had got this metallic grey paint and it was dreadful, it was dreadful, I mean, if you had to sit in there all day............and it was dreadful stuff. Anyway, he had got this purply greyish tinge to it and with the fluorescent lighting in those days and you had this kind of grey......it would be good the SciFi films, it would be marvellous, you know what I mean. And so we painted this office with this colour. So this accountant he said to me ‘is this the finished colour or the undercoat?’ I said ‘it is the finished colour’. He said ‘I can’t have this in my office’. Old Jim said ‘it’s contemporary.’ Trying to convince this bloke. They had a terrible dust-up with Mike Careers. But the funny thing about it was that Mike - there was this thing about, you couldn’t dislike a bloke like Jim, I mean he was just a bloke that, you know, people used to shout and row with him and fight with him, but I mean, at the end of the day, they just liked the guy. He was just a very likeable man. Mike Careers, because he was part of the Careers Cigarette family. There was this crazy old goon that worked in MI5 or MI6 or whatever it was - he was dead funny this bloke, this so-called Colonel that worked for MI5 during the war, espionage and all that. ? ? we used to get out of this bloke. He lived next door to Churchill, I think, in Hyde Park Gate, or two doors away or next door to him, I’m not sure. He got Irish Mick, I’ll never forget, bless his heart, Irish Mick would tackle any job in the world and if he said to him ‘build the millenium site’ and he would say ‘Aye sure’. He didn’t have a clue but he would go and do it, you know what I mean? He was incredible this guy. The things old Mike used to do on sites. So Mike was working for Jim as well with Tommy, that was before Tommy got killed. It was really funny because this curved brick arch, decorative arch thing had suddenly become all the rage and people were having these brick arches put up everywhere. And Mike Careers said ‘oh yes, can you get me one of your brick layers Jim and can you build me this curved arch?’ Mike gets this mate of his, some young Irish lad, I don’t think he had ever laid a brick in his life, to build this arch - and it was an abortion! It was something else, it was unbelievable. And I remember Jim and Mike Careers having this shouting match in his office and he said ‘do you realise who I live next to - I live next door to Winston Churchill or whoever it was. You can’t leave that arch there, my mind’s going mad’ and old Jim’s saying ‘well, it’s skilled labour, it’s a skilled job, you can’t get a man???? And, of course, the language that went on in between, you know, it was F this and F that, Oh God, it was a scream. But Hammer Studios was a laugh. One of the guys that worked with us in the evening there, there used to be a strip club at the back, and I always laugh in these films where the bloke falls off the edge and someone grabs his hand and holds him, you know, because that is the biggest load of crap and nonsnese ever. Because I tell you what. This guy was this window cleaner where there were girls over the road. They had left a window open, I don’t think they were doing it on purpose, but they were getting changed. So somebody said ‘oh look, there’s all these birds getting changed’ at the back of this strip club. So this window cleaner gets out on the ledge, about five floors up, and leans out, hangs on the window, sort of trying to get a better look and he slips. As he slips down, he sort of grabs into the window like this and he’s half way through the window like this and he’s going ‘help’. And we dragged him in. It took three of us to pull him through the window.
Q But you said Hammer Studios? Did they have a small studio then? Or is this an artist studio?
A It was offices.
Q Oh I see, I thought you said studio.
A No. Well, they called them studios - whether there was a studio in that block, I don’t know, because I never saw it. Whether they had the whole block or whether he had the first floor I can’t remember, it is a bit hard to remember that. But going back to this thing with De Langlees. It was a very funny thing. Cause we were nicking a load of - we had been stealing bits of stuff off of one site and taking it to another, you know. Jim would be sort of working this kind of scam. And we went in one day and we were bringing plasterboard down the stairs that had been delivered and we were about half way down and I think the guy, his name was Johnny said ‘Christ, there’s Michael, about turn’. And we all turned round and started taking it up the stairs. It was like something from a Carry On film, you could have said “Carry On Building”! I don’t know if it was a legacy of - there was one guy we were talking about National Service - and there was this legacy about they didn’t teach you anything but how to dodge and skive and I think that’s maybe what they wanted you to know. I mean, maybe they think ‘well, they’ll stand on their own feet if they are in a tight spot’, or you know what I mean. You don’t know, you don’t what the thinking was behind it. Everybody skived in National Service. I mean from the top to the bottom.
Q When did you go on to doing proper drawing?
A Ah. Well I went to City and Guilds Art School and then I got a job working for the GLC and I got working for Local Authory and then I used to....
Q Doing what?
A Oh sparking. By then I had got a full ticket and I had conned my way in initially and then I sort of picked it up. I was never any good on the technical sort of stuff. I mean, it took me years before I could use a mega properly. As a working sparks I was quite good but I worked basically on instinct really. But I was quite good at wiring - I mean, domestic stuff. Years later I did a bit of 3 phase stuff and that but I wouldn’t say that I was - I wasn’t what you would call an intellectual electrician. But I could run a bit of pipe and a bit of cable. I was quite canny at that, quite good at it. So I got this job working for the GLC and, of course, you know, I mean, God forbid, I’ve got to say this - but I mean, there were jobs where there was no supervision, I mean, if you wanted to work you worked, if you didn’t want to work you didn’t work. I mean, you just did your own thing. They would give you a load of dockets, job dockets, and you would go around, you know, and you could make the job into anything. I mean, if you wanted to you could say ‘I’ve repaired the light’ or ‘I’ve just rewired the house’ and nine times out of ten nobody would query it, you know. So you sort of went round - I mean, if you were conscientious you did a bit, if you weren’t conscientious you did bugger all. I mean, lots of guys that were there they were sort of working for them and then running their own little shows on the side, which happens all the time anyway. Don’t think I am being cynical but I have always believed bribery and corruption rule the world! I have yet to see otherwise. I mean, that’s a personal - that might be a rather cynical point of view.
Q But you were doing City and Guilds at night were you?
A No, during the day. I used to dodge off. I used to pop in there and I used to spend more time in there than I think I did at work. I was always in there. I was doing Lifography with Wilkie and I did a bit of sculpture, never much cop at that, and I sort of drew. And I developed a kind of style - I was sitting in Green Park one day about 64 and I suddenly - what every artist I suppose tries to get, his own, I suppose, style or way of working or whatever it is. And because I had always tried to draw in situations that were nigh impossible, I mean, really looking back on it now, had I had a camera or had I been one of these guys that could work out focus, this, that and the other on a camera I probably would have been a photographer maybe, you know, because what always fascinates me visually are things that are almost impossible to put down on paper, you know, you know what I mean. Like the moment of truth. You know what I mean? That flash. That something that happens that’s maybe one off and never comes, or rare. And you always see it when you haven’t got anything with you, nine times out of ten. I used to draw a man falling out of a window but that was my style and when I was at Balham, when I lived in Balham, I did probably my best work I have ever done and I don’t think I will ever equal it, and that was all the market scenes I did looking out the window. I don’t think I’ll ever, not in a million years, because there was a kind of naive freedom as well which I have lost, you know. Because as you become a bit more skilled as a draughtsman you lose a kind of naiveté and you have always got the danger of the two that, you know, that you can become, I think it happens to a lot of people, they become very technically able and then they lose that other kind of stuff. Picasso said something about you know, that children were the only artists. I mean, I know what he is saying. And there is an element of truth in that and you get that for a time and then it goes and I think it happens with everything. I think it happens in all the arts with everything and people don’t get it again, you know. Yes, I spent a load of time in City & Guilds and I got my first picture in the Academy - I was living in a tiny little, I didn’t have a studio or anything, and I was working and I got two kids by then, I mean there was Michael and there was Steph and we were living in this shop in Hilder Street in Balham over this grotty dump of a place. It was somewhere to live, I mean, in those days, I mean, getting Council housing was like getting, you know, for ever. So I did all these scenes at Balham and then I got this picture in the Academy in 66. Somebody said ‘oh put a picture in the Academy’ - I think it was old Wilkie who was my teacher there he was like Spengalli, old Wilkie, I mean, he was a brilliant engraver. He was a great craftsman. And he used to say ‘tell a story’. He wasn’t an artist, he wasn’t like the erudite intellectual sort of school you got, you know, kind of take Britain brigade or whatever. If you want to get on as a sculptor you know just put a hole in a lump of brick really! I am being a bit facetious, I mean, I look at anything and I see anything but I have my likes and dislikes. I was taught by the old masters and that’s where my routes are and I won’t change, you know. Old Wilkie was a great - you were either one of his lads or you wasn’t, I mean, he was a great shooting and fishing man, I mean, he was a great one for guns. He was an expert on guns. There is a wine bar named after him in Tatsfield called Henry Wilkinson Wine Bar. Old Wilkie, he was a great one for fishing and hunting and gun dogs and dogs. And he sort of said to ‘why don’t you enter for the Summer exhibition and, of course, you never dreamt of anything like that, you know, you thought ‘bloody hell’. So I got thing of Piccadilly in there because I did this..
Q That was an etching?
A Yes. I did this big street, Piccadilly as it was then in the 60s. I got it in and that was the first. I don’t think I sold a copy, mind you. In those days, sadly, I mean until I did the one of Balham, which is the last thing I had in there, I think I sold very few pictures of London views, mainly because they were still - I mean, now they have all gone, and people are sort of nostaligic, you know.
Q When did you start with earning your living by drawing?
A I never did. Never. No. I mean, I had bashes at it. I mean, I did Bayswater Road on Saturday. When I worked on the railways I made a bit initially but I tried with Christies. I got this card - I’ll show you in a minute - I did a picture for Chrsties and I thought Christies....but you see the commercial side of the art world is very much, it’s geared to, art doesn’t enter in to it. Sadly. It’s what sells and what the fashion is. And art pictures are mainly to do more with decor than they are to do with, you know, and if a certain style of picture becomes popular because people want to buy it then they go for it. And if you are not doing that ..... The last thing people want - it’s a bit like, do you remember the Italian cinema, you know they were early films the Italians, you know, they were done in cinema mode, I mean, one of them said ‘well, you know, what do we want to watch ourselves for, we see it every day’. But I mean, you know that was rife, you know, bicycle thieves, all the great films. I mean, La Dolchi Vita and whatever happened to Mondo Carnay? I never...
Q Don’t know.
A Do you remember?
A So that’s it....
Q So you were earning your living still as a spark really?
A Oh yes, I made some - I should think - it’s funny because the thing about, do you remember Lawrie had this dust-up with his tax people? And he had an exhibition and he made twenty two grand or something and he said ‘yes, this is twenty years work’. And I mean, that is often the case. I mean, if you get a young lad like - I’ve only ever seen him once, I’ve never spoken to him, I mean, a young kid comes off a Council estate like whatshisname, cuts the cows up. You know.
A I mean, people take the.. I say ‘bloody good luck son’. ‘Keep sticking it in the bank while the going’s good.’ He’s got in at the right thing at the right time and he said to Jack ? ‘bloody good luck to him and I hope he’s got the brains to sort it all round. Because it’s all like pop stars now, you know, you could be flavour of the month next minute and then you know. I mean, even Bacon - and I met him a couple of times in the Colony Room - I mean, I spent one day in there and had a good chat with him for a good hour. And, you know, I mean, if he hadn’t had Muriel Belcher to keep him going and Karl Waite - Karl Waite gave him a studio in the Royal College when he was going through a bad time - I mean, unsung hero of the art world, he even saved Hockney’s bacon - pardon the pun - but Hockney was going to get turfed out of the school because he couldn’t do the academic side and old Karl Waite said ‘oh no let’s give him a medal for drawing’. So they gave him this gold medal. I doubt if Hockney knows that. But Waite is like, you know, he is like the Diana of the ... you know, British Art owes more to that man, I think, than anybody. Also some of the bad British Art as well he is partly responsible for! Not himself, but, you know, he is a kind man. Bit like what old Betchaman, I mean, one of the great thrills of my life, because City and Guilds was in the 60s going back to that era, was a great melting pot and you went there and you were there with all these kids, I used to call them Public School Rejects’, you know, they had had all the, you know, they were daughters of this, that and the other and they were there and they didn’t know what to do with them. They were no good at anything else so they sent them to Art School, you know, and it was all that period of time. There were some good artists as well. It was a great melting pot and there was a great...I mean, Satcha brought it all back with a viciousness, the class war. But that 60s, I mean the sixties were like going out, it was just like going out and breathing champagne. There was an optimism, there was a kind of atmosphere that I don’t if we will ever see it again.
Q I don’t think it will ever come again. Let’s come back to you. Anyway, you carried on sparking then you moved off that didn’t you into...?
A No. I was quite militant when I was on Wandsworth because the ETU was trying to get - we had a London rate which was hirer than the out-of-town rate and they wanted to bring the London rate down to the out of town rate and I opposed it and then I organized all the burghs and I nearly brought the whole lot out on strike. And we had a meeting. Anyway, I was a marked man after that. So I left Wandsworth. I didn’t want to work on a site anyway. I nearly got killed on there and all. And so I chucked the job in in 69 and we moved from Balham to a little house, the GLC gave us, I had a long, long battle with the GLC to get rehoused. And that went up in flames the first night so we got out of there alive. Thank Christ I had done a fire fighting course in the RAF because when we were in the air force the last few weeks we were in there we did this nuclear warfare thing and we were all - wonderful load of blokes, all these firemen, civvy firemen, some of them had been in the blitz, some of the old boys, and, you know, we did this fireman’s course, you know, the whole lot. I think that’s what saved the family’s life because the golden rule is you just get the hell out, shut the doors and get out and never go back. So we got out of that place and it went up like one of these little prefab houses, went up like a torch. We got moved to Carshalton - Tinten Road - and there was no work locally out there, you had to travel in. So I started out on my own. I had a Molten bicycle and I started out advertising as a local electrician, you know, and I used to go round doing jobbing repairs. The idea was to build a studio. I did build a kind of shed out the back and I did a bit of etching out in the shed but most of my time, quite honestly, when you have got a young family, and all that, you know, you are feeding the kids and all that. Anyway, I got in with this property developer - John Barain - who was a bit of a rough diamond. I’m no saint. I mean, I am not a boy scout. And I made quite a few bob working with John, you know, I was buying fridges and cookers and all that - legit, you know. But I mean, he was getting all this - what do you call it - I used to buy this stuff sort of cheap and then I used to flog it to him.
A Yes. I had to cut the discount out! And this was the time when the councils were giving all this money out for making flats so John used to say - he actually said to me one day ‘you know, if these silly buggers are stupid enough to give me, a property developer, money, to develop my own property and then charge people, you know, they are a load of complete idiots’. And I jumped in on this band wagon and made quite a lot of dough actually. The GLC used to run a thing called ‘Hire Rented Register’ and if you had above the average income and I had quite a boom year in about the seventies - 70-71 - I was earning a lot of dough (I don’t tell this to the tax people by the way) and Wendy was expecting the third one - David - and that was a bit touch and go. But anyway David came along so my little house in Carshalton which was about the size of this room, I mean, apart from working for myself, having all my tools and stuff and bits and pieces, and I started fiddling around with bits of junk, antiques sort of thing, and the art work, and you couldn’t move in the house. You would come in the door and you would be climbing over. So eventually I went up to County Hall and I saw this woman and she said ‘well, we can give you - we can’t rehouse you - you have got to wait - but we have got this thing called ‘Hire Rented Register’. If you earn so much money you can get rehoused.’ And that’s what I did. I went along there and I, I mean I upped my rent from three quid a week to sixteen pounds which was quite a jump in those days. But, I mean, I was earning, you know, I was earning. And I said to them - I got all the keys to these houses in Norbury and there was this huge house in Norbury which we still live in, with an enormous garden and I went there and I thought ‘well, the kids would love this because it was like having your own bloody private common virtually. It backed over the allotments and you know, I mean, it was just unbelievable. And I took my missus down there and I had an old Morris Traveller and I took her down there and I said ‘listen, even if we only live here six months, most people would give their right arm and leg to live in a place like this, you know.’ Because this street had been - all the top Harley Street specialists had lived there - so we moved in and then 72 I went skint and - that’s another story - I gambled - I got involved with playing the market as they say - but - Wall Street if you like - if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. Eventually I started to get back trouble, quite seriously, and I nearly got into teaching but, of course, the cuts came. I taught part time at City & Guilds. I had young Calder as a student there but I never taught Henry anything because he was a bloody good draughtsman but we got to know each other and then I sort of drifted on, did this course at Croydon and then came out, there were no jobs anywhere. I think I put about 180 applications in for jobs and I couldn’t get a bloody thing.
Q What kind of jobs were these?
A Technician in art school. And they just cut all the jobs, they were being axed, cut back. There was nothing. And I didn’t have a degree, you see. If I had had a degree I could maybe have got on but it was all degree this and degree that, you know. Totally opposite to what Coldstream said but there you go. And so I ended up working for British Rail, as a stop gap. And, of course, then when Thatcher got in power then the boom years came for a few but not for the many and she slowly annihilated British industry. That’s it basically, I mean, I stuck that out for - I mean Railways is another story. I mean, I had good friends on there and I got on well with a lot of people. I was Shop Steward there as well. I had some horrendous fights with the management on BR, because British Rail was run like the military and like the military these guys - supervisors and that - they were absolute liberty takers the lot of them. So that’s the way it is. So that’s how it was with British Rail. I did this Teddy Bear thing for BR and I made three quarters of a million pounds out of it and promised me promotion and all the rest of it and all they did in the end was cut my throat and knife me in the back. You know, ‘thank you and goodbye’! I left in 90 because it was Hobson’s choice, I mean, I was a marked man. I knew if I didn’t leave they would sack me and there were a lot of other things going on - domestic-wise - so I got out and since then I have sort of, you know, more or less been UB40, I suppose, most of the time.
Tape 2 Side B
Q Is there a high spot in your career at all, do you think?
A A high spot?
A In my career - art-wise do you mean?
Q No, anything.
A Well, the family I suppose, kids. My first son being born, you know, and the kids. I think yes I am very strong on family.
Q Are they artistic?
A Oh yes. Talented bunch. Michael, sadly cause he - I would have liked to have - junior David - I would have liked to have given him the same education but Michael works for Telecom - he is a great sportsman. He is a very bright boy but I think he is a bit dyslexic and one thing and another. Anyway, his wife’s doing very well. She used to work for Travellers Fare serving teas and now she is in the city and she is sort of, you know, shifting funds around or whatever she does. So they are doing all right, you know. No kids - she doesn’t want kids actually. Which is, knowing the family background, I understand, which is a bit sad in a way. And that’s Mike. And he is sport mad. Then there’s Stefh - she’s the girl, she is very bright, she went to Old Palace School, paid for her to go there and she is a Financial - well she runs the company, she works for a bloke called Mike Land who is a Financier and she runs - she saved the company from going under twice, I think. She is a good kid, tough kid. She has got a good head on her. She is shrewd. I suppose if you asked me - I will tell you what has always fascinated me - business.
Q Would you have liked to have been a business man perhaps?
A Yes, maybe, yes, maybe something to do with sort of shunting money about or, you know, I mean. No, I mean it in a serious way. I mean, the guy I admired actually, I mean, I quite liked old Clarko - not because of his politics but because of the guts he had in standing out against Eddie George, cause personally I think Eddie George is a pratt. I don’t mean that to be nasty, I think he is like a lot of these people. I think Tony Banks said once ‘he wouldn’t even know how to run a whelk stall. And if you take Tesco, I mean Tescos came up, you know, not that I am going to speak up for Doreen, but you know, Tesco comes from Tessie and Curry and they start a business on the street and it’s like, I muck about a bit with antiques now and, you know, I say to somebody that if you want to start a business, you know, get twenty quid, you know, get an idea, get out there and do it. And learn as you go. I mean, all this idea about giving people enterprise schemes, pouring money into this, that and all the other, ninety nine times out of ten these people get taken to the cleaners. Because you either have got it or you haven’t got it. You know, it’s either you have got the nouse - I remember once we were on Wandsworth and we had got all this copper cable, I went to the area we got it from, we got all this copper cable and my wife used to teach a lot of the gypsy families in Mitcham and a lot of her kids there were from a gypsy background and we went to a big family - they were called Sparrowhawk - and we took this copper cable down to this place in Garrett Lane and one of the young kids there and I think the boy was deaf or something or dumb, I can’t remember. He was about seventeen and he pulled a wad of notes out of his pocket - you could have choked a horse to death on them. And I looked at that and I think to myself - these people that talk about education and all the rest of it, I tell you if you want to educate kids you put them in a - even people who are mentally disturbed or mental patients - if you put them in an environment where you say that you know, give them a shilling and see if they can buy a packet of fags, and if they can get them for 10p............you’d be surprised how suddenly, you know, engulfed with trust all the others cash. But it is amazing how greed motivates everybody to a certain extent.
Q Human nature.
A No, I mean, Arthur Clarke, you know, Lawson was arrogant but he was a brilliant chancellor and sadly they never let the thing run its full course, you see, because they haven’t got the nerve. The sad thing about this country is that they have lost their balls. Somebody has come along with a bulldog, castrate it and pull its teeth out!
Q I think we’ll leave it there!