BECTU History Project Interview with ROY FOWLER – producer, director, writer
Interview Date(s):13 June 2000
Interviewers: Rodney Giesler
Rodney Giesler:This is an interview with Roy Fowler recorded by Rodney Giesler on the 13 June 2000 for the BECTU oral history archive in whom copyright of this interview is vested.
Rodney Giesler:Roy, can you tell me when you were born and where, a bit of your childhood history?
Roy Fowler:Right well there’s not a great bit of interest to tell about that. Born March 10, 1927, born in North London in a place called Bush Hill Park on Village Road. Education was very ordinary I went through the state schools, a lot of it was during the war so consequently one did get shipped around a bit but it was Enfield Grammar, Edmonton Grammar and also Latimer's. I went through the system until I did my A-levels which in those days was I think called the Higher School Certificate wasn't it?
Rodney Giesler:Were you evacuated at all?
Roy Fowler:No, no, no. It wasn’t that I was a homebody or come to the family I had a great reluctance to suffer the privations of the unknown I certainly wasn’t about to be dumped in the country with people.
Rodney Giesler:What was you father’s occupation?
Roy Fowler:Well he was a sort of small businessman; he was in the coal business he was a coal factor, which meant he bought coal wholesale from the collieries and then distributed it retail to local coal organisations, a middleman. Petit bourgeois I suppose you’d call it. Needless to say that was a business that had absolutely no interests to me and I must say he never… he was very indulgent in that he never expected me to follow in any kind of family footsteps. He was part of a very large Victorian family I don’t know how many siblings he had but it was quite sizeable and it was all a bit like the French peasantry they all hated each other.
Rodney Giesler:Did you have any sort of clear idea what you were going to do?
Roy Fowler:Absolutely, absolutely I think that at the age of 11 I had decided that I was going to be the greatest director since David Wark Griffith it was around that time. My mother always said “He’s film barmy” because I was always trotting off or insisting on being taken if I couldn’t get in by myself, even then I was keeping up. Kevin Brownlow asked me what was the first film I remembered I think it was Red Dust which takes one back quite a long way because that was about 1933 so that would have made me …
Rodney Giesler:Who made that?
Roy Fowler:It was MGM and it was Jean Harlow wasn’t it? I couldn’t tell you anything about it other than I am sure that was it that’s what seems to be what clings in my memory. I’ve got a very hazy recollection of that kind of foliage I think it was a planter’s movie set in Asia. I don’t know what there is to tell about that, one’s life in those days was largely governed by what was going on with the war. My education I think was a very good one I have no complaints about it was so ever you know good teachers and I was reasonably well engaged in it like any kid one didn’t apply oneself totally but I was reasonably adept so that was no problem.
The big problem was that with the war and the possibility of being inducted and being drafted I had to study science so my A-level subjects were all science whereas I would have much rather have dabbled in the arts and I wasn’t terribly interested in physics and chemistry and pure mathematics, which were the four subjects. But anyway I got through so that was all right. And the next stage was to go to University, which was where the complications began because I had a place, this is an extraordinary story and indicative of the time, it’s now 1945 so the war is just about over. I suppose I should add that I was a mad campaigner for the Labour campaign, the Labour Party in the ’45 election especially with Peter Cotes, who was the third Boulting brother and I kind of road Peter’s coat-tails dashing from meeting to meeting where he was a very fiery speaker, very impassioned and I always remember him declaiming, “They think they are right, we know we are right”.
I should also add that it was during my school years that I really began to write and make contacts and think about getting into the business. In 1941 I saw Citizen Kane, which I suppose changed my life that was a great landmark movie for me and I can never see it objectively anymore it’s all part of that time and the extraordinary effect that Welles had on me so I began to research him and what he had done and I wrote a book at that time, which was Orson Welles The First Biography, which got published in 1946.
Anyway, the University bit just to clear that up: this was the beginning of that terrible bureaucracy I mean one has mixed emotions about that period it was a time of great privation and austerity. Did you remember it? You do? And life was not very comfortable in many ways my old man was very active in the black market we never lacked for anything you know legs of lamb …
Rodney Giesler:Never froze?
Roy Fowler:No, no, no. Certainly never froze and legs of lamb at weekends and such like so that was fine. It was a miserable time it always seemed to me to be the time of privation but probably it wasn’t because we ate well at school and such like.
So I had this place at Kings’ College and I read somewhere that Charles Chaplin was going to go to Switzerland for a, this was before he was flung out of the States, for a conference of some kind and I thought ‘Jesus, I’ve got to go see that’. So I applied for a passport and gave that for the reason and er I fully expected it was to be for two weeks you know, because one was liable for military service it was a very rigorous process. And then when it came to going up to college it turned out that I had lost my place because I had applied for this fucking passport. That was the kind of thing that happened and not only happened but happened behind the scenes no-one had the courtesy to say to one, so that meant that I was going to lose my deferment to college. So they got me in that was I went in the Army in the middle of ’46 I guess and before that I spent a couple of months in Paris. That was my first post-war trip and the first one on my own.
Rodney Giesler:Did you get to Switzerland in the end?
Roy Fowler:No, no, no, I never got the passport. They refused the passport and I lost my place at University.
Rodney Giesler:You lost everything then?
Roy Fowler:Yah, yah, which I suppose to this day colours my attitude towards any bureaucracy but especially the way in which this country is run. This country is for the pits as far as I am concerned erm as we see from day to day the way things are still managed by the hidden government. So um I went to Paris and the purpose there was to write a book and before that again I should mention …
Rodney Giesler:You had an allowance from your fatherpresumably did you?
Roy Fowler:Well yes, yeah I mean not a regular one but whatever I wanted he stumped up.
Rodney Giesler:A blessing he stumped up.
Roy Fowler:Oh yes, yes indeed. And I was never extravagant I’m still not. But again I should mention that I’d been writing and meeting and making contacts we’ll come back to those if you like. One of the reasons was that I had become the London Correspondent for Le Film Français and also it’s rival newspaper La Cinémathèque Française, so I had all sorts of contacts over there. I met well first of all there was a woman at the Cinémathqèue who ran me every film that had been made in France during the war, literally every film. Her name at that point was Lottie Escoffier but her real name of course was Lottie Eisner, she was Jewish and she had been part of the Clandestinétéduring the war so she had changed her name but somehow survived which is quite extraordinary that she did. And I wrote a book called The Film in France which I hate to look at nowadays because it is I am sure a piece of juvenilia.
Rodney Giesler:Your knowledge of French was reasonable I suppose?
Roy Fowler:My knowledge of French was good, I was very adept at French and I had a good accent and in those days I was fairly fluent but I must say a lot of its gone now. I’m good at accents if nothing else so I can speak restaurant Spanish and things like that but …
Rodney Giesler:Bluff your way through?
Roy Fowler:Absolutely. So the outcome of that was the book. Previously I’d been meeting people all over I was a regular visitor to the studios by kind courtesy of various individuals, especially Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger who were very indulgent towards me so I was on the set a great deal of A Matter of Life and Death and more especially on Caesar & Cleopatra. I won’t say that Gabby Pascal and I got to be great buddies but again he was always very indulgent and so I was often down at Denham seeing this monstrosity being shot. And there is a kind of pay off subsequently with Gabby who was a total charlatan and probably the worst director who ever lived. One would be there on the set and listen to him, a Hungarian who was not very good at English giving line readings to British actors, you know it was a bit of a revelation and they would look at him but they did do their best. I don’t know if you know much about that film?
Rodney Giesler:I saw it of course as a schoolboy many years ago and I’ve read a lot since about the sort of electric stormsthat were very frequent and presumably youwere witness to some of them were you? Pascal didn’t get on with Claude Rains did he?
Roy Fowler:They didn’t talk to each other. They didn’t talk after the first two or three weeks.
Rodney Giesler:Bit of a handicap for a director and actor I would have thought?
Roy Fowler:Oh yes it was unbelievable this was all part of the reason why The Rank Organisation took a crash because I have a very fond regard for J Arthur Rank he did make an effort to establish a British film industry with an international presence and he was very, very indulgent of the people of whom he employed – the so called ‘talent’. A lot of them, well Gabby I suppose was the worst because the film was budgeted at £250,000 which was a great deal of money in sterling in those days and I think three months, a three month schedule. And in the event it went a year over schedule and a million pounds over budget, I mean well it’s not fair is it? And it was a disaster, it was a terrible film it’s not just a photographed play but it is a very badly photographed play. A wealth of talent: the sets by Oliver Messel and John Byron, not John Box I was going to say John Box.
Rodney Giesler:Who was the cameraman?
Roy Fowler:Freddy Young primarily. A lot of people worked on it because it was so long in shooting and I remember Jack Cardiff being on it I think it was principally Freddy.
Rodney Giesler:What about the artists though, I mean did they have no other commitments they had to go to and they were being held over for so long?
Roy Fowler:Well I suppose he had first call by contract, I mean it’s an unbelievable situation. Also in those days it was by arrangement Leigh was under contract to Selznick because of Gone with the Wind she’d had to sign the traditional seven-year contract and although she was very reluctant to make films for him nevertheless she was contracted so I suppose David Selznick was making a vast amount of money out of it. Rains’ contract said he had to be paid £12,000 after taxes, well again quite a large sum in those days but imagine after taxes when taxes were nineteen and six in the pound. And as I say they didn’t talk and they took their Sphinx to Egypt for the exteriors. This is a classic scene, I wasn’t there but I heard about it at the time, when to get above the trees at Denham some of the sets were built on scaffolding way, way up and it was the time of the flying bombs. One came over and everyone, especially Gabby, scrambling for dear life down the scaffolding.
Rodney Giesler:This was on the back-lot was it?
Roy Fowler:On the back-lot, right, and I, oh I remember too being down there Korda was shooting, he was then at MGM, and he was shooting Vacation from Marriage with Robert Donut and Deborah Kerr.
Rodney Giesler:It was called Perfect Strangers here.
Roy Fowler:Then Vacation from Marriage in the States right. And Gabby had this, ah the sets were stunning on Caesar absolutely unbelievable and the big one on the back-lot for him was the Alexandrian quayside set complete with quireme or trireme or whatever it was and it was Cleopatra’s farewell to Caesar with hundreds of extras on call, all wardrobed. This again is true, some days when the sun was shining and all the extras on call and the principals Gabby would arrive and say “Today we shoot close ups”. He was a stupid man, vainglorious in the extreme.
Rodney Giesler:Was John Davis around at that time?
Roy Fowler:No, John Davis came into his own because of Caesar and Red Shoes and the films that he regarded as not very good. Well he was right in the case of Caesar but un-commercial, of course Caesar I suppose by this time has broken even but it certainly didn’t for a long time. The Rank Organisation had a bank debt of like I don’t know twelve, thirteen million pounds by 1948, which was the point at which Arthur got out of the business more or less as an individual and John Davis the accountant, the Green Shade people, the Green Eyeshade People took over.
But I was going to say about the two people, these two extraordinarily vain directors, egotistical directors, shooting on the back-lot they both had Tannoy systems and they would deliberately fuck up the other shot. One would go on the Tannoy and the …
Rodney Giesler:Korda and Pascal?
Roy Fowler:Korda and Pascal, yeah.
Rodney Giesler:Two Hungarians [LAUGHTER]
Roy Fowler:Two Hungarians, yes two Jewish Hungarians. So what else is there to remember about that it was because for me it was great fun …
Rodney Giesler:I remember it had Stewart Grainger and Flora Robson in it didn’t it?
Roy Fowler:It had everyone, all the West End actors and indeed all the well-known movie actors at that time were in it and if someone suddenly made, given the extended period of shooting, if someone suddenly arrived and made a hit he would recast them and reshoot whatever scenes that had been shot before with someone else. Grainger was Apollodorus, Flora Robson was Ftatateeta, Basil Sidney was in it and of course Vivian Leigh. Although there was a day when Olivier laid him out, laid Pascal out because it was a very tense time for them, for him and Leigh because you know she was a manic depressive and very, very difficult, very possessive and she was pregnant and she lost the baby. I don’t know when she lost the baby before or after this. Gaby’s idea of direction was to say to Vivien, “My darlink today I vant you to act with your fanny. I direct vith my cock you act vith your fanny” and this led to a violent scene between him and Olivier and Olivier decked him. [LAUGHTER] So again a certain amount of frigidity on the set, I think they all wanted to be off the film but there was no way they could you know they were stuck.
Rodney Giesler:Did Bernard Shaw turn up at all to add his contribution or not?
Roy Fowler:He did, I met him on the floor once. Again it’s a mystery but he sort of doted on Pascal I think again it was vanity, the vanity of an old man more than anything. He always insisted that his plays be shot word for word, comma for comma and he worked on the screenplays. There was a woman called Marjorie Dean who was kind of script editor and she would put it into some kind of cinematographic language and in those days the scripts were broken down into shots, shot by shot in extreme close up, close up, medium shot, medium two and all the rest of it. So that was her responsibility but Shaw was eager for it to be exactly as he’d written it so he would turn up, he was a really very old man of course and I was introduced to him but that was all I never spoke to him. And as I say he regarded Pascal as his great interpreter on earth so far as motion pictures were concerned which was Pascal’s strength because he had an exclusivity on Shaw.
Rodney Giesler:Major Barbara was quite a successful movie wasn’t it?
Roy Fowler:Well yes Pygmalion’s a delight.
Rodney Giesler:There’sPygmalion of course.
Roy Fowler:But there again you look at actually who made it: you look at Pygmalion and it’s directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, the cameraman I’ve forgotten whom the cameraman, oh yes, the cameraman was Harry Stradling, the score is by Honegger. I can’t remember who did the sets but it was marvellous talent and again every principal actor/actress from the west end stage in bit parts and Major Barbara, which again went on and on. There is one good thing about Major Barbara it kept the studio open if it hadn’t gone so vastly over schedule the studio would have been requisitioned and when you think of what was made at Denham during the war, thank God for that, so one can chalk that up to Gabby.
Rodney Giesler:It would have been made into a warehouse before it’s time?
Roy Fowler:That’s right yes or an aircraft factory or whatever they were doing, that’s what happened to …
Rodney Giesler:You were still a schoolboy then presumably?
Roy Fowler:Yeah, yeah but I was as I say writing and buzzing around planning on getting a …
Rodney Giesler:What are your memories of A Matter of Life and Death you visited that set quite a lot you were saying?
Roy Fowler:Emeric was more office bound he was the writer and he was a very quiet urbane man, one never felt one was getting through to him at all but he was very charming and polite you know that kind of Hungarian, they were all Hungarian you know. Allegedly there was a sign at Denham in Korda’s days in the Commissariat which said ‘To be Hungarian is not enough’. [LAUGHTER] And Mickey treated me as a schoolboy, which one would expect I was, so again he knew my great enthusiasm for motion pictures and my determination to somehow be in the business but he didn’t go out of his way to do much and I used to bugger about in the office and …
Rodney Giesler:Which sets do you remember in particular?
Roy Fowler:I think the one I remember in particular was, well two, the trial scene which was enormous, tremendous thing with a lot of effects work on it but the basic set and the other one was the escalator to heaven, which was built as I recall by the same people who used to build escalators for the London Underground. In the film it goes all the way up but it went up about I don’t know 20 feet on the set, the practical part of it and the rest is special effects, a matt and it works very well.
Rodney Giesler:That was magic. Alfred Junge, it was Alfred Junge the designer on that?
Roy Fowler:Alfred Junge yes, yes who was marvelous.
Rodney Giesler:I remember seeing that it was mind blowing in those days with the …
Roy Fowler:Junge was THE great art director, absolutely fantastic. My favourite movie I think of that time is The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp a rather mysterious film actually, no one’s ever really been able to make up their minds what they were on about. But …
Rodney Giesler:It’s interesting your visit to A Matter of Life and Death, I, as a slightly younger schoolboy than you spent days on The Red Shoes.
Rodney Giesler:Not at Mickey Powell’s invitation but at Ronnie Neame’s invitation because I was on, I visited Oliver Twist at Pinewood …
Rodney Giesler:… and Ronnie very kindly invited me up and I sort of spilled over because Red Shoes was on the next stage at the time. Anyhow that’s an aside,
Rodney Giesler:But to move on a little bit you were obviously taking steps to try and get yourself into the industry?
Roy Fowler:Yes. Yes well then came, I've touched on the film in France, my book and then I had to go into the army, which was ’46 and they sent me out to MELF, Middle East Land Forces and happily I was at GHQ in Cairo so that was a rather sybaritic life very enjoyable. I was a sergeant in intelligence and I
had my own Jeep and didn't do any work at all, absolutely nothing at all. There were the political concerns of the time up in Palestine and every now and again there would be an alert and one would be put on alert to go dashing up there to do something about the Jewish immigrants but it never fell to my lot, thank God and that was that. Then I was based at Kasr El Nil barracks on the banks of the Nile which is where the Hilton now is and what can one say? I climbed the Great Pyramid, it's lost now but I had a photograph of me up on up on top which I rather regret losing, I lost all my photographs of that period in the States. And I was
indulging in Egyptology I would go down for a long weekends in Luxor and Karnak and so one would see all that and also the Cairo Museum at a time when one could actually move around you know it's very few people there and all the Tutankhamen - I know how to say that because Robert Hardy taught me. Toot-an-Karmoon!!
Rodney Giesler:What was your role in intelligence? I mean what sort of material did you have to look at handle and interpret all or didn't you?
Roy Fowler:Well nothing, nothing serious at all it was all a joke. It was I wrote a novel about it called Our Gayness and Our Guilt which was a quote from Henry V ‘our gayness and our guilt all besmirched by rainy marching in the plowed field and time hath worn us into a slovenly’ you know it?
You know it was a joke my …
Rodney Giesler:Really your earlier contempt for bureaucracy serves you rather well then?
Roy Fowler:Well really yes I've always loathed authority and it's, it's grown with the years. We had an RSM called Derek Craig who theoretically ran the unit well I mean clearly we had a captain, what was his name? Captain Boyle in the Royal Scots but everyone just buggered off and did their own thing. We had German POWs as servants as body servants looking after our billets. You asked me what I did but …
Rodney Giesler :They wereRommel's left overs presumably were they?
Roy Fowler:Well yes, yes.
Rodney Giesler:Poor devils, this isn’t good being kept back a long time weren’t they?
Roy Fowler:Well not necessarily. You mean kept in Egypt or just kept in imprisonment? This was ’46 so it wasn't that long after the war they weren't about to send them home to start it all again.
Rodney Giesler:Anyway, you came out of the army when in’47?
Roy Fowler:Yeah. Again fortuitously I was about to, Cairo was going to be evacuated and everyone was going to go to the Canal Zone which was one of the great assholes of the world, you know live in tents and wooden barracks and things like that and I came down with a pleural effusion. So I was in hospital for a while and invalided back and discharged because they thought it was tuberculosis but it wasn't, so that was that. For years and years and years I had a pension, which they forgot about; when I was in the States I was getting it, it was mind …
Rodney Giesler:I don’t know what you've got to complain about!
Roy Fowler:Oh well when I say I got a pension it was something like $10 a month you know but they forgot about it, which was the great thing. Because one would report to the Veterans Administration in the States every, um, well I suppose every year every two years something like that and they clearly just filled out a form and sent it back here and things continued as before. But anyway I'm jumping sequence so I came back and by this time of course the film industry was in a totally disastrous state because of the debt to the NATPRO whatever it was 14 million quid it said, the failure of the films commercially in the States because they had no hope of making their money back here, they were badly handled in the States mind you by Universal. I remember seeing an ad for Colonel Blimp, which had this lascivious old man twirling his moustache and eyeing a naked girl, well I mean you couldn't get further removed from the film than that and they didn't even bother to release the Red Shoes you say you saw it, do you remember the release? They didn't open it in London it was put on somewhere in the suburbs I think and quickly forgotten.
Rodney Giesler:Didn’t it make its money in America and then David …
Roy Fowler:Well it was a sleeper in America, it opened there someone picked it up and it opened I guess in New York and bit by bit you know it became a cult film and it widened out but I think they opened with like one print, until eventually it became a hidden and underground masterpiece so-called and it is a very effective film but so many were at that time especially those that Nicky and Emeric made. I mean my hat is off to Pressburger because I think he's probably one, well certainly one of the greatest screenwriters that …
Rodney Giesler:I think Peeping Tom proved that didn’t it, in an indirect way?
Roy Fowler:Yes. Yes. Yes. Nicky was a Bulgarian and he was always over the top and a very vain man who had an inflated sense of his own abilities. He did have a vision, which was to make the complete artistic expression with music and sound and performance and colour and you know the whole thing, which they did with Tales of Hoffman and The Red Shoes to some extent that was on, on the way. So there we are came back, tossed out of the army with my new pension, still writing a great deal, getting published in some measure. I was a member of the screenwriters association or an associate member of the screenwriters association I got into that quite early that was midpoint during the war I guess about 1943 and that was an interesting little gathering. The people I remember in that were Roy Baker, Eric Gambler, Peter Cotes, Peter Noble and a variety of other people, oh Herbert Marshall, not the actor but the uh the one you …
Rodney Giesler:Yes, the producer.
Roy Fowler:Yeah and it started he always said with Eisenstein and his wife Fredda Brilliant they weren't very popular but he …
Rodney Giesler:I never realised it went back to the war.
Roy Fowler:Yeah I was doing yeah because I remember we met in The Belgravia Pub and strangely enough in memory it is always rather like a scene in a Warner Brothers gangster film with just a single light shining down on a table I'm sure it wasn't like that but I associate it with blackout. So …
Rodney Giesler:You, you were quite precocious then?
Roy Fowler:I was yes.
Rodney Giesler:Got published very early on?
Roy Fowler:Yeah, a tiresome …
Rodney Giesler:A tiresome little … [LAUGHTER]
Roy Fowler:Yeah absolutely yeah and in all probability very full of myself and very boring which I'm sure affected my interviews because I was, I was would have been happy enough to go into a studio and sweep the floor you know to get a start. The big problem in those days as I'm sure you encountered was you couldn't have a job without a ticket and you couldn't have a ticket without a job and I had no family connections
Rodney Giesler:Did you try writing a screenplay or something and try and lever yourself in that way?
Roy Fowler:I was never a very good screenwriter I'm very adept with prose I think but I'm not good on story, I’m quite good on construction I can take someone else's work and put it into shape but in terms of original conception I would say that's my principal weakness. So as we were saying coming out of the service I had at this point I had no desire to go up to university, I could have done but I didn't want to and it seemed to me a waste of two years. It was like well before I got sick they wanted me to go for a commission and I couldn't imagine anything more unlikely than me swaggering around with a cane. Also its not just authority it's class – I mean I can't – it was a very class ridden situation in those days, which I abominated. So innumerable interviews and could always go in on a very high level I remember for example being interviewed by Robbie, Robert Clark at ABPC who was the managing director but I think probably, as I say I won't say I scared him but they probably thought that I'd want to direct the following week and I was never conscious of not displaying humility but I have a feeling it shone through. That's my rationalization after all these years anyway. No luck at all and the Rank Organisation was, was dead in the water at that point, they closed Denham and then everything was over at Pinewood.
The, so I got a job at Alexandra Palace and I've forgotten how whether someone told me, they must've done, that there was a job going with as a Summer Relief Callboy, which always sounds to me a very suspect title but there you are. And I got it. Oh no the next thing yeah again attitude comes into something that happened a little subsequently, which you must remind me of if I forget. So went up to AP and this was great fun because this was quite early on in the post-war service.
Rodney Giesler:This was Alexandra Palace?
Roy Fowler:This was Alexandra Palace and I have a feeling that that’s well enough covered but should I go through briefly what the studio was like?
Rodney Gielser:If you want to I have interviewed …
Roy Fowler:Ah right well you know what the studio was like. Oh right but you know there was Studio A Studio B. There were these old Emitron cameras that had been designed in 1927 I think, and at this point scotch taped and elastic banded together. Two tiny studios, with everything live of course so everything had to be rigorously scheduled. One went up iron staircases to the control room and all you had, and this was a revelation when I went to the States, all you had were two monitors in effect, the director had two monitors, one was preview one was transmission. And the camera chains were, that was a vision extra and they were somewhere else and it was very primitive.
Rodney Giesler:This was shooting on single cameras?
Roy Fowler:No, no, no, no, no there were seven cameras altogether. There were three in, well I think I got this right, three in A and four in B, no the other way round four in A and three in B I think it was. On occasions they used both studios and actors would have to belt up and down the corridor. There was a Hamlet that did that for example but because of the nature of the evening schedule, which was like you know getting two or three shows on if you did a play then clearly the facilities were very constricted. And also they'd run the cables out into the ground for gardening programs and suchlike. So I, I was literally a callboy making sure that people were on, on set on time which was easy enough clearly, I was keeping my eyes and ears open and learning. One of the joys of going there was of course it enabled me to get my ticket ACT didn't have jurisdiction but they were happy enough to recruit membership from, from BBC Television. So I promptly applied for my ticket and got it, in round figures I was at 13000 my membership number. In terms of being a callboy I would say it was dead easy I didn't do it for very long because it was just summer relief I suppose about two months while the others were off on vacation. It was a very small staff so one knew everyone, knew what they were doing and how they were doing it cameramen, makeup people it was a marvellous little school.
Rodney Giesler:Whom can you remember there in those days?
Roy Fowler:I can only remember the, I can remember the executives there was Cecil McGivern and I knew Cecil from the Screenwriters Association. The Screenwriters Club was at 7 Deenery Street alongside the Dorchester and it was quite a lovely place to hang out, lovely little Georgian house or Regency house. And I knew Cecil from there and Cecil Madden who always claimed to be the first producer – well you know the directors were called producers at BBC Television way before the war but that's disputed. A man called Osoman, Ozzy, who was my immediate boss, oh Emily Watts was head of the department, I don't know what they call, Cecil was HTelP head of television programs I don't know what Ozzy was called but they all had these weird nomenclatures as you know but all that I'm afraid is gone with the years.
Rodney Giesler:This was what ’47, ‘ 48.
Roy Fowler:This was ‘48.
Rodney Giesler:Oh that was the year of the London Olympics wasn’t it as well which was televised for the first time.
Roy Fowler:Yeah, if it was I had nothing to do with it I never ever did an OB in this country never ever I did in the States but not here anyhow.
Rodney Giesler:Anyhow that was just a holiday job and then …
Roy Fowler:Well then I don't know I guess they liked me I was enthusiastic and clearly it was a simple job so I was good at it, you couldn't not be. And I then became a kind of PA, an assistant, I mean more than a PA but a PA’s functions I guess, holding the book in rehearsal and …
Rodney Giesler:At Ally Pally still?
Roy Fowler: … no one was I was AP for the transmission day for the air day but otherwise in dry rehearsal, which was all over town in various places and one marked out the floor with tape. And I mostly was on drama and so there I remember what George Moore O’Farrell was my favourite, George was a very, very sensitive director. It's strange how some of them were very, very good indeed but they never made the transition into films, George made some pictures but they weren't very good.
Rodney Giesler:He made Angels One Five didn’t he?
Roy Fowler:Oh I can't remember
Rodney Giesler:That flying film, which was a bit embarrassing.
Roy Fowler:Yeah but I, again it's a mental image after more than 50 years, of George's style which was to go all the way in agonizingly close on two actors and just hold that shot and let them play, let them perform. And I think it was marvellously effective, it must have been great at home I never saw it at home of course because I was always working but it really held you, really gripped you on, on, on the floor, Michael Barry, Desmond Davis. Then alongside that I then got into freelancing, which was quite lucrative the BBC I think I was paid I think it was 2 guineas a day for rehearsal and 3 or 4 guineas a day for the transmission days and I worked consistently. So actually I wasn’t doing badly for the time.
Light entertainment was a shambles these people had no talent whatsoever, Dickie Afton, Walton Anderson who was hunting one of the chorus girls and Henry Caldwell they are the three I remember.
I did a show, Henry had a series called Cathy Continental when he would go out and book acts from the continent some very, very good ones but he had no sense of discipline and I think it was the only show I ever worked on in my life that went an hour over length on the air. But one saw some great people I remember the Fratelli Brothers, the clowns, were part of it and I tried to get them to go into maquillage and they were absolutely furious because you don't tell clowns to go to make up do you? [LAUGHTER] Oh God what else in those days, primitive equipment - oh yes that's another little aspect of those days we had what was called The Panic Caption because the cameras or something was always breaking down. And a camera would go onto The Panic Caption, which would say ‘normal service will be resumed shortly’. And there were transcriptions up in the control room that said with this wonderful BBC accent which I can do to this day and which I used in the States whenever I had to do recording there‘we must apologise for a break down, we are doing our best to correct the fault. In the meantime we shall play you a gramophone record’ [LAUGHTER] There were people who were sitting around …
Rodney Giesler:Were these the days of the potter’s wheel?
Roy Fowler:No, that came later. No not in my day you know only the panic caption now it’s stuff them [LAUGHTER] and oh yes of course the three, the three announcers, on camera announcers and …
End Side 1
Start Side 2
Rodney Giesler:Okay we're ready.
Roy Fowler:We’re rolling are we? Yes there were three announcers: Sylvia Peters, who was having a wild affair with one of the floor managers called Ken Buckley, Ken was an actor who never really made it, you see him in some of the 1930s pictures made at Pinewood I particularly remember him in one MacDonald Hobley and Mary Malcolm who was Lady Malcolm she was married to someone or the other I never really found out who or what he did, I think he was a writer. And they were on camera and they were all tarted up, do you remember the accent in those days everything was SO.
Rodney Giesler:All the A’swas pronounced as E's.
Roy Fowler:Yeah and Mary Malcolm movies were especially guilty of that but they all were party to it in some fashion. The directors I mentioned George of course Bill Ward was there and Bill went on to enormous heights of course in the ATV in the Grade organization. He had been a floor manager, he was a director by the time I got there working on light entertainment so called, entertainment in quotes. Walton Anderson as you say, Walton and I did a series called The Hulbert Follies, which again led to something else for me I'm trying to remember anything specific. One, one little thing I almost didn't get Margaret Leighton on, on set because of Gabby, we were doing, uh, Michael Barry directed it, we were doing Arms and the Man and she was playing Raina and who should be walking down the corridor towards me but Gabby turning up of course because he had this possessive proprietorial attitude towards any Shaw play no matter where it was done. “What you do here?” he would say [LAUGHTER] so we were chatting away and of course the clock was ticking and I had to make a wild dash to drag, and she was angry, she, I don't blame her but she barely made her entrance which would have been fun if she'd missed it.
Rodney Giesler:Everything went out live in those days.
Roy Fowler:Absolutely oh yes, yes. I can't remember that there were kinescopes even, kinescopes was an American word, here it was called tele-recording but I think that came later.
Rodney Giesler:That was just film for recording?
Roy Fowler:That was just film for high intensity tube, small tube face 60 mil camera and low density stock and a high intensity tube and that's really all that survives both here and in the States from, from those days. I happened to catch something on television either last night I think it was last night, of one of the very first Steptoes, or one of the very early Steptoes. No actually maybe I'm wrong about this maybe it was 2” Quad tape because one could see it was obviously 405 and in the Radio Times it said it had been restored by the BFI. So some, thought to be lost, so maybe it was on tape and someone found the tape. What?
Rodney Giesler:The Restaurant Number, Steptoe?
Roy Fowler:Yes, yes I caught the last 10 minutes and it was in terms of plot incoherence it was never a show that I thought much of. Right back to AP I don’t think there’s a great, oh some very good designers Richard Greenough who also went to ATV subsequently, trying to remember who was the best of them all and I can't remember the name no that's gone. Jacko, Leslie Jackson went on to be a producer I think he principally did what's that thing with the red book? This is Your Life and poor man got Alzheimer's, his son is Paul Jackson who is again a very senior man in the business to these days, to this day, I think he’s still at Carlton.
So I can't remember much else other than what I did which the next thing that sticks in my memory is the show the series with Walton Anderson I think we did six called the Hulbert Follies, Jack and Claude, Cis. Who is going to remember Jack Hulbert and Claude Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge? I suppose if you read the books you will but otherwise, you remember them?
Rodney Giesler:Oh yeah. Yeah. Oh yes.
Roy Fowler:Well Cis was off in Australia doing Under the Counter, which was a direct steal from, no it wasn't sorry … I do get confused I’ll come onto what was a direct steal in a minute. And it was the Revue Show that we did and I was kind of associate producer on it and I also had to rustle up anything special because there were three writers Max Kester was one of the writers and Archie Menzies and I think both Jack and Claude wrote and it was all extremely unfunny, at least to my ear anyway, we, I mean dumb things they would do parodies of Sherlock Holmes I cannot tell you how in exquisitely boring.
Rodney Giesler:They made dreadful B features I seem to remember.
Roy Fowler:That's right yeah. Yeah but they were very, very prominent in box office in the ‘30s yes and the toast of the West End.
Rodney Giesler:But the Aldwych Farces weren’t the Hulbert brothers in that?
Roy Fowler:No, no, no that was Tom Walls and Ralph Lynn and Robertson Hare. “Oh calamity” [LAUGHTER]
Rodney Giesler:I remember Claude Dampier involved he had this ...
Roy Fowler:Yes well these were the people we grew up with weren't they? They were on radio during um my father was a great fan of the musical so I got to see all those at the Holborn Empire and the Finsbury Park Empire and Wood Green Empire, dragged around which …
Rodney Giesler:Great shame that nothing was ever recorded, a few of these terrible B pictures but that was all.
Roy Fowler:Yes I guess they did find a few things in the in the archives some of the newsreel archives I think have little bits but nothing that is consistent or complete and the shots were always recognisable it's like Betty, Keppel & Wilson for example the same old same sand dance time after time. I remember Harry Tate Junior still doing his father's act for example.
Rodney Giesler:BBC radio had a tremendous, there used to be eight o'clock on Saturday nights there used to be musical wasn’t there, there was a lot of northern comics?
Roy Fowler:Yes yes well all of these people we're talking of I think made their name through the radio.
Rodney Giesler:Alfred Modley and people like that.
Roy Fowler:Right, Gillie Potter, Claude Dampier as you say, Jean de Cassillis.
Rodney Giesler:Who was, Arthur Evans was it, Over the Garden Wall, which was that one?
Roy Fowler:Rob Wilton, wasn't it Rob Wilton?
Rodney Giesler:He was a sort of female thing a bit like Les Dawson was you know with his bosoms always always falling over the wall – Norman Evans.
Roy Fowler:Norman Evans that's right. Yes, yes. Didn't, didn't Rob Wilton do drag too? No probably not, no he was very funny.
Rodney Giesler:… there was an absolute mass of comedy programs you know like Merry-Go-Round and Ray’s a Laugh and Up the Pole, you know Yule and Maurice and all that stuff which is hopefully still on tape I don’t know if it is.
Roy Fowler:Well a lot of it I guess was recorded because they were very popular.
Rodney Giesler:Whether they kept the tape …
Roy Fowler:Well I don't mean just, they didn't have tape in those days, I guess the BBC had tape then, they had blackened film.
Rodney Giesler:How long did your period at AP last?
Roy Fowler:Um well until 1949. Other than a bizarre episode in my life when, well let me finish the whole Hulbert Follies because …
Rodney Giesler:Oh sure yes, sorry.
Roy Fowler:… it was a very intense period and again one one learned a great deal because of it, because of the speed the pace at which it was weekly and I suppose in each evening each episode or each, each show there were half a dozen things and so there was a lot of design and property shopping and it had to be done in the week – you know design and build and wardrobe and all the things so that was again quite useful in terms of learning. Ken Buckley was the floor manager and Cis came back from Australia, they both had their paramours: Cis with Thorley Walters and Jack with now what was her name? Oh God it'll come I can't think of it for the moment, who was on the show she was a dancer, she’s, she's the lead dancer and Walton as I say had one of his young ladies in the chorus too.
Eric Robinson and the studio orchestra it was so typical of its time.
So Cis came back and they were going to do a show called Her Excellency for Moss Empires this was the direct steal, it was a straight nick from Call Me Madam, and er, the Ethel Merman show in the States and Jack I guess was, again it is so vainglorious, but I think Jack was very pleased with, with what I'd done on the series, so he asked me if I would like to be a stage manager on this quite sizeable musical going out on tour. And he offered Ken Buckley, who was the floor manager, Ken had been in the theatre – I never had been I'd never been backstage in my life other than at school – Ken was stage director and this really was the halt leading the blind you know [LAUGHTER] and a big show that had to travel, the furthest we went to was 19, oh it was with Glasgow, The Central Hotel in Glasgow which is part of the station and I’m always reminded of the story of B Lilly being booked into the Central and calling down to the desk at three o'clock in the morning to say “Will you tell me when this station arrives, when this hotel arrives in Euston.” [LAUGHTER] Well I can't say it went very well, first of all I didn't like it and this was post Oklahoma if you remember and that show called, that song called Oh What a Beautiful Morning. We rehearsed day and fucking night in any available space that was available. Jack had been to New York and had seen Allegro, which was a failed Rodgers and Hammerstein show but Jack was duly impressed by it and he came back determined to get away from all that shuffle-off-to-Buffalo routine that he had been doing for twenty or thirty years at that point and it was all going to be very modern Broadway oriented. And he brought back a young American choreographer called Bert Stimmel, Bert was very good as far as I could tell. Again this was all a new field for me I knew nothing about choreography or dance direction chorus but anyway, but you see Jack would then come up in the bar of whatever theatre we were rehearsing in and say “Very interesting but why don't we try it this way” and it would be turned back in to shuffle-off-to-Buffalo once again so Bert quit he just couldn't take it anymore. Ken couldn't have cared less he was writing letters all the time to Sylvia Peters in an obscure code but it wasn't obscure because it was so easily translated because she was married and so was he. And he, he put a written word into another word so all you had to do was take out like two or four or whatever it was and as a code it seemed to me fairly fucking, he would show it to me and it wasn't I was peaking. I didn't know what I was doing, so the ins and outs were very bad. I was having an affair with a girl called Louise Lewis who was very beautiful, a Canadian girl in the chorus so that was a distraction I must say from all that was going on. So we were out of town for six weeks.
Rodney Giesler:Were you pulling the punters in that was the main thing?
Roy Fowler:Well yes I think I guess we were I don't remember the houses. It was so frantic backstage that now I've no recollection of the business we were doing I guess it was adequate. We played Nottingham, Coventry, Glasgow that’s all I can remember Southsea I think maybe and that in a sense I think was fun,
I never saw those places but there was a kind of feeling of being part of showbiz which was an aspect I'd never been in before. My, my theatrical experience is almost non-existent I did one further show in the States many years later it wasn't a disaster but I wasn't happy with it.
Rodney Giesler:What was your actual function there were you stage manager?
Roy Fowler:I was stage manager, stage manager yeah yeah I was. Yeah. I was in …
Rodney Giesler:Made sure everyone hit their cues?
Roy Fowler:Absolutely in the prompt corner and yeah like lighting cues the whole thing, curtain up curtain down. Yeah, yeah I mean that's easy enough it's just a matter of intelligence. But when it came to ins and outs and controlling the stage crew in all fairness I have to say no.
Ben Henry was the Moss Empires man I think he must have been the brother of Charlie Henry, no Charlie Henry was the Moss Empire's man and Ben, Ben was his brother and higher up in the reaches of Moss Empire and Val Parnell of course was there and they were aware of how badly it was going. But I don't think it was my fault I mean Jack threw me in at the deep end and I'm not surprised it was all a bit peculiar. So it came into the Hippodrome and we opened and I got fired so that was it and I went back to television and doing the same old thing up at AP.
Now I loathed this country I mean I really couldn't bear being part of what was going on partly the, it's unfair because after all the Labour Government at that time did a great deal that it was the way it was done and there were aspects, they were Orwellian aspects to what was going on. The group …
Rodney Giesler:What particular events upset you?
Roy Fowler:I think it was just overall but there was this residual memory of the business of not getting my passport which rankled and still does to this day, the stupidity of it and the arrogance of it. So I, my heart was set on getting the hell out.
Rodney Giesler:Where are we now about ’49?
Roy Fowler:Yeah. So I'd been laying down as much sound as I could and based on what I'd been doing at BBC I was I had the offer of a job from CBS New York. Well in those days the British quota was always under subscribed you could get an immigration visa quite easily providing you had a job to go to and could prove that you had sufficient resources to establish yourself.
Rodney Giesler:You mean that the Americans allowed a certain quota of different nationalities to come in?
Roy Fowler:These were the days of the quota yeah, yeah which was based on WASPS you know used to have a greater chance, it had been based I think on traditional immigration patterns like the Irish there was a large Irish quota and less so in the case of Britain but sizeable enough and so I got my visa. The annoying thing that I remember about that was that um the weekend I think it was before I sailed the exact sequence maybe escapes me but there was a devaluation in the middle of all it and the pound went from being 2.80 down to 2.40. So I immediately lost …
Rodney Giesler:About four dollars wasn’t it, about four dollars to about 2.80 something?
Roy Fowler:You're right yes, yes it was four dollars down to 2.80. Subsequently it went down to 240. Yeah that's right. So I lost money immediately on that because I hadn't acquired the dollars I had a letter of credit I guess or traveller's checks, a letter of credit. And I sailed rather than I flew because I had all me wardrobe, which must have been very tatty post-war, I think it was mostly Cecil G, it was all Charing Cross Road flamboyance. And arrived in New York in September of ’49 and immediately went to work as an AD associate director and it was a revelation because instead of these weird old Emitron cameras that we had which had an optical viewfinder system upside down there it was, these were the RCA Iconoscope cameras with a four lens turret and fearless dollies and pedestals, very manoeuvrable pedestals. The studios were in Grand Central Terminal do you know Grand Central at all? Right well it's a city in itself because absolutely a fascinating building I think it was built in 1912 and it was the great monument to the Vanderbilt Empire but there are all sorts of hidden spaces and our studios you entered on the western side of the building, 15 Vanderbilt Avenue, and there were elevators going up and we were on 2nd or 3rd floor.
This cavernous space in which they had built the CBS facility, CBS had other studios around town which I'll come onto, but these were the principal ones the largest ones there was 41 and 42, in the middle was 43 44 which was a tiny one where the news and the puppet show came from Pinhead was the puppet I can't remember what the series was called. And there was another one called 43, which was above TeleCine, where there were six chains doubled up feeding into a Vidicon chain. So there were three 35 mil projectors and three 60 mil projectors and what we call Telop machines and these were 4 x 5 photographic cards which you made an optical transition while lever going from A to B and on air it looked like a fade dissolve. And these, there was a man called George Holden who was in charge of graphics and George was absolutely brilliant a great, great graphics man he designed the CBS Eye and we, it was a very stylish place, well you can imagine going in after the ramshackle operation at the BBC with this Panic Caption and all the rest of it into what by any standard these days it is enormously primitive, but it was Rolls Royce compared to what I’d been used to. Up above the TeleCine was was studio 43 which was the residue studio so-called, it was called residue which was next to master control and there was an announcer booth and that's where both the network and Master Control, Master Control was fed. Master Control either broke away from the network or reassembled the network and the local station, between the network and the local station, so we were all in effect part of WCBS TV channel 2 New York City and the CBS Television Network.
Rodney Giesler:So you were going from coast to coast were you?
Roy Fowler:No, no, no, no that comes later, at this point I couldn't tell you how many live stations were connected in the east. I remember the cable going, it was cable and microwave AT&T were building it all the time, I remember it going to Chicago reaching Chicago and that was a celebratory Arthur Godfrey Show. And then I suppose about ‘51 or ’52 it got as far as the West Coast and that was on See It Now, the Ed Murrow Show when Ed opened on a split screen the Atlantic on one side and the Pacific on the other which was a very exciting moment you can imagine. So that was an historical moment in the history of television.
We've, there were two methods of distribution in those days for the non-connected stations: one if you were, well I'm sorry there's only one for the non-connected stations and that was Kinescope, which we talked about. But of course not every market had more than one station so there was great rivalry between NBC and CBS to be the affiliate and if the station were independent then the station would be signed for a specific show depending on how popular it was, the ratings it was getting and I'll come onto it later because one of the best shows I've ever done in my life was a series of thirteen called Prudential Family Playhouse and it was opposite Milton Berle on Tuesday night at 9 o’clock. And Milton Berle, everyone in the States that had a television set sat down to watch Milton Berle, Uncle Milty and it was CBS’ great problem what to do on Tuesday night in that time slot but I'll come onto that because that's a bit later.
Facilities, oh yes. The thing that always fascinates me looking back is what we call the station break [coffee] everything was to the split second because all the patterns were based on, on radio, which at that point was a very sophisticated operation. It was mostly AM there were, there was an FM station in most markets affiliated or part of the operation but the audience was AM and it was, there were two kinds of shows commercial and sponsored and sustaining, sustaining meant you didn't have a sponsor and were looking for a sponsor. But nevertheless it all had to be absolutely to the second and at 25 seconds past, well at 25 minutes, no I'm sorry 29, God almighty after all these years I should remember, at 29’25oI was straight down as it was called or straight up, straight down with the 30 minute segment or straight up with the hour segment, you know on the hour and the clocks were controlled, control room clocks were controlled from the Naval Observatory and they were often 2 or 3 seconds out and they would correct themselves on the hour and they might catch you napping, see if you were out to 3 seconds, you know you might be on the air a little earlier than you anticipated. So at 29’25oyou had to make what was called system, which was the CBS Telop came up and the announcers said, “This is CBS the Columbia Broadcasting System” then from straight down for the next 20 seconds you had a local commercial, which was going out on WCBS TV, the local station transmitting from the Empire State Building. At 10 seconds to the hour, you oh, system was the signal for the network to break up that's when everyone pulled the plug right, the local stations then did their local bit and at 10 seconds to the hour you made your local ident after the local commercial which was partly for FCC requirement to identify the local station and also commercial so you would say, “This is WCBS TV in New York City Bulova watch time.” And on the dot the network would re-assemble and off you were, right. Now some people played games, Arthur Godfrey was the worst son of a bitch because he would, Arthur Godfrey was God he was responsible for millions of dollars of income and you tangled with him at your peril, I did and I was severely rapped over the knuckles for it.
The, oh yeah what I'd love to explain and get on tape was the complexity, everything these days is as you know is pre-programmed by computer and it happens automatically and what you know there’s no pain to it whatsoever but in those 35 seconds you had to throw an enormous number of cues; so coming up to system you would say open the announcers mic, take whatever it was on the switches panel we didn't have vision pictures we had technical directors whatever they were called, they were part of a very very fierce strong union - we had IBEW, NBC had NABET – and you would take whatever number it was which put the Telop up, the system Telop, and you would say mix system, which was a cue to the announcer. The next operation was to start the projector, which would have the commercial on it and so you would say hit 16 three which would be the 60 mil camera, with the 60 mil projector with on the third chain like one, two, three; track up 16 three right, take three, then the announcer’s mic was kept open during all this time, then you'd say again depending on what it was it was either film or more likely Telop for the local ident you had you'd have to say take again the, the chain number whatever it was and that was all on on a cue sheet, make local. And now this is extraordinary I can't remember what the cue went through to to get back to the network oh yes it would be take remote, take remote.
Now the complications were, it was great fun because it was an intellectual challenge to to throw all those cues and also to get them right it used to get more and more complicated I remember one thing that one had to do which was football which was sponsored by Pabst and Pabst had a combination of transcription, film, Telop, film sound and live sound and you can imagine in those 20 seconds throwing all those fucking cues, great fun. So as I say …
Rodney Giesler:How long was it you had to have commercial breaks I mean you know when you get it?
Roy Fowler:If it were an hour show then, then it would be just prior to the beginning of the show and then again when you got to the end of the show; a half hour show then every half hour; a 50 minute show then every 15 minutes.
Rodney Giesler:Yeah, yeah. So you never actually sort of put a commercial break bang in the middle of the show at the beginning and the end of each show is that it?
Roy Fowler:A commercial break yes, oh yes commercials but not, not breaking up the network right that was a separate thing and the commercials would be controlled from the show studio not, not from 43. So, I've been dying to tell, tell that for years because I look back on that with great fondness.
Rodney Giesler:I hope it's all on tape because this is, this is something of course that would have been unheard of in contemporary television with the Beeb. I think they only had their Birmingham transmitter about 1950, didn’t they? Otherwise it was all London. There was no question of hopping in and out.
Roy Fowler:And there was no semblance of sticking to a strict, er, time table as I say Henry Caldwell once ran over for over an hour it was very frequent if a play ran it ran. We used to get very bored up in residue one would pull it about once a week I guess and it would it could be, again I'm not too sure about this whether or not one did a shift or whether one were in there for the entire length of the broadcast day. I remember signing on the station once when the announcer didn't turn up and you can imagine me saying “This is WCBS TV in New York City beginning another afternoon and evening of broadcasting.” [LAUGHTER]
Rodney Giesler:Oh I love that accent.
Roy Fowler:Yeah exactly. So my friends who heard it were creasing themselves with laughter I became more acclimatized very, very quickly. There's a residue still of my American parlance.
Rodney Giesler:You were accepted there there was a lot of hard-boiled experienced American TV people there.
Roy Fowler:No, no I was accepted very readily both by being, I was sort of quaint I think which I suppose one to some extent worked. I knew a lot of British actors in New York. You remember Dorothy Carless? Dorothy was there and was a great mate she was married to Henry Holt Jr the son of Henry the actor. And also working on the shows it is astonishing how many shows with English backgrounds or British backgrounds were done in those days I suppose largely because they were out of copyright works, which were available like Kipling, well no, copyright works too because we did Maughan and we did all sorts of things, Agatha Christie. I remember writing to Charlie Underhill a memo saying, “All this is terrible. You know it's, it's so wrong portraying an English background. If you would like I will, for no cost whatsoever advise on this.” But nobody was interested. But on the shows in which I worked I used to clearly try and make it a little more accurate.
Rodney Giesler:So you were a director right by this time?
Roy Fowler:No, not by this time. No, no I was an AD, which I'd love to talk about because again it's important. Let me finish with residues, Studio 43 first of all very briefly which was that we get bored and watching these shows time after time. You said they were hard-boiled but actually they weren't this was again just after the war they mostly all been in the war part of the war operation in some fashion and it was a good time in the States these are the Truman years. Mind you outside of course McCarthy and all that you must remind me about McCarthy. But, erm, I think they to some extent patronised me, I was still very young in ‘49 well I was 22 so these were much older people mostly they were as I say IBEW people, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who had spent years in radio, they were they were all CBS hands for the most part out of the radio operation. So we’d get pretty bored and we’d play games: I remember there was a series of B Westerns because getting material in those days if it weren't purpose produced there was very little film material available it was either rubbish that had been bought or could be bought or it was out of copyright still on which copyright had lapsed nobody had renewed it. And I remember there was a series of Tex Ritter westerns that were always turning up and so from time to time we would run the reels in the wrong order curious to see what would happen and never once never once was there a complaint, a call. There was a, an announcer who, a CBS announcer, because all the the announcers were on rota so we'd go through them all. Wayne, now what was his last name? I can't remember, anyway Wayne was a bit of a maverick and he would send stuff up on the air and he would, on the station break, he would say, “You have just seen the third part” [LAUGHTER] and at the end of the station break he would say, “You are about to see the fourth part.” [LAUGHTER] He got fired – Jack von Falkenberg the um, the vice president heard it one day and said, “Who IS that very tired announcer?” and the poor bugger got fired because of it which was a salutary lesson for all of us but anyway we still ran the stuff out of sequence up there. One, one last thing about residue I mentioned Arthur Godfrey before. Do you know about Arthur Godfrey?
Roy Fowler:Well he had come out of radio it was, you Oh Christ how to describe him: he was a talk show man and he would have acts, a little on air family and a man of such overweening vanity and eager sort of Uriah Heep character you know, you could mentally picture him wringing his hands. Well he was so beloved of his audience that there was Arthur Godfrey and his Friends which was a weekly night-time show and he had a daytime show too. And Arthur used to try and fuck you up, so he would deliberately run over and the thing was to get him cleanly off the air if you could, just to nip in just on a word and it got to be an intense rivalry to screw him as much as he was trying to screw us. That was the sort of thing but anyway it was a very formal, informal atmosphere it was a real first names gang this was true of the executives. I never knew Mr Paley or Dr Stanton who were Chairman and President respectively but one knew everyone else more or less on a first name basis certainly my immediate bosses and the head of the department a man called Charlie Underhill was manager of television programs.
Right so coming downstairs from 43 it was a long, long corridor as I say and strangely enough 42 was the first studio then 44 then 41. Quite extraordinary things were done. I suppose the biggest show in those days was something called Studio One, which was produced by a man called Tony Miner, Worthington C Miner and Tony had been quite prominent on Broadway in the ‘20s and the ‘30s and was a pioneer in CBS television. Television had operated experimentally before the war but was shut down during the war and Tony was I suppose probably the most knowledgeable in terms of drama and a good man of the theatre he'd worked for the, erm, erm, oh Christ erm, the very famous …
Roy Fowler:No, no, no, no, no that was another aspect forgive me it'll come back but anyway it's the most famous of all the theatre, mainstream theatre organizations how ridiculous, I can't remember, bad sign. So there were,
Studio One was on the air every Monday sponsored by Westinghouse was it 9 to 10 or was it 10 to 11? 9 to 10 I think. And quite, quite extraordinary things like Hamlet, Julius Caesar I suppose the most extraordinary thing they ever did was Sink the Bismark in a tiny little studio what I say tiny but live on air with water and gunfire and smoke and the whole bloody bit you know, really unbelievable now, the bravery of doing it.
Rodney Giesler:No film clips or anything to use as …
Roy Fowler:Oh well there were model shots, which were …
Rodney Giesler:… a bit like film?
Roy Fowler:Which were put on film but of course the terrible thing in those days it was so apparent the moment you went to film the difference in quality and the budgets were very restricted too. I remember the major NBC dramatic show at that point was Craft Theater and they did A Night to Remember, the original book about the Titanic that subsequently was made into a very good feature here by Roy Baker and it was bloody good absolutely stunning in terms of achievement. There's not much to say about Studio One because it's all again part of history and the shows came and went, there are a couple of anecdotes that come to mind as I say it was sponsored by Westinghouse and one week the show was, I'm, I'm still AD on it, there are two directors Frank Schaffner and a man called Paul Nickell. Frank of course went on to great glory as a feature director and Paul stayed in the business and made a lot of major TV features. But he wasn't very good in terms of with actors, nice guy. We were doing Kipling's The Light That Failed and about half an hour before we went on the air it suddenly struck Westinghouse they made light bulbs and you can't believe the panic you know whether to change the title or what did they do, clearly there was nothing they could do it went out there but that’s the kind of nonsense that went on with sponsors and clients and agencies in those days.
There was a Gloria, the lady who did the commercials Faye Emerson who was married whom was she married to now? Oh God not one of the Rockefeller's, she'd, she'd been a Warner’s Rising Star.
Roy Fowler:Yes starlet and she used to do the commercials, again live on air all in the same studio and one day she couldn't open the refrigerator door which [LAUGHTER] was er great fun, the poor woman tugging on air not able to do it.
End Side 2
Start Side 3
Roy Fowler:Two hours on the train for a few clotted cream scones.
Rodney Giesler:Right this is Roy Fowler I expect you realise. Reel 2 Side 3.
Roy Fowler:Side 3 right. So we're talking about Studio One and Tony Miner Rodney Giesler:And Fay Emerson
Roy Fowler:and Fay Emerson and all that. Now this is a very interesting point I think in general entertainment business history, there was a man called Yul Brynner and Yul had, he wasn't very successful at that point he'd had a show with his wife Virginia Gilmore playing guitar on NBC television. Previously he'd been opposite Mary Martin in a show called Lute Song and a very good show I gather, I never saw it of course before my time. Yul was a jobbing actor; don’t think he worked that, that much.
Rodney Giesler:What was his origin, what nationality was he?
Roy Fowler:Well this is interesting because we, we, we got to be very, very close I can count Yul as the most significant mentor in my life and someone I absolutely adored. His story was always that he was Taidje Khan his father was Taidje Khan, his mother was a Romani princess. That he was born in Mongolia and raised in a walled palace outside Peking and at the age of 12 he ran away and joined the circus in Paris and was the darling of Jean Cocteau and Bebè Bérard.And I've seen pictures of Yul when he was 16 with shoulder length hair believe it or not and staggeringly beautiful he really had been so I can well understand Cocteau and Bebè Bérard’sinterest in him. A man called John Paul who'd been stage manager on Lute Song in my time was a floor manager a studio manager as we call them at CBS Television and he said that Yul went through every single member of the cast of Lute Song – you know man, woman and animal. So uh and Yul had an enormous libido I saw it in operation with a girl called Mary Sinclair I’ll come on to all that later.
First of all let's establish Yul in context. Right so there he is he says in Paris and he joined the circus, was on the high wire and took a fall and couldn't be in the circus anymore and joined Michael Pitoeff Theatre and that was the beginning of his theatrical career. Well his sister Vera was an opera singer and she said, “Oh Yul you know we were born in in Sakhalin Island, Russian and raised in Switzerland.” So it was very simple but anyway that was Yul’s story and he told it consistently so who am I to deny him.
Yul had such extraordinary charisma he affected everyone he was absolutely marvellous to be with great great fun, exciting he created excitement. I'm still young and impressionable I guess so I absolutely doted on the man we met because we were both in the doghouse. I'd done something naughty. I must say generally in my life I've never had a killer instinct and I've never taken things as seriously as one needs to to, to get to the top, you know I can always see two sides of any question and there is a certain fortuity I think attached to achievement in our business, it was nothing ever I could take ponderously seriously anyway. And I had one of those destructive ironic senses of humour that people, America especially, would take seriously that one would make flip remark, it still happens when one makes clip remarks and it's taken either to be insulting or a serious thing anyway it's too late to change that now.
So Yul was hired by Tony to be in a show called Flowers From a Stranger in which he played the villain and it was very effective. He gave a great performance a very very showy performance very effective performance and Tony was quite taken as I say we all were by Yul generally, so he hired him as a director. And after a period of training he became director of Studio One.
We had a bar across the street on the other side of the Vanderbilt Avenue from 15 Vanderbilt Avenue called the Pentagon, which was our local and it was known as the Pentagony. But it had a pentagon shaped bar, which was why it was called and Bernie and Joe were the owners and they got used to us all. So the routine generally was in the break of a show, generally the pattern of a show, Studio One was two days on camera it had ten days dry rehearsal and then two days on camera Sunday and Monday. So you'd block it on the Sunday, do a run through on the Monday, do a second run through on the Monday that was it, to address and then you'd go on air. And after the first run through I guess it was we'd all go over to the Pentagony sit in a booth have a few drinks, usually martinis but everyone stayed sober we could all take our liquor I guess in those days. And Tony would give his notes Tony would be sitting on the floor in front of a monitor on a stool and writing on a yellow pad and this was Yul’s first show I've forgotten the title of it. So there we are we settle into the booth and order the drinks and Tony says, “Right Yul I have got some notes.” And Yul said “Tony you are very sick.” So Tony said, “No, no I feel fine nothing wrong with.” “Tony you are very ill. I think you should go home” and the penny dropped. So no notes he said “Right Yul” he said, “I'm going.” And he left and we did the show. It went out and the instant we were off the air the moment system was made the phone rang and it was Tony and he said, “Yul that's the worst Studio One that ever went out you are fired.” Well he was fired off Studio One but he still had a contract with the network and actually everyone was fond of him he rated very highly with …
Rodney Giesler:Was it a bad show?
Roy Fowler:No, no, no, no Tony Miner was a cunt, capable but not not a pleasant man at all. And so Yul was in the doghouse and I was in the doghouse and there were three or four strip shows on Saturday afternoon. Various things that Red Barber’s Clubhouse was one I can't remember what I was doing I was both AD’ing and directing at that point I was doing the unimportant strip shows that required no rehearsal no talent whatsoever you just went in and did them.
Rodney Giesler:When you say strip shows not the full meaning of the …?
Roy Fowler:No, no, no, no a strip show was a show that was was stripped regularly transmitted in other words Saturday afternoon at 3.15 or whatever it went out. The sports shows and I can't remember what the others were but anyway Yul was doing some I was doing the other and we'd repair at the Pentagon and so that was the beginning of it all, our friendship and I then began to work with him. One is very hazy about all the shows that one did because they were live on air, most of them were half an hour most of them were crap, a lot of them were radio formats that had been transferred to television in the hope they would catch on. And it's really gone with the wind I remember I remember some of those I did but the general output was … and we didn't take them seriously either Ralph Nelson … maybe I should just touch very briefly on some of the directors who were at CBS in those days Ralph Nelson, Frank Schaffner I mentioned Marty Ritt, Sidney Lumet was an AD, like me, he worked on a show called Danger that was produced by Charlie Russell who was a nice guy and very good but he became an alcoholic sadly. Marty first of all directed and then when the blacklist came in they fired him and Yul took over as director and it was probably the most effective show of its kind in those days. Bob Stevens, Robert Stevens I don't think you'd know him but Rob, Bob was a very good director marvellous with the camera the extraordinary things he could do with a television camera because it was as cumbersome as a …
Rodney Giesler:I mean you were very limited everything must have looked very studio bound.
Roy Fowler:Well you look at the stuff now even, even the great Playhouse 90s and they look so primitive Requiem for a Heavyweight or whatever Judgment at Nuremberg and you know they're all over the place. But Bob Stevens had a cameraman a man called Howie I’ve forgotten his last name too but Howie was a whiz on camera; he was a cripple or had a walking impediment he limped but got extraordinary things out of his camera on a Fearless Dolly do you remember the Fearless? And as I say the RCA cameras were really as cumbersome if not more so than a BNC but with a BNC you had a geared head but these were just friction heads and no they weren't, no they weren’t we did have geared heads. But Howie was marvellous on it. Anyway what I'm saying about Bob's show, which was suspense was that the stories were terrible and performances weren't very good but the camerawork was absolutely stunning, you know it was Orson Welles level in some cases. Some of the other shows Stage Door I remember …
Rodney Giesler:Because they were all, I mean I just thought suddenly when I raised that point with you just know about the stageiness of them you look back to the great days of television dramas so-called Sydney Newman at Granada and you know the early Alan Owen plays for instance No Trains to Lime Street. I mean they were all studio bound, there was no ...
Roy Fowler:Oh yes, yes.
Rodney Giesler:I mean no attempt to widen it out using TeleCine or anything.
Roy Fowler:Well we, Studio One used TeleCine, the big shows to some extent used TeleCine but it was very difficult it wasn't only a matter of budget although the budget was important it was a matter of time because they were all scheduled to go out regularly it was either with half hour show it was every week with an hour show it was every other week. So that's why Frank Schaffner and Paul Nickell doubled up as directors because they each had a show in work during the two weeks.
But where am I? Oh yes, Ralph Nelson was doing a strip show called based on I Remember Mama and we always wanted to do a Hitchcock version called I Dismembered Mama no but [LAUGHTER] We were always having fake shows a little later in in the ‘50s the great thing we worked on, this game was usually in the bar, was a musical version of St. Joan, which we were going to call My Fire Lady [LAUGHTER] and the big show the big number big structure number was Get Me to the Stake on Time. And you know we did fake commercials and I remember one holiday weekend we were all a little reluctant to work we, in the middle of the long corridor there was a notice board that scheduled what was going on that day and so we created a show out of thin air called Happy Go Lovely and chalked it up and put all the assignments on it and then began to call people, this is a holiday weekend, to say “where's the scenery,” no “where's the crew.” We all got very severely reprimanded on that because we were dragging people in off, off, off, off, off their day off. Anyway Yul became a very effective director and I was his AD on some half-hour stuff but then we went on to one-hour stuff and particularly a show called Sure As Fate, which he would always call Sure As Shit. And again he was the blue-eyed boy so far as Charlie Underhill was, was concerned and get away with absolute murder. He was always indulged. I remember once they wouldn't let him paint the floor, this was budget they didn’t have enough money to paint, paint the floor of the studio. The floor was, was just linoleum and clearly on, on, and it was always in vision so it looked a bit strange having this grey linoleum and it was all back and white still but nevertheless. So he wanted I think it was something, I think it was something set in France and he wanted cobblestones and he was having this violent row over the phone with Charlie Underhill about whether he could have the floor painted or not and he got it, finally. Lighting was, was interesting in that a lot of it was incandescent believe it or not they were all 15:38 ??? but the fill light was all incandescent. It needed quite a lot of light in those days.
Anyway Sure As Fate was, was great fun. How did I get onto that anything remarkable? I can't remember any of the shows particularly that we did but they were all not horror exactly but with a twist at the end. And I remember the other series was called The Trap and I remember nothing about that whatsoever.
When I became a director one series I did was The Web. Someone else was doing I think Ralph was doing Ralph Nelson was doing Ralph Bellamy in Man Against Crime, which was known affectionately as Crime Against Man.
Rodney Giesler:Were you aware in those days of the pressure of the ratings?
Roy Fowler: Well yes and no. Considering what I did later it’s a bit strange but we all despised the agencies the advertiser and had total contempt for agency people and though I became a senior agency man I felt very differently about it because by and large we did our best, clients were always the pain in the ass. But you have to remember first of all at this point in the history of television in the States it was a very freewheeling operation of people who I think by and large were very talented and were not subject to a great deal of supervision. It happened during the time I was there because when it was clear that television was going to be the future and radio was in decline then all the radio people … well the way it happened was that headquarters were 485 Madison, the CBS building and the 20th floor was Paley and Stanton and our floor was the 14th floor. So we would always say to give someone a compliment we'd say when I have my network there's a place for you on my 20th floor. The 14th floor was where we answered to and they by and large cared, they were all ex-agency people but I think they were relieved not to be working at Benton & Bowles or BBD&O or wherever it was but there was always a great traffic back and forth. But we were in the studio by and large and over on East 52nd Street by the river, which was the warehouse where the sets were made and stored and production meetings and things were held. So we were kind of a family a first names gang as I said before and not as disciplined as we might have been but nevertheless responsible in terms of the shows we were doing and doing our God damnedest and working very hard. Because you can imagine on Studio One for example those two days of absolutely intense operation; I knew two directors who drop dead of heart attacks and quite young you know in their thirties.
Rodney Giesler:You were how long with CBS?
Roy Fowler:Well um partly on staff and then subsequently as a freelancer all through the ‘50s I was working there.
Rodney Giesler:Because that's a very interesting time because you you found the growth of the television audience at that time people buying television sets coverage extending coast to coast as you've mentioned. Presumably also your budgets got better and better did they?
Roy Fowler: Well we …
Rodney Giesler:Or were you more and more restricted?
Roy Fowler:They did, they did eventually they did in some areas the money went on talent more than anything else. And I can't remember ever-sudden largesse in the dramatic area, which was where I mostly worked. But people like Ed Sullivan for example would get more money for talent.
Rodney Giesler:Did you have Jackie Gleason in those days?
Roy Fowler:Oh yes yes yes Jackie Gleason came in I never worked that show. He began at Dumont and then was, was just taken on by CBS. Yes he was a great …
Rodney Giesler:Johnny Carson was he on …?
Roy Fowler:No Johnny Carson was NBC. CBS never had any luck in a late night show until after I left certainly either early morning or late night that was NBC they had the Today show in the morning and again coming out of the Hudson Theater, Jack Paar, Steve Allen and various shows and then ultimately Johnny Carson. But did, to, to make the point about the switch-over the people who were controlling radio suddenly saw the future was in television and the two services were amalgamated and that was the beginning of the end of the free and easy days.
It became much more rigorous until that time to a certain extent it was all experimental it was losing money AM was making the money paying for television.
And then almost to the day after a year the services were divorced again so AM was separated. Television was separated but the AM people were now in charge of TV and it became less happy. Oh there's so much to talk about.
Rodney Giesler:Did the Korean War have any impact at all during your time there?
Roy fowler:Not in terms of programs suddenly there was a man sitting by the door of master control with a revolver a .45 strapped around his waist.
Rodney Giesler:The Korean War didn't impact the American psyche quite to the extent of the Vietnam War did it?
Roy Fowler:No. Oh no not in the least it was if you remember it was very underplayed it was the so-called police action and people accepted it and this was the days the time of a very, very intense cold war so anything that was anti-commie was, was okay with the American people. No I don't remember it as affecting anything at all other than some stunning Ed Murrow programs from, from Korea, Ed would go off with the cameraman and do some specials.
Rodney Giesler:You mentioned the names of the other directors you know most of them made it big in the movies and I mean Martin Ritt went on of course …
Roy Fowler:Well that's, that's why right yah I wanted to underline the kind of talent that was was there. There was also a lot of rubbish too just as there was at Alexandra Palace there were some good people and some really rather dreary people. I've got Frank, Marty, Sidney who became a director as I said Danger, Ralph Nelson, Bob Stevens who made some movies but never, never achieved that kind of greatness. Wyllis Cooper had been a very interesting director, he'd been a great achiever high achiever in radio and had made some B pictures I think, um not a very pleasant man. Again it was I remember once, I guess I was on his set I don't I don't remember working with him particularly well but um we had talkback there was an enormous plate glass window and there was the director's console with the TD on the left and the AD on the right and the director in the middle and the PA wherever she could find, it was a she, found a space and then down below you in a kind of pit where the monitors, the racks. So in front of one as the director one had all the camera chains but essentially rather like BBC on air and also well that, studio feed, not not on air, studio feed and also preview and up above there by the clock was the return air monitor, the return air feeds so one knew exactly what was going on all over and a big plate glass window so you could see the studio unless it was obscured by the set. And I remember Wyllis Cooper though it's probably a make-up man and a costume lad or whatever and they were chattering away probably by an open mike and I remember Wyllis saying, “Will you two faggots shut up” and I thought you cunt what a, I suppose that again was a measure of the times a reflection of the time. But he was the only kind of macho character that I remember.
Marty was very left wing out of the Group Theater and very talented, a little forbidding he was a very big man, little Orson. Ralph couldn't have been nicer, Ralph Nelson. Yul as I say was this charismatic character whom everyone adored. Rodney Giesler:But he was a director.
Roy Fowler:He became he became a director. Yeah. And the time came when, and this is the honest God's truth, he said to me “I've been offered a show by Rodgers and Hammerstein” he said, “What do you think. Should I take it?” I said, “What is it?” And it was based on Anna and the King of Siam, a book that had been written quite some years before by a woman who had actually lived through it and then made into a film by Fox with Rex Harrison and R&H had this idea of doing it and Gertrude Lawrence was going to be in it. And he said “Should I take it?” and I said “Well what a stupid question.” And I'm sure he had no hesitation it was just a question and I'm sure he asked that of all sorts of people
Rodney Giesler:Is that when he shaved his head or was it shaved before?
Roy Fowler:No, no, no, no, oh well yes you're right. But all he had was a fringe anyway. He was bald by the time I met him. I've got a photograph of him still, signed. It says, I saw it the other day it's framed and you know one doesn't look at framed pictures around the apartment but it's signed at the bottom and it's flaking it's signed because he did it in a not ink but a felt pen of that time I guess not very stable. So the inscriptions have largely disappeared but it's a quotation from Ronsard …
Rodney Giesler:from whom?
Roy Fowler: Ronsard ‘Le soir à la lueur d'une chandelle ...’ – ‘In the evening by the light of a candle …’ And it goes on to say ‘… you will remember me’ and then and then he's got his little hierograph for you. So that's rather a touching memento of the time but it's, on the back of it it's got a stamp by Sidney Samuelson, Sidney Samuels who was one of the cameramen but also a very good photographer so that would place it at CBS in whenever early 50s.
So Yul went off to do that and I went through the King and I quite, I shouldn’t get side tracked onto that but erm he, we talked a great deal about what he was doing and how he was doing it also his problems with Miss Lawrence, whom I knew because, I’ll come on to that, I’d done two shows with her. She was a wonderful woman but oh my God you know what, what, what a difficulty to … ego is probably the wrong word that she was the star that was it. It opened in New Haven and we we went up Dickie Green, Grace Kelly and Mary Scott who was Cedric Hardwicke’s wife, Lady Hardwicke and I drove up to New Haven to see it and the curtain came down 12.30 at night it went way way over length and I always remember the curtain because Yul came on for his call to an ovation you know standing ovation in the house and she wasn't having any part of that 30 seconds or so and she came sweeping on herself and it became her ovation and that was that. But that was my visiting fireman show ‘cause I could always get house seats for that so I saw it about ten times when people were in town and they wanted to see it and I could always get seats and I'd go with them. Anyway it was a classic evening you can imagine the carload and I got lost on the way back on the Merritt Parkway driving back from Connecticut we stopped off to try and get a drink somewhere and one couldn't … Oh I remember they closed, the bars closed in Connecticut at midnight and in New York State at 4.00 so it was hopeless in Connecticut; that's why we wanted a drink we hadn't been able to have one after the show. So as soon as we got to the state line we pulled off, I was driving and looked for a bar, found one and then of course going back I got on the wrong side and we were heading back to New Haven so God knows what time we got back to New York. Anyway all that’s really rather irrelevant.
Rodney Giesler: Now presumably as the years went by I mean the whole operation became increasingly slicker and innovative and …
Roy Fowler: Yes yes.
Rodney Giesler: … you were finding your way very much in the new television?
Roy Fowler: Well I was teaching myself I had no formal training of working with actors. I always respected actors but there is a language in terms of talking to them and also of judging their performance. So that was I think my weakest area but that was something that I'd like to think bit by bit I improved on.
I think it's time to get on to to the thing that pleases me most of that time and all the threads now I will pull together.
I did a show called Prudential Family Playhouse. Now this went as I said before opposite Milton Berle on Tuesday nights, a tough spot for CBS. It was sponsored by Prudential but Prudential got a big break on on the buy on the purchase. And what we did was to feed only a network of 19 as I remember live stations in the east and for that reason we could get properties that had been famous in their day, had been sold for movies but the motion picture rights had been sold not the television rights. It was the time when television hadn't been thought of, so the television rights theoretically were still available so one wasn't breaching copyright in any way by doing it on television. And we did 13 of them and I think I can remember most of them - every two weeks. The, they were all plays, famous plays in their day and the most astonishing collection of people you can imagine: two with Gertrude Lawrence, Skylark and Biography both S N Behrman plays; Burlesque with Bert Lahr; The Barratts of Wimpole Street with with Helen Hayes whom I couldn't, I think she's the worst actress in the world but that's not what the world thinks unfortunately, she’s still alive in her 90s. Ice Bound the Owen Davis play, who's in that? I did Dodsworth with Ruth Chatterton who'd done it in the movie. And I was reading a book recently in which it mentioned that in the very early ‘30s the magnitude of her stardom she was making $8,000 a week in Hollywood in the early ‘30s. And here we are just 20 years later, less than 20 years later and she got $5,000 for the performance. Oh Kay Frances I used to call it my old lady's show because that's what it was and they were they weren't that old in fact they were in their 50s and …
Rodney Giesler: These plays were all done on selective network of stations were they?
Roy Fowler: Yeah. They were …
Rodney Giesler: In the sort of Ivy League era was it in New England?
Roy Fowler: No it would have been up and down the coast and going a little way west, I couldn't tell you I don't know what the station line-up was. It would have been stations that weren't taking Berle. You know in other words in a market in a two station market or three station market Milton Berle would have been getting the audience and we would have been getting er you know who knows what kind of figures but very low.
Rodney Giesler: Pastiche?
Roy Fowler: Yes. Yeah and filling airtime in effect, it was a lost cause in terms of ever beating Uncle Milty. But we were very very proud of it and I think they were very good. We came from a new studio for CBS we opened up a studio at 110 Street and Fifth Avenue called the Henry Ford Peace House. Which was a vast cavernous space converted and we had prototype equipment, G.E. equipment previously we'd been using RCA and now they had a new generation of cameras made by G.E., General Electric, which by and large worked well other than one evening and it was Three Men on a Horse with Chubby Sherman and Eva Marie Saint and Elliot Sullivan. All er but not Eva didn't but both Chubby and Elliot became McCarthy victims, Elliot ended up over here actually living here working in an antique store that his wife owned in Hampstead. We we did it with three cameras and the show was very fast, I don't know if you know the play Three Men on a Horse – it’s all about betting and it's a farce. It's very frantic. So it was made for great speed great pace and lots and lots of cuts, reaction close ups. And ten seconds before we went on air with three cameras one camera went the pictures were dying, faded away so we have two cameras. They fired up the fourth camera, well in those days it wasn't instantaneous line up the camera actually had to be lined up so they dragged it out of the corner and began to line it up and I think after about 15 minutes it came on with a very degraded picture about 15 minutes into the show another camera went so I had one good camera and one lousy camera. So we just winged it anticipating what was coming up in terms of movement and just hoping to get it. Well one of the things you never did with live television was cross your cables you had everything plotted, so you probably know this, I don't if you’ve done live television. Well they all had an umbilical cord but clearly you had to keep the camera separate otherwise it would be sheer bloody mayhem but with this just so we could get the shots to stay on the air and it was kind of a very hurried debate should we try and carry on or should we just go off the air. Well you know pride demanded, so we thought we'd stay on the air until we were taken off the air. But the crew were marvellous they were humping pedestal cameras over cables and back again just absolutely stunning and the entire show was winged …
Rodney Giesler: When you say winged, what exactly …
Roy Fowler: Winged was in other words the rehearsed show was through, to wing a show was without rehearsal, without camera rehearsal or indeed any kind of studio rehearsal you just did it, which you did on remotes clearly. So that was the expression to wing it. So there we were without any kind of predetermined shot list we we just did what we could and got through, got off the air on time called master control and said “Well how did it look?” and they said “Well yeah it was all right” and that was it. Very proud of that evening we all went out and got terribly drunk ‘til you know three or four o'clock in the morning I’ve never known such adrenalin on that occasion.
So I suppose of all that my greatest pleasure was knowing and working with Miss Lawrence, never Gertie, never Gertrude always Miss Lawrence. And she gave me a pen, which I have to this day which has got G. L. A. on it. I borrowed a pen from her to write some notes and she said keep it, which I think was so sweet because it's gold and it's got Gertrude Lawrence Aldridge on it so I think that's something for the Bill Douglas Center in due course. So where we are, look let's look at the notes.
Rodney Giesler: Shall we have a pause just for a minute, we are near the end?
Roy Fowler: Yeah OK. That was …
Rodney Giesler: Grace Kelly.
Roy Fowler: Grace Kelly and Richard Green in Berkeley Square, which was an old potboiler from the ‘30s John Balderstone. I told you that we drove up to the opening of the the very first night of the King and I in New Haven. There was another director at CBS called Don Richardson and I found out many years later that he and Grace had been having a wild affair for years and it always astounded, I never had the pleasure she was absolutely insatiable apparently and always with her director or with her leading man I guess I was the exception. I was in a relationship anyway so it would have been a temptation and only a temptation but there was Dickie Green and as I say they were at it in the back of the car on that occasion and then subsequently it was it became very notorious. She and her roommate had a house, an apartment in a Manhattan house in the ‘60s and she didn't live with anyone other than this fellow actress but was always available. Not much more to say about Grace Kelly other than she she was a pleasant lady right.
Right Donald Cooke was another one who was again a failed jeune premier, a young leading man of his movies in the early ‘30s.
One station or one one story which, and then we’ll go and have some lunch, was I told you about the 14th floor. Then as now and forever more it shall be it's important to have a corner office the bigger man you are the more important you are the bigger your office. And Hubble Robinson Jr. was the Vice President in charge of programming at CBS and he had the corner office on the 14th floor which had been, he didn't have a desk it was a slab built in and to his left looking out over 52nd Street behind him was Madison Avenue to his left was 52nd Street and another building and this was ‘51 I suppose. Sinatra was then a has been and he was hired by the network to do a show, Frank Sinatra Show, and it was directed by Hal Gerson who was a very promising young musical director and I was the AD on it and I'm not very musical so why they put me on it I don't know it wasn't it wasn't complicated. Now the thing about Hubble was that he never looked you in the eye and he never ever or very seldom addressed you directly, it was always misdirected as it were, people resented it and it puts you off balance I mean clearly. Well we lowly people in the scheme of things thought this was because we were lowly and unimportant – the hired peasants but to my astonishment it turned out that Sinatra had had the same treatment. That he'd had meetings with Hubble Robinson and there's Sinatra and I'm Robinson and and he's doing this looking out the window to his left, then Sinatra, this was at the party after the first night of our show, when everyone was a bit pissed, he had this wonderful theory which I've treasured to this day he said, “The reason Robinson won't look at you is because he's reading everything off cue cards on the roof of the building opposite.” He says “I'm going to go in there one day” and he says “I'm going to pull the venetian blinds down and say now answer this you son of a bitch.” [LAUGHTER] So there you are Sinatra sense of humour.
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Start Side 4
Rodney Giesler:And action!
Roy Fowler:Right. One there are a couple of things maybe about Yul and the studio still in those days. Yul had this extended and riotous affair with Mary Sinclair who was married to George Abbott and George was about 40 years her senior and we would go out to the house at Sands Point, which is all white and extremely expensive the product of all those great Broadway successes that Abbott had had. But only, no alcohol was ever served, I remember Dorothy Kilgallen who was a columnist for one of the papers and she was part of that evening and she asked for a drink and a servant brought her a glass and she said “Oh good water” [LAUGHTER] And also the carpeting was white and so one couldn't smoke and we all did in those days and it was absolutely like being in a concentration camp. So that was that. Some more actors, some actors that one worked with in those days Jimmy Dean, Chuck Heston. Now there is a young lady who got fired, I was doing a show called The Web that was produced by someone called Frank Heller, Franklin Heller who's still alive the last I heard of him, very old and Rod Steiger was in it and it had an Italian background I think it was part of The Trap, well I wouldn't actually swear to that oh well maybe it was The Web. But we did the first reading and her name was Anne Marno did I say that? And she was hopeless – M A R N O, Marno. And poor girl she, she, we let her go I would have kept her on but it was Frank who was absolutely adamant he really was a very insistent man a very tough man. Well she grew up to be Anne Bancroft so that goes to show how perceptive we were! Rod Steiger was part of that; E G Marshall was my favourite actor he was such a lovely man to work with and such a good actor you could get him to do anything and he just did it. And there were two people under contract to the network Mary was one, Mary Sinclair and the other was Maria Riva who was
Marlene Dietrich’s daughter. And Maria was cast in a great many things since she was under contract and she was paid anyway so she was in a great many of these strip shows that we were doing. And Marlene would always come in and, for the dress rehearsal and she would sit on the floor in what I say on the floor she would be be on a stool but on the studio floor in front of a monitor and make notes and quietly go off and give them to her daughter. And she was a very cool lovely lady always without makeup in a blouse and slacks and on yeah one, one said “Hello Miss Dietrich how are you?” And she was always very polite. No, no great contact. But anyway it was a lovely experience to be aware of her. Right there were other people who were part of the normal operation they worked on shows and Abe Burrows was one and Abe went on of course to do Guys and Dolls and a great many other things – so an enormous amount of talent circulating inputting.
I've got a thing here of Three Blind Mice that was the show that Yul directed I think that must have been also for The Trap, which is based on the Mousetrap story, I think the original story is called Three Blind Mice by Agatha Christie and this was before the Mousetrap was written. It was very effective Jo Wiseman, who subsequently played Dr No, was Mr Paravicini I remember that a great hand-wringing performance too and all sorts of people were in it but he's the only one whose name I remember. But what I like about it was that we were going to have a fire burning in the fireplace, this is still live on air remember, special effects or as Yul always call them special defects, said they had this new method of doing it but it was very very expensive and so they could only do it on air but it would work trust them. So it was using a substance called titanium (III) chloride I believe. So we go on air and we're gonna move on to that set with the fireplace burning and they set the thing going [LAUGHTER] and it wreaths the studio in smoke and these poor bloody actors are sort of groping their way around the set, the furniture because they can't see and we had to do the show in this wreath of smoke I suppose in those days it was the conception of England but that's a fond memory too say. I know I did something with Simenon and I met Simenon and I remember showing him the Kinescope in one of the viewing rooms but I can't remember what the show was. It had, it must have been a Maigret but other than that I can't it's weird isn't it?
Rodney Giesler:What’s coming across to me Roy in all these anecdotes and experiences is that the programming of television in those days, if CBS is an example of what general programming was about, was much wider and varied …
Roy Fowler:Oh yes. Oh yes absolutely.
Rodney Giesler:... than it is now. I don’t know when I was last in the States I never saw any drama. There are plenty of films cops and robbers and so on but none of the sort of drama you're telling me about and the Ed Murrow's, you know the eternal game shows and
Rodney Giesler:Crap, what you're telling me is not crap.
Roy Fowler:No, there's no crap but there weren't that many station breaks a middle break that was all but not so it became unwatchable. No it was as I say we we were orphan children of the AM network, the radio network, the money was being made by radio so we could do almost what we wanted because I suppose they had a long term vision but it was too establish it.
Rodney Giesler:But the advertisers hadn’t found you really had they to any great extent?
Roy Fowler:Most of it was actually was sponsored.
Rodney Giesler:Yeah yeah.
Roy Fowler:I mean it was essential to be sponsored because, I went to work for $80 a week as an AD which was not a great deal of money in those days but that was my stipend and then when I became a director I got $125 a week. But for a commercial show then you got a commercial fee which would bump it up to 3, 4, 500 dollars a week which was a lot of loot in those days.
Rodney Giesler:How did a commercial show differ then from them you r …?
Roy Fowler:Not at all, other than you had commercials. It was the same show.
Rodney Giesler:But they all had commercials didn’t they?
Roy Fowler:No no I'm saying they were sustaining shows. They were shows that didn't really stand a hope of being sponsored. One of my minor claims to fame is that I was the first person to direct Walter Cronkite on the network. He was down at the local station in Washington and they brought him up to do a thing called it was a half an hour show on Sunday I guess called The UN This Week and that was one of mine and that was Walter long before he became famous. I don't think that was sponsored, that was public service.
Rodney Giesler:Long before the Americans hated the UN?
Roy Fowler:Yes I was so politically naive in those days I think a lot of people a lot of the, this is cold war time remember, so yes I think the I think the UN was hated by a great many of them. I also did remotes from, OB’s here remotes there from Lake Success the UN Lake Success, Trygve Lie, and oh Gladwyn Jebb was the British one very urbane very smooth man, very famous Russian whose name escapes me for the moment. I found all that fascinating less for the politics more for the drama. So that was before the building at 42ndStreet was built.
Mmmm … what else? Let me look at my list again. But one of my favourite disasters is that there's a ceremony at Times Square at midnight on New Year's Eve which is the ball drops from what then was the Times Tower, the triangular building where Broadway and 7th Avenue intersect. And of course the whole point of the thing was to catch the moment of the ball dropping and I was directing and it was also – I might be confusing myself here - there were two things now I guess two separate things. One was Times Square at midnight when I missed the ball dropping by about two seconds because we'll be drinking champagne. That's right we weren't in the truck everything was set up in the barbershop at the Astor Hotel we were directing from there. Another occasion was the unveiling of an Ever Ready sign, which was an old army surplus searchlight, an Army Army Army Surplus, wartime surplus searchlight pointing straight up into heaven as if it were part of a flashlight a torch for an Ever Ready sign. And of course one was supposed to to get that the moment that the tarpaulin was pulled off the searchlight and the beam shot up into the heavens and I missed that too. I wasn't very good [LAUGHTER] on those on those OBs they you are. I talked about, I should talk about design but there's not to a lot to be said about that but an actor I didn't mention was Leslie Nielsen who was a great jobbing actor of those days.
A story about Gabby because when I was at CBS he'd gone you know after Caesar was such a total disaster the Union passed a resolution that he would never be allowed to work again in England unless he was fully supervised. So he went to the States he went to Hollywood and had a contract with RKO. There were all kinds of things he was going to do but that was Gaby and they never came off – like Garbo as Saint Joan and things like that. So he made a film at RKO of Arms no Not Arms and the Man, Androcles and the Lion, which failed miserably, terrible film and he came East and he was staying at the New York Athletic Club because I think it was cheap and he looked me up and because I worked at CBS he thought mistakenly I had influence there and he was peddling his idea for a musical version of Pygmalion of which he had part of the performing rights because of the movie. And I did put it to my boss who thought there was no chance at all and whether they took it any further I don't know I doubt it. But of course about four years later lo and behold, Gabby was dead by this time he, there was a show called My Fair Lady and CBS actually backed it. They made billions out of it absolute billions but I doubt there was a connection there and I feel rather sorry for Gabby because he was as I said before a charlatan, sort of Michael Winner of his day, one felt sorry for him but again ego, ego dominated. He knew nothing about making films that was the extraordinary thing and without that Shaw connection he would never been heard of again.
Rodney Giesler:Was he one of Korda’s cronies?
Roy Fowler:No no not at all I don't think no I don't think they got along. I think Korda was very perceptive about talent. No I think the only connection was that they were Hungarian Jews and that was the only thing you know.
Rodney Giesler:???each other.
Roy Foler:I don't think they probably had any close connection whatsoever.
Rodney Giesler:Did did colour come in while you were at CBS?
Roy Fowler:Yes. Yes. The main studios were on Vanderbilt Avenue and Grand Central but on 55thStreet I think it was between Madison and Park,
there was a building called Liederkranz Hall that had been erected in the 19th century by the Liederkranz people whoever they were. All I know about them is that they had a cheese which is the smelliest cheese ever I've encountered Liederkranz cheese I don't think it's known here but it was in New York. And that had been a radio studio and very good acoustics for orchestral recording and things like that and it had been split into four television studios. One, and a lot of the the afternoon programming came out of there soap operas and Homemakers Exchange and things like that and one of those was the colour studio which was the electromechanical process devised by Dr Goldmark, Peter Goldmark. The race was on between the NBC system the RCA system which was all electronic but not working and the CBS system which was electromechanical it was the whirling disk and very very good pictures but limited clearly by the mechanics of the thing the size of the screen but I, quite extraordinary colour for its time. We all went there and did things it was experimental it was transmitted but of course there were no receivers. But it was all part of a test operation that was I guess again ‘51 ‘52 and it would have been about ‘56 or 7 that the RCA system they licked all the problems and it's that now, essentially that we have all electronic and a real pain in the ass because I bought a set very early on and it cost me $800 which is a very sizable amount of loot but you had to have a service contract that cost about $150 a year just to get the thing working. Some good shows were done Peter Pan was one and all sorts of other things.
Rodney Giesler:I was going to say it made quite a different to your programming presumably, I mean you didn't do colour all the time did you?
Roy Fowler:Well it's like I say when I went to CBS there were about a million sets in operation which was insignificant, this is why we were allowed to do all sorts of things and at that point with colour it was compatible so people were receiving it in black and white but in terms of colour experimentation it was for us it wasn't for the audience because there were so few doing it. It was for us and also for the executives watching in the high level suites in the ICA building what 485.
The only other thing I can think of going through this is the Playhouse 90, which I think was the apogee of the live show and they're very famous some of which survive on Kinescope because this is still pre-tape Requiem for a Heavyweight, Days of Wine and Roses. At the time they seemed fantastic shows I've seen Requiem for a Heavyweight since then and it's crude it's it's it's it's rather sad but by God we were so proud of them in those days. The other one was Judgment at Nuremberg about which there is that famous anecdote of that was sponsored by the American Gas Association, and again shortly before air there is this great thing going on about the reference to the gas ovens sponsored by the gas the American Gas Federation [LAUGHTER] so they actually cut it out.
Roy Fowler:Yes. And of course as always it caused more comment to cut it out than just to have left it in it would have been another word that nobody really latched onto and that was that. It was so stupid.
Rodney Giesler:A film was made of that?
Roy Fowler:Yes it was Stanley Kramer, essentially the same script expanded. So there we are. Can't think of anything else really to say, do you have any questions about all that?
Rodney Giesler:Not really
Roy Fowler:I rabbited all the way through.
Rodney Giesler:You've certainly illuminated for me an awful lot about American television work in those days. It's just that you said you spent 10 years altogether with CBS?
Roy Fowler:Well yeah I was there I um I'm not very good on dates I was on the payroll I guess until about ‘54 or whatever and then subsequently the Prudential agency was an outfit called Calkins & Holden, Carlock, McClinton and Smith, it had originally been Calkins & Holden and Ernest Elmo Calkins, this dated back to the first decade of the century was one of the great advertising gurus of his time and his great claim to fame was he was the first one to charge 15% commission. And over the years of course it had become rather tired and effete and they looked around for new blood and they brought in Carlock, McClinton and Smith, Mike Carlock, Harold McClinton and Paul Smith all with varying strengths. Mike brought in the Prudential account and Mike and I got along extremely well and he wanted me, I had done Prudential family Playhouse, so he wanted me to come to the agency and I did for I don’t know two or three years as Head of Television and most of our stuff was on CBS, in fact as I remember all our stuff was on CBS.
Rodney Giesler:Did you find that your job had changed significantly moving over to an agent?
Roy Fowler:Well I became executive producer rather than a line producer or working hands-on director and the principal show that I did was something called You Are There which came out of radio in effect. Prudential wanted a show that had far greater exposure than the Family Playhouse and there were several on offer and one was the CBS package which was, as the title suggests, to dramatize a key event as if it were happening then with CBS correspondents um Walter, Walter Cronkite was the anchor man and we had people like Charles Collingwood and Harry Reasoner what we're all sort of others doing the link stuff. And that ran for two or three seasons and I was in charge of it I say as an executive producer my fun was to come up with ideas for the events which mostly were accepted, hammered out, scripted. The one I never got done was The First Night of Hamlet
because the researchers said well nothing happened on the first night [LAUGHTER] Nobody knew what happened on the first night of Hamlet but we did do I think it was Midsummer Night's Dream. I think we cobbled something together for Midsummer Night’s Dream. That was a fun show I got to say.
Rodney Giesler:Listening to you I can find a tremendous commonality between the period in American television you're talking about and the early honeymoon years of independent television …
Rodney Giesler: … where they were looked on with great suspicion and their work was hedged around by very heavy legislation where they had to be publicly aware and have to put on noble things like plays and things like that and compare those days with now where you've got pure unadulterated ratings chasers, you know Blind Date …
Rodney Giesler:… this ghastly sex thing, which was on Channel 5 the other night.
Roy Fowler:It’s BSkyB or it's Channel 5 or it's Fox Television or whatever.Rodney Giesler:They must have been wonderful years to work through.
Roy Fowler:Oh this is why I'm going into it in such depth because I've never been happier for me it's the most exciting period of my life because one had a sense of doing something. When I got into commercials subsequently it was just by rote and you just followed you nose. It wasn't, it wasn't that one felt one ought to do it, it was because one wanted to do it and one had the opportunity to do to do it. There was far less dictate from above and I think given the fact that, well as I remember the figures it was something like a million sets in ‘49 and maybe five million sets two or three years later but given the population of 250 million plus that's a very very elite audience so generally it was a middle class audience. There were 13 VHF stations in New York so those doing the football games and the baseball games the stuff that was on display in the bars were on WPIX or WOR or whatever.
Rodney Giesler:They were all independent stations?
Roy Fowler:Yes right. But the two network stations because ABC didn't count in those days it was NBC and CBS, administered by intelligent educated people William Paley for example I get, when you look at William Paley and his landmark is, his posterity is what you know he's claim to fame, is CBS News the Ed Murrow generation and Collingwood, Cronkite, Bob Trout all those people that glorious era especially during the war. So the audience was very different in those days and I suspect like here, I remember when my family bought a set immediately after the war in ‘46 when the station came back on the air one would draw the curtains and put the television light on and draw up the chairs and watch whatever it was no matter what and if it were a play then one one watched the play, if it were What's My Line, no I guess What's My Line came later but all the things that wouldn't stand a chance of getting on now were part of one's willing experience was mostly I suppose either educative or serious entertainment. It was like going to a West End play if it were a play, like George More O’Ferrall, it was very serious stuff that was being done. But bit by bit given competition and given the general dumbing down of the audiences as more and more sets came into operation, total penetration four or five sets in a household, the quality disappeared. But I can't tell you how good some of that stuff was Omnibus, these were titles that were stolen subsequently by British television but we had a series called Omnibus sponsored by the Ford Foundation, um, ballet, opera and all kinds of things were done. But bit by bit until there was an FCC commissioner, I guess in the ‘50s mid ‘50s when it became apparent what was happening, who referred to the wasteland of television
and it was Ed Murrow who referred to it as the ghetto the Sun, the Sunday afternoon ghetto of quality programming, intelligent programming. This used to be also the years, the mid ‘50s the years of … well there's nothing one can say in favour of the strip shows that I worked on like The Web or Crime Against Man or Suspense they might be well done but it was crap, pure crap. But there was also in addition to that some serious stuff too Playhouse 90 was very serious stuff for the most part.
Rodney Giesler:It is PBS now but I mean what I've seen of it lately lately it is mainly British imports …
Roy Fowler:That's right
Rodney Giesler:… because their budget is so poor.
Roy Fowler:That's right.
Rodney Giesler:They're really there by the tolerance of the federal government anyway.
Roy Fowler:Well by the administration and if it's Republican of course then they want no part of it. If it's the Democrats there’s slightly more favourable attitude but …
Rodney Giesler:Which year did you move over to become an executive producer at the agency?
Roy Fowler:Either ’54 or ’55 and I did that and then I went to CBS and again I'm back to working on shows that are on, on the wire, I mean where else were they likely to go but on the network.
Rodney Giesler:So you went back to your old job in other words did you?
Roy Fowler:No, no, no, no, I'm still an executive in charge of, the most memorable one of course was for Bristol-Myers – Alfred Hitchcock Presents. And at that time also a major operation we put, ABC was the third network it's one of the top ones now one of the top three and very important sometimes it is the top one. But we put them into daytime programming they they weren't on the air in the afternoon and one of our clients was General Foods so we provided all the programming for ABC from I don’t know what it was one o'clock until about five. Rodney Giesler:You're rivals?
Roy Fowler:No it wasn't a rival for me because I worked for an agency so …
Rodney Giesler:yeah I see.
Roy Fowler:We just did whatever we needed to do for our clients and out of all that well there were two shows principally that I recall for the people in them. A lot of it was quiz show and game shows things like that but …
Rodney Giesler:So it started to turn the corner then?
Roy Fowler:Dick Van Dyke. Oh it was a great success. Yeah. Dick Van Dyke was was host on one of them and Merv Griffin on the other. Liberace, oh God you know it is all very hazy in the memory because there was so much of it and clearly none of it was memorable.
Rodney Giesler:When did you finally finish in America?
Roy Fowler:Well, that again it said it's hard to be precise because around beginning of the 60s. What was it called? David Ogilvy had an agency; he was the younger brother of Francis Ogilvy who was one of the owners of Ogilvy and Mather here. And David Ogilvy had an agency in New York that was THE, this is before Doyle Dane Bernbach, did some of the most brilliant advertising imaginable it was lovely stuff. There are two classic campaigns the most famous I suppose is the one for the Rolls Royce, which had the strap line ‘the only sound you hear in this car at 60 miles an hour is the ticking of the clock’ and then down below it said ‘we've got to do something about the clock’. And the other one was Cunard because everyone sailed well they didn't not everyone but if you could if you had the time you sailed you you didn't fly the Atlantic. And that was for Cunard in the days of the big boats it's ‘getting there is half the fun’ and it was you know I used to make the trip once a year. And it's the only time ever I felt rich, sailing on the QE or the Queen Mary or any of those because one just got on board and told one’s steward what one wanted one's lifestyle and everything was there exactly the way one wanted – marvellous experience. I don't think you get that on the QE2 these days because they're all blonde rinsed ladies from Newburg Iowa who one avoids at all costs.
So anyway going back David Ogilvy um, commercial television had started here and as far as they were concerned it was terrible it was appalling. So he asked me if I would like to come over for a year to do something about their television commercials. So I said, “Yes why not, love to”.
Rodney Giesler:Over here?
Roy Fowler:Over here, so I was sent over to Ogilvy and Mather as it then was in Brettenham House just by Waterloo Bridge and I thought I was going to be like you know the greatest thing since the invention of the vagina, come in like gangbusters and do things. Well one came into such an extraordinary political situation: there was a man called Stanhope Shelton who was creative director and there was a, his associate called Dougal Rankin who weren't about to have any part of me and I didn't know what the agency politics were you know and I wasn't interested either and I tried to do my best but everyone was very unhappy with one another so after about nine months I quit and I went back. But while I was here I acquired an apartment in Albert Court just behind the Albert Hall, a very grand apartment one could afford such a thing in those days. And also um yeah I was I didn't go back to a steady job I was freelancing, producing, directing. So I began to come back and forth on various assignments, which was fun. And what happened next I guess it was …
Rodney Giesler:You were still working for David Ogilvy?
Roy Fowler:No, no, no, no. I was freelancing I left Ogilvy Mather in whenever it was ’62, ’63. And the problem always is if you know two places well one is always homesick for the other so I, and it was very easy to travel back and forth. So I did all sorts of things over here I remember working for an agency called Dunkley & Friedlander on a lot of crappy campaigns. Also one called Crane, Norman Crane & Connell; Norman & Connell was the American half and Crane was an old British agency and their principal client was DAPIS which was Danish agricultural products or something, Danish bacon and that was fun, that was the Nick Roeg and John Schlesinger series that we did.
So for much of the sixties I was working in both countries I was I had a very considerable emotional involvement here, which kept me here more than I suppose otherwise I would have done. Um, FCB offered me a job as television group head Rodney Giesler:Foote, Cone & Belding?
Roy Fowler:Foote, Cone & Belding right, which er, on Baker Street, in the old SOE building had been Marks and Spencer before the war and was now FCB. Had some very good accounts uh two principal ones no three three principal ones that were my responsibility: Dulux that bloody dog, whole series of dogs actually - they all had one trait in common they were all muff divers [LAUGHTER] they they adored sticking their nose up … I'm being gross. Um and Watney which was enormous fun, Watney Mann, Watney Coombe & Read because there were campaigns every year and in those days the beers were different, there was Watney what was it?
Rodney Giesler:Red Barrel?
Roy Fowler:Well yeah I'm trying to think of the way they always because you had to get everything right, it was Red Barrel Watney’s Keg that was it you had to say that RBWK and we made some very stylish commercials for them. I swear that, well I didn't initiate it but I stole it if you ever saw a film called Accident, Joe Losey, he would drop in in like 5 frame cuts the future, things that were going to happen and you didn't know what it meant at the time it was only when you've seen the film that you knew what it was all about. So I stole that for a series that’s something I got I got awards for that.
Rodney Giesler:Wasn't that banned the so-called subliminal?
Roy Fowler:Well it wasn't subliminal. It wasn't like you know one-frame cuts it was and it there was nothing harmful about it.
Rodney Giesler:Are you sure? The eyes … trying to see it?
Roy Fowler:Oh yeah. Specifically it was very obvious if you mentioned the product then you just cut in for that length of time; if you said Red Barrel Watney’s Keg then you cut in a shot of the barrel on the bar or the glass filling or whatever it was but that within a narrative context. It was very effective.
Rodney Giesler:It wasn’t done in the final release print?
Roy Fowler:Of course it was, oh yeah.
Rodney Giesler:I don’t remember it.
Roy Fowler:Well do you remember the series at all because we had some great people in it?
Rodney Giesler:I can remember the feature film Accident.
Roy Fowler:Right no I'm talking about my commercials I don't suppose you remember those? There's no reason why you should they came and went. No I’m saying see what I did was to steal what Joe Losey had done and use the technique.
Rodney Giesler:Yeah. I've got it.
Roy Fowler:Dropping in the shot against the reference. I took someone from Accident the boy, the pretty boy.
Rodney Giesler:I’ll look him up.
Roy Fowler:You know what I mean well we will come back to that but the whole series of people he he did the cricket one. Anyway there was that but my greatest fun was two series one with Peter Cook, this is all for Watney – E L Wisty - which were extremely well written by Barry Myers who went on to become a very good director. And the only thing I have to say I mean you can imagine the fun of working with Peter for a whole series of days, one of those people funnier by far off air or off camera than on air. And there were two people, we had to go to The Stag Brewery down in Victoria which is that vast complex now and Mike Webster was managing director and Sir Bryon Bonsor, Baronet, the father of the present MP of that name Nicholas Bonsor I think, was allegedly in charge of they probably called it publicity. And one of the scripts, we went over the scripts word by word and this is the kind of rubbish that one had to deal with these people remember that they’re part of the peerage as it was called. There was a reference in one of the scripts that was Peter saying “I went down to my local the other day in the Queen's Head” and this this stuff set up and Mike Webster said, “Oh I don't think we can say the Queen's Head that’s sort of faintly disloyal isn't it Sir?” Can you believe and as for Sir Brian um … when colour television was about to come in and we all were on a learning curve God knows and a very good way of doing it was to organise something for the client. I had experience of colour in the States but not that much hands on stuff and this was 625 PAL. So ATV, I went to ATV with the idea, Bill Ward was was managing director, and I said is there something we could arrange for Watney Mann and they jumped at the opportunity to get an important client in. So they lay, they gave us their facility at Elstree laid on a delightful lunch and all the rest. The day before, the programme was organised to demonstrate colour and what was involved and how to do it various examples both experimental from here and and from the States. The day before I got a phone call to say, “Ah Brian Bonsor can't make tomorrow because the Oaks are running” and that was the limit of, the Cheltenham Gold Cup or one of those, and that was the limit of their responsibility their involvement. So I said, “You cannot do this you know you really cannot do this, this is absolutely unforgivable, untenable”. So they said “Right you know get back to you”. So they came back after half an hour and said “Right but you've got to pipe in the race”. So that we did, broke the the demonstration and he saw his fucking horse race and then we went back to it, that's typical of British management then and I suspect to some extents still.
And the other Watney thing that I absolutely doted on was the series with Morecombe & Wise for I guess I think it was brown ale and pale ale one of those. Um and we uh we with um Joe McGrath directing and we had Goldhawk Studio in Maida Vale, Goldhawk Road for a couple of weeks and I cannot tell you what fun we had with them, I mean Eric is a genius well he was a genius, Ernie was a bore essentially because he really had no talent at all he was a lovely straight man for Eric to play off and he was always desperately acting [LAUGHTER] trying so hard and it was so obvious …
Rodney Giesler:His fictional character was very much like his real character writing these dreadful plays?
Roy Fowler:Yes I suppose. Yes. I never thought of that yeah, trying trying so hard really desperate. But Eric just flowed it was like Peter Cook it was just a natural born gift that just poured out. So that was again one of the happy memories.
End Side 4
Start Side 5
Rodney Giesler:This is Roy Fowler reel three.
Roy Fowler:Yes, so um there are so many ums especially after lunch.
Rodney Giesler:Well you finished talking about Morecambe and Wise.
Roy Fowler:I think so. I can't remember …
Rodney Giesler:… any chronologically or do you want to go back?
Roy Fowler:Yes, well we will dart about if if things that come to mind. You mentioned Hubbell Robinson off tape and the fact that you didn't really appreciate the Sinatra anecdote but as I say maybe you had to know Hubbell because he was such a cold fish and I guess protecting his back all the time but they all did. There was a man called Henry White who came in at some stage and the scuttlebutt before him was that he was the hatchet man, he was out for everyone and everything and was gonna get us all. So everyone was absolutely shit scared about Henry White; he was coming in on the 14th floor, this is at CBS, in an executive capacity and presumably out for Charlie Underhill’s job. So this was a man who had it all going for him in that everyone was terrified of him. So we were in a meeting the first meeting I had when about something or the other and it was with Yul and Henry said, “Yul you can't do that” and Yul, who nothing fazed nothing made him fearsome in any way, well he was fearsome but nothing made him frightened, said Henry, “You are full of shit” [LAUGHTER] and this was to you know to a man who allegedly was going to cut all our throats. And Henry said, “Oh you know you're such a card Yul” and that was it. So that was the deflation of Henry White. I remember reading his obit in Variety twenty years later and he'd never gone on to anything he was never an achiever he was just I suppose someone who created his own forewind.
Rodney Giesler:How did you spell his surname, Henry Hype?
Roy Fowler:No, Henry White.
Rodney Giesler:White, sorry.
Roy Fowler:But the thing about Hubbell as I say he was such a cold fish he he never said anything, never said, you'd ride up in the elevator with him and he would just look at you or not look at you, there was no courtesy whatsoever.
And I think these people were more frightened than than anyone else in the sense that they were terrified of losing their jobs they were making enormous sums of money they had no apparent talent. They were there for whatever reason that they pleased Bill Paley or they had some past success – they came and they went. But I remember all hell broke loose on one occasion Hubbell's wife was Vivienne Segal and she was playing in one of the great Broadway shows of all time this was the revival of Pal Joey on 42nd, er 44th Street, 45thStreet. And there was a remote from the theatre district I've forgotten the reason for it, but a camera panned all the marquees to show what shows but it never got to the one that was immediately to the right of the camera which was Pal Joey with Vivienne Segal in. And Hubbell was beside himself with anger, he thought it was deliberate I don’t think it was you know whatever the reason nobody would ever have dared slight his wife, maybe they didn't know that Vivienne Segal was his wife. But anyway that was the sort of thing that went on it was so petty and they were very minor people. I had a very fond spot for Charlie Underhill but he was an alcoholic, he was married to no what was her name Julie, Julie someone who played a very very famous character in radio soap opera in the States, whoever researches this will have to go back and research Julie Underhill and her maiden name. But Charlie was an alcoholic and he would spend his nights in The Stork Club and if you were foolish enough to be to accept going out for a drink with Charlie you can bet your bottom dollar it was 4 o’clock in the morning before before you got home. Well if you were working you had to be there the next minute he'd roll in around eleven o'clock or whatever it was you know with a terrible hangover. I was fortunate for a while in being able to stay up until 4am and still work the next day I couldn't do it now I’d take to my bed for a full day. But The Stork Club that terrible man Sherman Billingsley who was an ex-gangster, he'd been a rum runner during prohibition and a hideous man appalling, the dregs.
Rodney Giesler:He owned it or ran it?
Roy Fowler:No he owned it. Well I'm sure the gangsters owned it because … Well that's another little thing that comes to mind the main floor, the Clubs disappeared now it's now the William S Paley Plaza, they tore it down and it's a little park. But upstairs it was converted into a studio and there was a talk show an interview show that we all worked and Yul was one of the directors for a while. It was a replica of the main floor but purely a studio and one time Yul was directing and Mayor Impellitteri, who was a gangster, he was mayor of New York but he swung with the with the hoods, and he arrived drunk and wanted to go on the show and Yul wouldn't let him go on the show. I mean very sensibly Yul knew there'd be hell to pay if you had a drunken mayor on television but Impellitteri got absolutely furious about it and threatened all kinds of things. So Yul was an amazing character of all sorts of connections, I wasn't privy to this but this is what he told me and I always trusted him generally what he told me, he said he he either got a call from or he met in The Stork Club Frankie Costello who was one of the senior godfathers in New York and he said Frankie said to him “Are they giving you a rough time Yul?” [LAUGHTER] so that was the last he heard of Mayor Impellitteri. There was no further activity on that front. Right so …
Rodney Giesler:We're back to 1963, or so?
Roy Fowler:’63 where am I?
Rodney Giesler:Morecambe & Wise?
Roy Fowler:Morecambe & Wise, well there's not a lot to be said for them other than it was a wonderful experience. Lots of locations I would contrive them to be off in the sun somewhere, which I'm suffering from from now every now and again they cut out a little something or the other. I suppose my end will be the big the big N.
Oh the other accounts this was at Foote Cone. Which was good because I got a lot of stock out of that which I have to this day and my stock options I think were $11 and the stock's been split three times since then and it's now about $50 – that’s a very good investment. BA, BOAC as it was then which was a very corrupt deal and we didn't do very good work but that was the clients’ fault as much as the agency and Deluxe which was fun as I said I did all those white, white on white commercials and quick cutting commercials which we did.
Then I also worked for an agency as head of television of a small agency a man called Nick Solomon who who'd been a senior creative man at J Walter Thompson. And Nick was going to an outfit called Vernons, which had been a very rich little agency with some very good accounts but was feeling the pinch and so they were going to reformulate and they brought Nick in as creative director and Nick brought me in as head of television. And so for right now about four years I did their television, which was Lyons Maid, Tetley Tea, oh I don’t know can't remember any of the others. But we got quite a lot of awards out of all of that Golden Lions and things like that, Clios.
Rodney Giesler:Tetley Tea were the famous flat at it folks weren’t they? The Tetley Teabags one?
Roy Fowler:Yes. Yeah that's that's what it was.
Rodney Giesler:The flat at it workers
Roy Fowler:The cartoon figures?
Roy Fowler:They were, there was a campaign before that a live action campaign before that but I can't remember what it was. The Lyons Maid stuff was fun because that was always a matter of re-launching or launching new products some of which succeeded and others didn't. Nick was very fecund with ideas so so we had some very distinctive ideas and …
Rodney Giesler:You tended to sort of hire in small production companies to make your commercials did you?
Roy Fowler:Yes not necessarily small it was, maybe we should talk about that the feel generally. Yes we again back to really innocence executive producing we'd come up with a creative work and then go to a production company to get it costed and one went to whomever one thought would do it well essentially director based. It was transitional in that in the ‘50s and the ‘60s in the early ‘60s when I began to work here the directors for hire were mostly motion picture people; you mentioned John Krish over lunch all those people were available for their, even David Lean, were available for commercials. But suddenly it became a little it became high fashion it became high style photography rather than motion picture. It began to some extent with the series for Dulux that we shot in New York with Burt Stern who had made Jazz On A Summer's Day. And Bert was a total myth he, you know I had more talent in that little finger than than Burt had overall. But he had an associate called Eddie Walkiewicz whose father had done those wonderful montages at Metro in the ‘30s, and Eddie was brilliant. So the first year was Burt and the second year was Eddie and the second year was brilliant but that was the white on white stuff you know curtains billowing in the breeze and white on white and that bloody dog.
Rodney Giesler:The company that I am trying to remember, James Garrett was one of the bigger companies?
Roy Fowler:James Garrett yeah. I worked very little with James because it was so expensive. It was always if you knew what you were doing you could always get it done cheaper and Jim's mark-up was was horrendous his overheads were enormous too, he had all sorts of people on the payroll and he had expensive premises here there and everywhere on Farm Street. He was a Catholic and so he was always very well in with the Catholic Church and he had this gaff on Farm Street next to the seminary and then a house on Queen Street. So Jim and I we never trusted each other but we got along very well and I think he must be still working this extraordinary thing because he must be older than I. But he's still …
Rodney Giesler:He is signing his sons in the business as well.
Roy Fowler:Yes his son is Stephen yeah at Channel 4. I don’t know what he's doing I guess he's an Independent now
Um so Vernons is where I went but that failed in terms of Nick Solomon. Nick didn't turn the agency around, new business is really what it's all about and we didn't really get the new business. So I went through one more Creative Director there a man called Tony Brignell whom they brought in from Colet Dickinson & Pearce and Tony was rather like I suspect John Burt is totally humourless, brooking no denial or no discussion he saw things only one way whatsoever and he gave the authority to the writers and the art directors. Well if there was one thing I knew what I was doing it was producing you know I knew how to do it and I could recognize talent and I thought I was very good at shaping the scripts and choosing the right director or the right production company and getting it made on time within budget, usually very low budgets. And suddenly there is Brignell and I'm being told by 20 year old art directors or copywriters who didn't know their ass from a sprocket hole what to do and how to do so I thought well enough of that. So I went off and formed my own company and spent the ‘70s doing doing that and …
Roy Fowler:Commercials mostly industrials …
Rodney Giesler:What were you known as Roy Fowler & Associates?
Roy Fowler:No it was called the Fowler Chapman Company and I teamed up with someone called David Chapman but that didn't last long. David, David and I, he’s a nice guy but we weren't on the same wavelength so he split and because it was too much bother to get all the notepaper reprinted I left it as Fowler Chapman [LAUGHTER] which is still is for me not for tax purposes but it's there if I ever need it.
Rodney Giesler:Still alive?
Roy Fowler:It's still theoretically vaguely alive. And again one one travelled the world doing things nothing of any great interest whatsoever so there we are. I can't remember anything special of those years they came and they went.
Rodney Giesler:You were you were really at the other end of your original work in the sense that you were actually filming commercials and working to agencies is that it?
Roy Fowler:Yes. Yes.
Rodney Giesler:What sort of contacts in your time have you had with the Union? What are your memories of working with the Union?
Roy Fowler:Well initially when I first joined the union it was only because I had to and it was most desirable anyway. A union ticket was the passport.
Rodney Giesler:You kept your ticket going when you were in the States?
Roy Fowler:No I didn't I didn't thereby is a very minor story. No it lapsed for non-payment of dues but I didn't get any reminder and it was totally out of my mind by this time anyway I was a member, well my first union there was the Radio & Television Directors Guild which went into SAG, not SAG, SDG Screen Directors Guild which became Directors Guild, Directors Guild of America East and a man called Nicky Burnett and I was talking to Jack Shea who is the head of the the DGA these days and he said Nick Nick is no longer with us but a lot of people … Everyone was very active I'd been at CBS I don’t know about a month and I was out on strike. I told you I was earning 80 bucks a week initially as an AD and Frank Shaffner was our shop steward and I was, as you can gather I had no idea what was going on in the least but they were negotiating a new contract and it wasn't going well so we all came out and we were picketing 15 Vanderbilt and Charlie Underhill came out bringing coffee for us [LAUGHTER] I mean it was that kind of atmosphere. But the promise was many bucks a week I was gonna go up to 300 bucks a week but I never did I think it went up to 100 something like that which was welcome. So my participation in industrial matters began there.
The ACT had no power at Alexandra Palace whatsoever it wasn't recognised it was just a very useful device for those who joined the union it was a way in. So then when I came back I wanted to renew my ticket for obvious reasons but at first I was an executive so Joe Telford was the the organiser and Joe was not corruptible but he was always very willing to discuss matters over lunch. So he had two or three very enjoyable lunches at my expense and he'd always say there's no record of your membership he said there was a fire a lot of the records got destroyed. Well
I liked Joe and I don't think he was lying but the fact is that when I started the history project I had access to the records and I found my records very easily, first of all there was my original membership application which was how I know I was 13000 and also there in the card index upstairs is is Roy Fowler joining in 1948 so Joe was very naughty about that. So eventually when when I was directing and could prove prove prove I was directing then I got my ticket back but I would love to have been 13000 – that would have been enjoyable so I have a different number. Anyway I don't quite know I think out of curiosity I attended a not a shop meeting a section meeting a producers and directors section once out of curiosity and someone proposed me [LAUGHTER] so I got elected to the committee. I had no idea what the issues were, the only thing that I can point to with some pleasure in those days it was at number 2 Soho Square and the Asquith Room was on the top floor so my mental images of that. And one of the very early items on the agenda and I had so little to say because I had no idea what was going on but there was a proposal from the Directors Guild in America that an affiliation agreement be signed with ACT directors ACTT directors here and it was instantly dismissed because Alan Sapper said “Well we can't do that” and I said “why can't we do that? You know they’re directors and we’re directors why shouldn't we?” So I did initiate that that debate and out of that came the affiliation agreement which is more or less in place now though it hasn't been renewed because of the presence of the Directors Guild of Great Britain.
Rodney Giesler:What was Alan’s reason for not …?
Roy Fowler:Because of all the other disciplines and crafts within ACTT that we couldn't special, we couldn't have an affiliation with a Guild when all these other things were involved. I mean it's totally specious argument, I'm sure he delivered it absolutely unthinkingly because there was no resistance subsequently when the directors made it clear they did want to affiliate, in fact they now refer to it as a jewel in the crown. So purely by accident that was something I can point to. Bit by bit I began to find out what was going on and contribute, the chairman was a man called Nick Golchrist, I haven't seen Nick for ages he was in documentaries I think, and Nick was had been a colonel in the army a lieutenant colonel in the army and he ran a very tight ship I must say it was s very effective committee and in those days people of substance were on it, people like Putnam and know I know Jim Baker and all sorts of very bad organizer and he was caught with his fingers in the till so he went. And then we got Roy as our organiser and over the years it gradually deteriorated and of course it went totally to pieces with amalgamation. As you know the figures, the membership department has always been highly suspect and it was claimed that there was something like 5000 director members and bit by bit it has been whittled down I think it is down to 600 now. A great many just when they when they had no longer cause or requirement to belong to the union they just didn't bother to pay their dues. Some honourable people still do like David Putnam does and Dickie Attenborough does; Dickie is an honorary member and consequently doesn’t need to pay dues but he still ended up about 3000 quid a year. Yeah. I proposed him for honorary membership and they said “oh no don’t because he wont pay his dues anymore” [LAUGHTER] but bless him he does, which is how their minds work that was Roy Lockett. Well it was congenial there was a sense of things going on of participation that the union had less and less industrial clout but in these days of course films counted for nothing the the the the money spinner was ITV, that funded the union and they were obstreperous in some respects. The Union was beginning to fall apart it was so badly managed one has only contempt for for the quality of management, the style of management and the the amount of money that was wasted. It was essentially run by a variety of Communist cells I think, I don't think ITV was but film side was. Some of them were very honourable people, people like Sid Cole for example but there were others who were terrible people like Ken Roberts – was a thief put his hands on anything. He ripped off 20 volumes of the Cine Technician for example which were returned anonymously after his death [LAUGHTER] that that's where they went and it was typical of the place that, I lobbied I campaigned to have the police investigate because it was very clear and the F & GP and then General Council ordered the General Secretary to call in the police but he wouldn't he was covering up for a comrade. We'd better embargo this section hadn’t we this is libellous, slanderous. So the union was on the skids at the time of amalgamation and of course it was BETA who absorbed ACTT it wasn't a meeting of equals at all I mean when you look now at the culture of BETA, BECTU there is no residual quality of ACTT involved it's it's it's it's BETA all the way isn’t it? The way in which the NEC operates the style of the General Secretary it's top down, ACTT in its fashion was bottom up. There were these mysterious little folk here and there which actually controlled things. I was only distantly aware of the great Trotsky Movement I did go to the famous meeting in Central Hall when, do you remember the showdown? Were you there? Right you probably can remember …
Rodney Giesler:George Elvin had to be dragged off the stage …
Roy Fowler:…had to be dragged off the stage yes clutching the microphone like grim death
Rodney Giesler:... and the cohorts formed a line below the footlights. Yeah I remember that.
Roy Fowler:Well that was the style wasn’t it?
Rodney Giesler:Robert Bolt was unanimously elected on the spot.
Roy Fowler:Yeah, a lovely memory of that evening was … I'd recently just before that I'd taken my nephew who was a young lad, I was going to take him to Pinewood and they were shooting the Bond movie and then the evening before and I got a call to say no you can't come down because they're shooting the waterbed sequence which was a sex scene. So I hurriedly called around and Ken Russell was shooting The Boyfriend at Elstree so we went there and lo [LAUGHTER] and behold they couldn't work because the set had collapsed and so the evening of the union meeting while it was all going on suddenly the doors at the back burst open and Ken Russell comes storming down the the aisle they're talking about the EMI Studio and he said, “The EMI studio I'll tell you about the fucking EMI studio my fucking sets fell down” [LAUGHTER]
Rodney Giesler:But going back during the ‘70s there was this great Trotskyite movement within the union I think it was something to do with four wall shooting wasn't it?
Roy Fowler:I honestly don't know I wasn't involved in features so …
Rodney Giesler:They were going over from studio based full-time employment to four walling, in other words you just brought your own crew in hired four walls and it went out.
Roy Fowler:That's right. That's right I remember four walling.
Rodney Giesler:They were they were going to shut down a London Weekend production, it was a police production or something and I think that that's what started the reaction because people were being thrown out of work for purely ideological reasons.
Roy Fowler:But the ideology was again split wasn't it? It was divisive there were on the one hand the Trots and on the other hand I suppose the old CP.
Rodney GiesleR:Yes Labour, CP as well.
Roy Fowler:On the one hand you had people like Yvonne and Roy Battersby
Rodney Giesler:And Ken Loach
Roy Fowler:Ken Loach and on the other hand Sid Cole and I suppose Alan Sapper
Rodney Giesler:Ralph Bond
Roy Fowler:Alan Lawson, Ralph Bond yeah. So all that was going on.
Rodney Giesler:I remember going to a meeting and I think this is worth putting on record, where Yvonne she was chairman of shorts and documentaries that was it and she chaired it and anyone unsympathetic to her views just didn't get called to speak, whereas Battersby and Loach and the rest of them were given all the time they wanted to filibuster through the meeting.
Roy Fowler:Right. Right.
Rodney Giesler: It was all building up until this great meeting that we were both at when they were literally physically thrown out of office, thrown off the stage. There were a whole lot of them, there was Stuart Hood as well, remember him?
Roy Fowler:Yes yes indeed yes.
Rodney Giesler:Yes he was high up in the Beeb at one time, wasn’t he a controller?
Roy Fowler:Indeed he was he was a controller at the BBC and then he went to the RCA didn't he was um yeah I think possibly whatever Professor at the RCA
Rodney Giesler:He was indeed Professor Stuart Hood, I don't know if he's still alive but …
Roy Fowler:I think he is, he publishes or published - yes.
Rodney Giesler:But this all involved, Vanessa Redgrave I mean she was part of it, it was a Socialist Labour League and then it became something else didn’t it?
Roy Fowler:Well strangely enough I'm in the middle of reading Corin Redgrave on his father.
Roy Fowler:And it was the Workers Revolutionary Party that they were part of.
Rodney Giesler:Yeah. That’s right.
Roy Fowler:Whether or not that still exists I don't know.
Rodney Giesler:I don’t know at all – it exists in the form of a few people I think.
Roy Fowler:Well I think it always did didn’t it?
Rodney Giesler:The Redgraves and er, er … But is it the time the point reached now where you can tell me a bit about the start of the Oral History Project because you were you organized it didn’t you? You started it?
Rodney Giesler:How did it start and when did it start and why did it start?
Roy Fowler:Well I've always had an enormous interest in the history of our industry and over the years collected and read, read a great deal so knew a fair amount about it and also lived through in this country a fascinating period was aware during the ‘40s of the high point of British film production those wonderful
Archers movies and David Lean movies and that tiny little handful before John Davis got his hands on the Rank Organisation. And so the interest existed I suppose the focal point was in ‘86 I was a delegate to the ACT Annual Conference and Bob Dunbar and I went off and had lunch together in the pizza point place around the corner from the TUC and we were drinking and talking and having a merry old time just exchanging anecdotes about this that and the other and suddenly it put into my mind later that day I thought well what a shame because all these memories will die with us and some of them are worth preserving. So I went to, I was on the Producer Director Committee and I went to Roy Lockett who was our organizer, as well as being the DGS and said Roy what would what would you say about an oral history project for the Union and Roy's immediate reaction was was not entirely negative but it was “Oh my God” he said, “Well you'd have to do it” so I said “Fine, you know that's okay.” So with that rather grudging acceptance on his part I say grudging because now Roy refers to it as as the crowning jewel in the in the Union of the Union. I wrote an article for The Journal to say what a shame it is that people die and memories die with them and people just toss everything out into the skips and it's all lost forever is there anyone who feels something should be done about it? I suppose half a dozen people came in on that. Bob was one he liked the idea, Alan Lawson was there right from the start. And I think probably, I’ve got to say this with all respect to Bob he never actually did anything – he lent his presence to things. Um but Bob was one of those people, this was true of the committee too, that sounds in view of his recent death it doesn't sound very pleasant but we're being objective, on the directors committee he would accept to do something and then you turn up again a month later and he'd say “Why why, well I wasn't supposed to do that” and Roy as the organizer would also, this was the way ACTT was run it as is it still is today an enormously inefficient operation Roy was delegated to do something and nothing had been done and this is why nothing ever did get done. Anyway we formed a little volunteer committee covering all the names like, Dave Robson was there right from the start but again Dave would never do any interviewing he lent his services as as a recorder, a recordist. Sid Cole wasn't there from the beginning but quite early on we'd have to go back to the very first minutes to to find out, they exist so we could easily identify who was there. And we took it very cautiously first of all we had to raise money because we weren't going to get anything out of the Union. They went to General Counsel and they agreed yes lovely idea go ahead and do it. I don't think many of them understood really what was what it was all about. So we put an appeal out to the membership at large we got a gratifying about the money I think from them. I pursued a couple of, the Jan Dawson Foundation: Maurice Hatton was a trustee of the Jane Dawson Foundation and they came up with enough money to buy our first recorder a Walkman Professional which then Morris always wanted to borrow which was a bit naughty of him. Ah and really it was a matter of first of all of getting the kit together and buying some tape, figuring out what it was all about because we were all self-taught. I did it with a certain amount of diffidence I didn't know how well I’d do it but actually once I had begun to do it I loved it it was marvellous just sitting down talking to people. And I think we began to record in early ’87 and bit by bit – it's never been an enormously large group of people but by and large as you know we've got some time wasters and some some people who just turn up because it's a social occasion – but by and large it's an intelligent informed very pleasant group of people who actually do things and contribute and it is volunteer so one can't say piss off unfortunately to the one or two individuals who are redundant. And it's been going ever since we've we are approaching I think 500 in number.
And so far as I can tell and it always ends terribly self-serving to to talk about it in this but I think we have become now very very important oral history archive. I can't imagine anyone that's anything that's more extensively informed about the British film industry or the television industry than our archive and it's all there at the end of TVA waiting for posterity. And you know what the situation is as we speak which is hopefully one hopes to get a lottery grant, a Heritage Lottery grant that well see in the first instance it all transcribed to paper and then eventually put on digital so it will be online and accessible. Over the years we've had a few ancillary little activities the occasional anniversary of this that and the other where we recognised Korda’s Centenary with a screening of I don't think you were part of it then were you? I got a print of one of my favourite movies is a documentary called The Epic That Never Was about the making or the non-making of I Claudius which is fascinating. Have you ever seen that you? Yes lovely, I dote on it.
Rodney Giesler:It was on television about 10, 20 years ago.
Roy Fowler:That's right. Yeah. Bob Dunbar's birthday we got a print of the Man Upstairs and screened that. We were very active in the Centenary of Cinema Year. Our resources have always been very slender and I was chairman until what three, four years ago when John took over and it really was a matter of doing it all oneself and after ten years of it I got a bit not bored but I thought well that's enough it's time for someone else to do. John is very good but he has a different style I did everything on paper it's all on file and was fairly meticulous about it.
John approaches things differently but he's very effective in getting through to people and doing things. What else is there about it do you think? What have I missed on that? You’ve got it in outline.
Rodney Giesler:You have covered the history of it the fact that it's all being kept in the BFI and hopefully all the transcriptions will provide a good historical source for research. I think that's about it.
Roy Fowler:Well it is there and it's up to us and for someone else to now make sure it survives because clearly audio cassettes are a very impermanent method of preservation the magnetic signal will will disappear over time so it's got to be somehow digitized or put on acid proof paper.
Rodney Giesler:Seeing that you were the founder of the archive and we're approaching 500 interviews I think it's high time you were interviewed yourself.
Roy Fowler:What number am I?
Rodney Giesler:You will be about 480 I think but I think I'm glad I finally got round to it. Did no-one else suggest it?
Roy Fowler:Well yes, it's been suggested several times over the years. It always seemed to me that since my career was a rather strange one it wasn't mainstream and especially the American bit, which I thought was the most significant thing in terms of recording there was no one who would ask the right questions but as it is it's turned into a monologue.
Rodney Giesler:What about myself?
Roy Fowler:Well yes you have. Yes well a very sympathetic ear.
Rodney Giesler:I mean I think this is mainstream; it is not mainstream of our own industry but it's mainstream of television generally and American television is a very significant part of world output I think it's vital to have got your …
Roy Fowler:Well what was then was then and now it as you said is so different and it's so unbearable. I don't know about you but these days if I find two or three programmes looking through The Radio Times in the course of a week that I feel worth watching I'm lucky. Is that the end of the side?
Rodney Giesler:That's the end of the side Roy thank you very much.
Roy Fowler:Do you want to finish or it's is there anything more to say. I wonder if there is any point in, it’s twenty minutes to four …
End Side 5
Start Side 6
Rodney Giesler:Well quite a few people I suppose started out doing that.
Roy Fowler:A couple of things to devote a brief space of time to: when I was at CBS it was the time of McCarthy and the House of Un-American Activities Committee and I didn't at the time, because as I said before I was politically quite naive and not committed in any sense I was left-wing but I wasn't a participant in anything. I, the, and it it crept up on one I remember McCarthy's speeches for example the famous speech and I think it was in West Wheeling Virginia wasn't it when he said he had this paper that had the names of God knows how many people at the State Parliament who were Communists. But I was part of the blacklist in the sense that quite soon it became policy at the network when you were casting a show, and one cast one's own shows there was no central casting department, to call a number that actually was in the legal department and one would read out the names that one wanted to use in the upcoming show and the voice would say yes OK, right no, no not her and so forth. The blacklist was operating really quite early on I would think that was about ’51. The man, I hope he is dead now because again it would be slanderous but the man behind it all was Zack Becker who was in charge of legal affairs for the network, for the television network. The others are purely personal memories of the times and it was a climate of fear one was very very cautious of what one said to whom. And I became first of all aware of that I said before, I had a producer on the web called Frank Heller, Franklin Heller and I was in a cab with Frank, it seems to me it was on Broadway because I can see the lights and I was talking about McCarthy and what was going on and I got a grunt. So I thought he hadn't heard properly so I repeated it and I got a violent dig in the ribs and he gestured, pointed a finger at the driver, in other words don't talk in front of anyone and that you know, unbelievable …
Rodney Giesler:You mean a yellow cab driver?
Roy Fowler:Yeah in a, a yellow cab yeah, it was as if the whole city were wired for sound and every cab driver was a member of the FBI and that's the kind of atmosphere that operated. And people that I doted on and marvellous actors like Elliot Sullivan as you say couldn't have been a greater trooper; one wasn't allowed to use Chubby Sherman who was again such fun and so talented, blacklisted; Jean Muir she wasn't allowed to work; Philip Loeb who was in a running show called The Goldbergs he killed himself because he wasn't allowed to work. And it was all hidden it was an industry the anti-communist industry well it wasn't anti-communist it was anti-left it was an anti-liberal anyone in the least connected with any statement of liberalism was was tainted. Terrible time.
Rodney Giesler:Arthur Miller did a prominent radio play which I have a tape of Are You or Have You Ever Been a Communist?
Rodney Giesler:Which is virtually a transcription of the hearing.
Roy Fowler:Right, was that Arthur Miller?
Rodney Giesler:I think it was Arthur Miller yeah, based on Bentley the critic, what's his name J C Bentley was it? The biographer of Brecht and so on
Roy Fowler:E C Bentley.
Rodney Giesler:E C Bentley that was it.
Roy Fowler:I don't remember that …
Rodney Giesler:They worked together. I mean you see all the all the publicity that I remember centred around the moving picture industry the motion picture industry but it found its way into television and publishing as well.
Roy Fowler:Oh very much television yes. No publishing I think less so. And also there's one thing about in those days motion pictures and television that they didn't have the protection of the Constitution, The Supreme Court quite early on in the teens had decided that it was just a commercial activity and therefore did not have benefit of the Fourth Amendment, the freedom of speech, which subsequently was was was changed. The weird thing is that Broadway wasn't affected that the actors who were banned from television or motion pictures were working on Broadway. Quite a lot of them came here which was partly to the benefit of the film industry and television industry here. They were exploited Sidney Cole was producing Robin Hood and that had a lot of, well he was producing for Paula Weinstein so I guess it was she who was doing the exploitation but some name directors, some name writers and directors who couldn't work in the States and were working for peanuts here.
Rodney Giesler:I suppose Joe Losey is probably the best-known one for coming over here?
Roy Fowler:Yes. Yes. Jo Losey. Oh God when I had my flat in Albert Court I would wander over quite often on Sundays to the park by the barracks where there was always, I think there still is, a softball game The American Colony in London always turns out to play softball there and it was astonishing who whom one would meet. You know I remember Marty Ritt was playing there one time and all the banned characters. A lot of loved living here anyway they're coming back now buying their property in the Boltons or down in Dulwich I think, Tom and Nicole now have a house here and Madonna does doesn't she? So there's a lot to be said but Hollywood is of course the greater asshole of the world there was a time they made good movies but that's no longer true. It's just a cesspit.
Rodney Giesler:You spent some time on the west coast?
Roy Fowler:Oh yes. Yeah. You know I was very frequently out there, which I enjoyed going out to visit I never thought of living there. I did have a house for a while on Inverness a lovely house actually you know as I mentioned, rented. But it was supposed to be the Warner house but Irving Rapper who was a friend of mine who was at Warners for years and he said well no I don't think so because you know Jack Warner lived in wherever Jack Warner lived for years and years and years but anyway a lovely house down in Los Feliz. The the other place I used to go to was Beverly Hills which was great fun, Beverly Hills Hotel had a bungalow there all on expense account but it was such a different place the freeways were being built so it wasn't as murderous getting around then as it is now and of course there weren't that many cars anyway, everyone had a car but the population was less. Now what else did I have to …
Rodney Giesler:You what you were going to talk about some of the writers you worked with.
Roy Fowler:Oh yes well only to say that we were, again one one had such quality of writers; now a great mate of mine and someone I worked with quite a lot in those days quite early on doing the shows that I I was doing was Gore Vidal – who’s a strange character now. And Tennessee he was also a great friend; Bill Inge who wrote several very successful plays but they all were working in television.
Rodney Giesler:Which work of Tennessee Williams did you produce?
Did you produce plays or did he write specially for television?
Roy Fowler:He did some scripts. I really couldn't tell you what they were now I couldn't remember the titles, he did them kind of for fun because he was a friend, he certainly didn't need the money. Were you, he had a house in Key West and he was so we would sometimes go down to Key West and he would oh there were thousands and thousands of sailors in Key West, there was the Navy Base the Submarine Base and the Naval Air Station and all these kids would turn up at Tennessee's House [LAUGHTER] and he used to call them the fair weather Queens because if it were raining they wouldn’t come [LAUGHTER]. He was a delightful man very very funny, a wicked wit.
Rodney Giesler:Did Bill Inge work with you on the same basis writing originals scripts?
Roy Fowler:Bill Inge had come out of advertising he had been at I think it was BBDO. The sidelight on all that the story that means only something to people who worked there at the time perhaps there was an agency called Sullivan, Stauffer, Colwell & Bayles and someone said that sounds like a trunk being dragged upstairs [LAUGHTER] somewhere, yes and BBDO sounds like the same trunk falling down again [LAUGHTER] Now nobody's remembered that I’ll bet, so there we are.
Rodney Giesler:You see I do laugh at your jokes Roy!
Roy Fowler:You did for a change. There were others Alvin Sapinsley was another very good writer and they were so prolific they’d sit down and bash something out you know a 30 minute or 25 minute script in just a few days.
Rodney Giesler:Can you imagine that happening now?
Roy Fowler:Well I can't imagine it going through the system like that but we had a constant need for material but we were professional it wasn't that we just accepted any all rubbish we would go through it and argue it debate it, do it as well as we could. But in 25 minutes it's all very superficial anyway, one just tried to make it effective and showy and it was as much in the shooting as in the writing I fear to say. Some were dreadful the one I mentioned before like Man Against Crime it was an appalling show, Ralph Bellamy did the intro he was the running figure in it the detective and he would open and close sitting in a chair, a leather chair and at the end of the piece – it was sponsored by Camel – and he would light up a cigarette and sit there puffing it and say this week the makers of Camels have sent God knows how many thousands of cigarettes to our boys in Korea. And of course one evening he inhaled [LAUGHTER] too abruptly and went into a violent coughing fit on the end couldn't get out of it so we just faded to black and that was a very happy memory of mine.
Rodney Giesler:Think that was quite a view of the future, wasn’t it?
Roy Fowler:Yeah we all did. The Web was sponsored by Lorillard Tobacco and they would give me I think it was two cartons of cigarettes a week. Well we all had our brands and our brands were I suppose to some extent proof of one's one's own concept of oneself self, the image of the brand I smoked Pall Malls which was a king sized cigarette. The Lorillard brand was, it wasn’t Kent I did Kent subsequently I think it was the launch brand the name of which I've forgotten but I know I had it’s gone and I didn't like them. And in the course of a studio day there from about 7 in the morning until 10.30 or 11 at night one went through two or three packs. And one like to smoked what one like to smoked.
Rodney Giesler:And the whole atmosphere was foul.
Roy Fowler:Yeah, thank God there was air conditioning but even so I can't conceive of that kind of stench nowadays. But the I remember one time the client came up and took a cigarette out of my hand and looked at the label on it and it was yet again that they took unkindly to that if you can believe it.
Rodney Giesler:Just before we finally finish Roy I want to go right back to the beginning …
Rodney Giesler:…where we started at the beginning of this day and your time as a schoolboy on the set of Caesar & Cleopatra …
Rodney Giesler:… and A Matter of Life and Death and your great ambitions having been fired by Citizen Kane among other films to make movies and you never ended up making movies! Really did you? Well you ..
Roy Fowler:Yeah. Rodney Giesler:… went into a different career altogether. Have you ever felt disappointment that you didn’t go into your intended career?
Roy Fowler:There is a natural sense of what one might have done but I had a very realistic concept of my abilities. I don't think I was ever that good a director I was I was good at directing what I did direct because it was very straightforward rubbish for the most part. I was in commercials, what do you do with commercials? I think they were reasonably stylish intelligent if I had my choice in the matter and well constructed better for me being on them than for someone else by and large. But I never ever had the killer instinct. It was never me in in before everything else or anyone else so I would never have survived in the studio system and less so now because it's even worse now than it used to be. And also I never ever took it seriously, which may be a basic insecurity on my part in that I approach everything with an ironic sense and frame of mind, which probably is defensive because there's always that feeling of one is not right although one's opinionated and one thinks one is but there is a kind of hesitancy. And so it's not self-doubt but it was kind of so what, I mean who gives a shit which is not to say I wasn't committed I did my best but it all seems so trivial and one looks at movies of 30, 40, 50 years ago whenever and there are all these names on the titles and one thinks whatever became of them? Who were they? What else did they do? And how many Orson Welles are there and what happened to him poor man? If you talk of frustrated ineffectual careers I suppose there's none there's none greater. And you look at some of the greats what happened to them? People like Billy Vilder for example, I'm still alive. I always say Vilda because the man was Austrian and they were vild. Yeah I should say Billy Wilder it's not an affectation on my part it's a habit.
Rodney Giesler:Was that his original name?
Roy Fowler:Yes. Yeah.
Rodney Giesler:Was he German?
Roy Fowler:He is Austrian, Austrian Jew.
Roy Fowler:Austrian and it was Billy no not not Wilhelm it was Billy Vilder. Yeah. So to answer your question: had I been Louis B Mayer I'm sure I would've enjoyed it but I never really wanted to be Louis B Mayer. I suppose I had a hankering to work at MGM in its heyday in the ‘30s and ‘40s but I wouldn't I wouldn't have cut the mustard there in that sense. For those two reasons …
Rodney Giesler:I mean in your time at CBS your latent abilities rose to match the demands of the job and you enjoyed it. You made a reasonably good living out at it and met a lot of very stimulating people and worked with them I would have thought that was satisfaction in itself. I mean I ask it because I had the same experience I too visited a Powell Pressburger set, I too had ambitions to direct features I ended up going down the Coal Board and spending a life in documentaries which I enjoyed one learnt about a lot of industries and processes and people's jobs.
Roy Fowler:Well let's take Powell & Pressburger, The Archers: Mickey Powell was not a very good director but he had a lot of chutzpah and aggression and could control people by dominating them. The talent there was Emeric Pressburger and how many Emeric Pressburgers are there, one of the greatest screenwriters of all time. I would love to be able to do music it's something I regret more than anything but again how many great musicians are there? How many Alfred Junges or John Box’ are there. They're very few and far between and if one isn't on that level then it all seems to me a bit unnecessary in a sense. So I made bloody good Watney commercials and Lyons Maid commercials and General Electric commercials in the States. Did I tell you I worked with Reagan on? [LAUGHTER] Yes I did some of those.
Rodney Giesler:He did a commercial?
Roy Fowler:He was the General Electric spokesman right, yeah the GE Theater
Rodney Giesler:Was he just as thick then as he is now?
Roy Fowler:Well, yes as thick then certainly but it’s a special kind of thickness, there is extraordinary strength and resilience there and he and Nancy together were formidable there was no stopping them And unbelievably it was his intention to be President quite early on.
Rodney Giesler:He wasn't governor of California was he when you were there was he?
Roy Fowler:No that was later. He became Governor of California because he did GE Theater.
Roy Fowler:Well, in the sense that he became a public figure. He wouldn't have become Governor of California for being in Warner Brothers Pictures but as the GE spokesman … the slogan for GE Theater was ‘At progress’ ‘at General Electric progress is our most important product’. And we always wanted to devise something to sell with the slogan product ‘Progress is our most important product too’ which he used to go over like a Led Zeppelin. But anyway he what he did was as GE, now spokesman GE was one of the most important players and still is one of the most important companies in the United States and part of the military industrial complex which Eisenhower, even he warned us about justifiably, so it wasn't only his on air stuff it was going around the country promoting and speaking for GE to all the Republican groups and Rotarians and this is where he built his political base and got the support, the money eventually for the gubernatorial campaign and for the Presidential campaign. He's a very strange man in that I don't think anyone's ever really figured out what makes Ronnie run. But he isn't totally an idiot he's an idiot to look at and to see him behave. I think it's a bit in all probability like Peter Sellers unless he's playing a part and the president see was was a part he doesn't exist.
Rodney Giesler:I mean did you spend time socialising with him?
Roy Fowler:No, no, no, no, no it was just a job one would turn up. I mean the people I worked with in that sense were astounding I did General MacArthur once when he came back from Korea after he had been fired by by Truman and moved into a suite in the Waldorf Astoria and I was doing a show called,
what was it called erm, Man of the Week in which it was a straightforward studio interview with whoever done something that week, largely unscripted and winged. But part of the series was to elect a man of the year and that year it was MacArthur and he wouldn't come to the studio we had to go to the Waldorf Astoria and put it on film and it was all set up and it was strictly to be to the minute and at a certain time allotted and dead on the button the doors opened and he came in and it was like the second coming and he did it and out he went and that was it and so you know they you are. During what was it the 1952 the campaign, ah I never told you I was at the ‘56 campaign that were the conventions that was quite interesting but in ‘52 which was the end of Truman and the race between Adlai Stevenson and Eisenhower and we were all ‘Madly for Hadley’. The Republican race was, the convention, was to be be, I think it was in Philadelphia ‘52 I can't quite remember but it was the the hope of the right wing Republicans was that MacArthur would be drafted and sent for so he would receive the nomination by acclamation. Well it was Eisenhower not MacArthur but he even had a private railroad car downstairs on the tracks under the Waldorf Astoria waiting to be summoned to go in his private railroad car to the convention. Yeah. Fascinating.
Rodney Giesler:Those were the tracks that went through Grand Central Station I suppose?
Roy Fowler:Out of Grand Central.
Rodney Giesler:Just up the road?
Roy Fowler:Because that's a whole labyrinth under there. The moment you get down there even if you go down to connect to to get a train to Connecticut you there’s track upon track upon track.
Rodney Giesler:Yeah, yeah.
Roy Fowler:Grand Central as I say is a fascinating building you um there are hidden lifts all over the place. One of the things I once did too this this was we had no money so we made it modern dress Julius Caesar with John Carradine who's a great old ham, he and his wife were great mates God we got drunk together I remember John falling asleep under the grand piano. But John would come to rehearsal right across the concourse to the lift that took us up to the rehearsal rooms, clutching the sword wearing wearing the sword that he swore was Barrymore’s sword that Barrymore had given it to him whether or not that was true I don't know. Ah, they were great characters, marvellous.
Rodney Giesler:You haven’t got any contacts remaining with all your CBS days have you that you're in contact with now?
Roy Fowler:Not CBS No the only one I know is is Sidney …
Rodney Giesler:Sidney Lumet?
Roy Fowler:Yeah and Sidney got really very grand, we never really liked each other I think he disliked me for being English and I thought he was a rather rather aggressive little shit.
Rodney Giesler:He made a lot of movies over here.
Roy Fowler:Well not, yes how many? Well The Hill that was, The Hill was the one which um I last saw him on and I was at the studio and I said “Hello Sidney how are you” and I got such a cold fish thing and I thought that's it don't need that. Yul on the other hand was always great mates until almost the very end when I think in effect he went insane. We ought to put this on, we’re not recording are we?
Rodney Giesler:Yes we are it but we have been running ever since.
Roy Fowler:Good. We would meet up from time to time either here or there out on the coast and Yul mostly spent his time in Europe unless he was working but he originally was going out to the coast to direct the Buccaneer for Cecil B de Mille and for reasons that were never made clear to me that didn't work. I think Yul would've been a very good director he was in television a very effective director very showy and I see no reason why it couldn't work equally so in pictures. But he he played the role but he didn't direct the movie.
Anthony thing, Anthony what's his name de Mille’s son-in law-directed it which probably explains. So we would have marvellous times together I remember he made a film when I was over here out at Elstree called, that Frank directed actually um The Double Man Frank.
Rodney Giesler:Frank who directed it?
Roy Fowler:Frank Shaffner and we went out there with the love of my life at that time and we had a smashing time in the in the in the Oak Bar in The Thatched Barn out there with his then lady whom he subsequently married French, what was her name? Well he was very very successful at the time made a great deal of money I never knew with Yul the extent to which he was telling the truth but he said he was running two orphanages and he had to make two million dollars a year to pay for the orphanages and things like that. Probably true to some extent cut it down by 50% and that that might have been the reality of it. But there was this bloody great Rolls Royce and Jenkins the driver and wherever you want to go right Jenkins will take you. Then bit by bit he would turn up for this that and the other he played the King and I I think twice subsequently in London and each time part of his contract was the roller to get him around and the driver and a suite wherever it was in Claridges. But bit by bit he became the king and this is the extraordinary thing and yeah yeah well I used to joke with him at the beginning in the ‘60s and the ‘70s I would always if I wrote him I would address it to SM, sa Majesté, he took it as a joke but eventually he got to believe it you know. And it wasn't that we ever fell out it was just that it became unbearable because one had to be a sycophant and that I'm not, never have been and hope I never shall be. But one can see this again is the corrosive thing of power and riches and what happens to you and I would never, bad as I am you know because I'm an arrogant little shit, but I would never wanted to be anything like that to be in that position. And of course his ending was terrible because we all smoked like mad things but of course it caught up with him.
Rodney Giesler:Was it lung cancer?
Roy Fowler:Terrible death, awful.
Rodney Giesler:I remember him in Westworld …
Rodney Giesler:… where his features were so apt for the part he was playing because you never knew when it was really his face and when it was the dummy’s face that you opened up and found all the springs across …
Roy Fowler:Yeah that's right it was a good movie that, an early Michael Crichton.
Rodney Giesler:That was one of his last pictures I think.
Roy Fowler:I can't remember chronologically I know that because of his lifestyle and his need to make a lot of money and since he was identified with the role all he did was play the King and I in those last few years constantly on the road often in great agony. So a very unpleasant ending I saw it, sad, I suppose his suffering accounted for his attitude, his behaviour. Must've been a terrible life to have lived … But he, he treated, he went through women too, I, to to to to to have a series of lovers is one thing but to discard them. His first wife Virginia, Virginia Gilmore was a bit of a basket case she'd lived with Fritz Lang for a time [LAUGHTER] and he used to beat the hell out of her. I suppose inevitably if you spend years being beaten by Fritz Lang it has some effect on you so it affected their relationship, it affected their relationship. The, and they had a son Rocky who I remember to be a delightful little boy be he got to be rather rather grand too a Hollywood brat. There again that's all part of the reason I'm glad I'm glad I wasn't part of …
Rodney Giesler:Involved in it.
Roy Fowler:Yeah, that mainstream thing where I would so easily have become corrupted in all sorts of ways I'm sure. What else is there to cover? How much left on the tape?
Rodney Giesler:I suppose you've got about ten minutes.
Roy Fowler:Oh well, anything we haven't touched on we have, did I do McCarthy well enough? Other than the sheer joy of the television hearings The Army McCarthy hearings, which we were glued to you talk about Wimbledon or this football nonsense.
Rodney Giesler:The Army McCarthy hearings?
Roy Fowler:The Army McCarthy Hearings. What had happened was ABC had as I said before no daytime programming at all so they could go on the air and stay on the air and they weren't losing money. They just had the normal overheads so they covered across the board these these hearings. They came about McCarthy, had two assistants one was Roy Cohn who was a bent lawyer who eventually became an enormous behind the scenes political corrupt power in New York State he owned all the judges and all the police forces; was a closet gay, closet homosexual, which he denied, he had AIDS and he died of AIDS and he he he went to his death still denying that. He had a boyfriend called David Shine who was the scion of the Shine hotel chain very rich. And the two of them, Ed by this time had left CBS and was head of the United States Information Service and to his great embarrassment because of the clout that …
Rodney Giesler:Ed Murrow?
Roy Fowler:Ed Murrow and he was shortly to to to a couple of years later to die of lung cancer as you can imagine because he never stopped smoking either. But to his embarrassment because of McCarthy's clout Shine and Cohn began to travel around the world checking in at all the embassies and the libraries, the embassy libraries and pulling things off the shelf saying this you know how dare you have this book here. Are you are you aware of what was going on in America in those days?
Rodney Giesler:No. I mean the Hollywood 7 oh whatever they were.
Roy Fowler:No 10.
Rodney Giesler:Well they were the prominent ones.
Roy Fowler:Yeah right. Well that was earlier and that was that wasn't McCarthy that was HUAC that was the House of Un-American Activities Committee that had nothing to do with McCarthy. No McCarthy was the one who was on about the State Department and gays and communists in government and that led to Red Channels and the blacklist in in government and I suppose in television. Well what happened as I remember, I don't accept totally what I said about the detail: McCarthy made an accusation against either the secretary of state for the army or someone in the army, which was patently false it was just a very cheap nasty unpleasant unnecessary smear and McCarthy's technique was he was not a serious person at all this is the extraordinary thing people loved him his mates thought he was a great character. He really was more than anything after publicity and he was in a position of power as a senator, he was only the junior senator for Wisconsin but nevertheless he was a senator and had the ear of the chamber. But he would get to gather a few newspapermen in time for the early editions and just spin a story, know make it up if he didn't have one and they would always print it. Well he said something we'd have to go back to the record to find out precisely what it was but he overstepped himself and the honour of the Army was involved. So finally Eisenhower who all this time had been very equivocal he couldn't stand the man but he wouldn't do anything about it. But finally McCarthy went too far and so they set up what were called the Army McCarthy Hearings to inquire into this. And it was in a Senate Committee room in Washington and full coverage on television on ABC and as I say it was the best soap opera in the world and it was all in the balance nobody quite knew what was going on. The Army counsel was a man call Ed Walsh from Boston with a bow tie and a little waistcoat a gentleman lawyer of the old school, a real wonderful old New Englander always immensely polite, like a little bulldog he wouldn't give up he was always there but he wasn't necessarily winning because McCarthy had this rhetoric. It was always, he'd always come up with some kind of card that he could play like Mr Walsh are you aware, and one day he said “Mr Walsh are you aware that a member of your team is …” and some poor little lowly lawyer fresh out of law school on Ed Walsh's team had committed some minor political indiscretion when he was at school or in college, he signed something or joined something you know and it was the cheapest, nastiest kind of character assassination for an unknown. But it would have destroyed his career ever more. And Walsh said “Senator” he said, “Have you no shame?” He said, “Is this all you can do?” he said, “I will ask you no more questions.” And McCarthy lost right then and there. You know Walsh just gave up washed his hands of the whole proceedings and that was the end of McCarthy, it wasn't Ed Murrow's broadcast, which was fascinating in itself but …
Rodney Giesler:He died shortly afterwards didn’t he?
Roy Fowler:He died shortly afterwards he drank himself to death. I think probably that does conclude it unless you have a valedictoryquestion? [LAUGHTER] that’s the end right, ok it’s been very enjoyable.
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