Val Guest

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Work area/craft/role: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
17 Aug 1988
23 Aug 1988
30 Aug 1988
6 Sep 1988
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Duration (mins): 

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Sides 1-4 recorded on 17 Aug 1988, sides 5-6 on 23 Aug 1988, sides 7-11 on 30 Aug 1988, and sides 12-15 on 6 Sep 1988.


BEHP 0048  Val Guest Tape 1 of 8 Please note that the use of the Val Guest tapes is restricted and the copyright remains with Val Guest. Interview with Val Guest, writer, producer, director, at his house,,on 17th August 1988.


RF: Let us start with when and where you were born. VG: I was born in London in Maida Vale, a long time ago. RF: Are you

going to be more specific than that. VG: I was born 1911. December 11. RF: Did you parents have any connection with show business at all. VG: My mother did, my mother was a principal girl in pantomime and wrote poems and things. He had nothing to do with it whatsoever, he was in the jute and gunney business in India. RF: Where did you go to school.,in London. VG: Yes I went to school at Seaford College, which was then down in Sussex and now I believe has moved to Worthing and is part of Stowe Public School. RF: Did you enjoy school. VG: Not a lot. RF: Did you have any special subjects you were good at or loathed. VG: Not particularly, but what I do remember doing at school, I used to sneak down very early in the morning, to the masters common room where there was an old typewriter and I slowly with two fingers learnt to type and typed out odd stories. RF: So writing was an early motivation. VG: Yes. RF: Was also acting. VG: No. RF: Not even in school plays. VG: That came later in my teens when I went into, I went on stage to start with and then I did odd things in films for Warner Brothers and BIP and I worked a lot with Lupino Lane.

RF: Just to wrap up on school did you have any encouragement on writing there.

 VG: Not specifically,· except- from my mother who did on the odd times I saw her, because my parents were divorced, and I wasn't really supposed to know my mother at all, my father would have been horrified if he'd known I'd seen her, she gave me quite a lot of encouragement in that and in acting too. RF: The ambition, if there was an ambition, was it towards dramatic writing, did you plan to be a novelist perhaps. VG: No, in the early days, in my very early teens I drifted into writing for newspapers and I was in Fleet St where I used to do the film page for the Sphere and the London Illustrated News, and all the fan magazines of those days, Film Weekly and things like that. RF: We'er now in the 20s are we. VG: I suppose we must be. But it was a great grounding of writing for all types and writing quickly, ghosting Mae West's life story, and Marlene Dietrich's life story. RF: This is for fan magazines in England. VG: Yes and for newspapers. RF: Any particular newspaper. VG: News of the World, I did the Marlene Dietrich for, and it was the Sunday Dispatch that I did the Mae West for. And then i did the odd thing like there was an English director director at BIP called Paul Stein, and he had quite a life story and I wrote his for him, I used to do a lot of stuff like that. At the other end of the scale I used to do children's poem's for Everybody's Weekly. so it was quite a spectrum. RF: Everybody's Weekly, I remember, that was a very popular household magazine. Was Paul Stein the reason you went into the film business. VG: No, the reason I went into acting was through my mother, from the stage, odd stage things and tours that I did, the reason that I first went into filming was through Lupino Lane, and Lupino Lane was working at BIP and I did my first bits and pieces in screenplays I had written for him and then a little later on I did the same thing down at Warner Brothers. RF: How exactly did that come about, they came to you for a polish job or dialogue, VG: No I did the whole script. RF: They commissioned the script from you. VG: I used to work with Lupino Lane very closely, we were friends RF: Had you done anything for his act. VG: No. What happened then was that I would do the screenplays and Nip would put his name on it. So I was ghosting screenplays too,·for Walter Mycroft and so on. RF: Is it worth a side light on Lupino Lane and the Lupino family: VG: The Lupino family was a vast family. They lived in Maida Vale, or rather Nip lived in Maida Vale, he had an enormous career in Hollywood in comedies and things like The Love Parade with Maurice Chevalier. And he'd done a lot in Hollywood and he came back over here and he was doing a lot of direction and he wasn't doing acting, it was a little later he did The Lambeth Walk, For Me and My Girl, he went back again onto the stage, but he'd given all that up and gone into film directing. He was a nice little man, a very good worker. RF: Looking back do you rate him as a comedian, as a performer. VG: As a performer yes, as a director there was nothing outstanding, workmanlike, professional. RF: Would it be fair to say that a lot of people such as he, Jack Hulbert comes to mind, Basil Dean was another, who were directing at that period and yet their disciplines were still very much stage disciplines, theatrical disciplines. VG: Yes. I think you're right on that. I knew Basil Dean vaguely, but I know from people who worked with Basil Dean he was a very strict disciplinarian, he was a tough rough cookie. I think he had much more on the ball for direction than Jack Hulbert, Jack was just a review musical guy who came in, and a very difficult person to work with too. RF: Yes I worked with him too. Nice guy, well meaning but lost. VG: Jack when he was doing his reviews at the Vaudeville Theatre and the Adelphi and things like that, they did all those Clowns in Clover with Cis Courtneidge, he used to rehearse the chorus girls solidly through the day, through the night and if one fainted, he would just step right over her and continue. He was just that sort of person, he had a one track mind of getting the thing done. RF: I experienced that, in fact the show I did with him, the chorus had a song, it was the time of Oklahoma, oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I've got a terrible feeling, Hulbert's rehearsing today. Can we maybe try to precise the year you started to work for films. VG: 1932 was the time I first got together with Lupino Lane on Britain's largest musical in those days, Maid of the Mountains, and I did the screenplay for him on that and he took credit but he paid me and not BIP, so I was on sort of unwritten contract with Lupino Lane. Then I followed that with a movie for him called Innocents of Chicago and those were the two main ones we did. Then afterwards I was pulled on by BIP onto a couple of Leslie Fuller comedies. RF: A couple of questions, was that a typical procedure, that someone such as Lane would ghost for him and then he'd take the credi.t VG: I really would'nt know, I wouldn't think so, Nip really was acting on the thing he was doing me a favour and this was a way in if I wanted to help him with his script, and helping him with his script meant doing his script. RF: Do you remember what he paid you. VG: I honestly don't remember but I would have thought if I got £50 I would have been very very lucky. RF: And this was taking the stage production, the book of the stage show and adapting it. VG: Yes. RF: Did you stay with it for the shoot. VG: I was in it, I played one of the juvenile bit in there. RF: That was a major film for BIP. VG: It was the biggest film they'd ever made. And then following that The Innocents of Chicago I did the same thing, and I also played in that too, and then I played in a couple of Leslie Fuller things too. RF: Do you remember how it all went at Elstree in those days. VG: It all seemed to be an awful lot of fun, I don't know whether it's just my memories of those days, but everybody seemed to have fun making movies, there was no specific hours we had to work. And although at times it could be hell it was fun hell. You'd say christ hell I'm so tired, but you all felt you · were achieving something. That's my memories of those days. And at the old BIP Studios we had people who went onto bigger things, the accountant behind the window was Robert Clark, and I used to have my cheques paid, he used to shove them through the window at me, and his assistant was Vaughn Ding, they were to go onto bigger and better things. RF: Did you envisage that Robert Clark would end up as the boss. VG: No, I never thought anything about him, he was just the guy who pushed the thing at me. I used to talk to him about it in later days, remind him. RF: He was part of Maxwell's Scottish mafia was he not. VG: That's right, and Vaughn Ding was, later on one picture of mine, I can't remember what it was, he was production accountant before he became the head of the studio. RF: As a writer and actor were you aware of studio politics. VG: The only thing we were aware of then was that there was big things about the A and B Maxwell shares and there was some great big thing which was almost a scandal and that's the only thing I can recall. At BIP one of the resident writers was frank Launder and Frank and his first wife owned the Dutch Oven in the High Street, it was a patisserie shop and they used to run that as a side business. But Frank was there, Hitch was there, Hitchcock was doing Number 17, and he'd built and entire over head railway, minatures and everything which he built up in the silent stage which we all used to go and look at in wonder. And I had connections with BIP for a long time, I can remember Anthony Bushell and Marion Marsh, the star brought from Hollywood, and Bobby Howes was the big name there too, in those early BIP days and we really did have- a lot of fun making movies. The extras there, we had a fellow who afterwards went to Hollywood called Patrick Knowles, a stand in, Michael Rennie, a stand in and extra, Stewart Grainger, a stand in, Michael Wilding, a stand in and extra, not Jimmy Grainger. But there were a gang of us that u'sed to be there, whether were were working or writing or doing extra work. RF: It sounds rather like a club. RF: It was. RF: And even if you weren't working on something would you hand out at the studio. VG: No, you'd meet some of the people from the studio. Weston Drury was the casting director. And I remember exactly what I got for my parts in both Innocents of Chicago and Maid of the Mountains, I got £3/15 a day. RF: Unlimited hours. VG: Yes, oh another strange character was called Michael Carr, he was one of our big song writers here, he's dead now, he wrote South of the Border, he was song writer, and his real name was Maurice Beresford, and when we were making Innocents of Chicago, which was a gangster thing, Michael Carr was one of the gangsters, I was one of the gangsters which is where I first met up with him. And he was one of the most inveterate liars you could ever hope to meet, he used to tell us how he was Legs Diamond's bodyguard, absolute nonsense, he came from Ireland, although he had an American accent. And Nipper Lane one day gave him a loaded gun and he was absolutely terrified, Nip says there goes your bodyguard, but he was another character there. Joe Grossman, the studio manager, he was a most incredible character this Cockney. I was actually on the set the day the King of Greece was being shown around by Joe and he was in his full fireman's uniform and I was on the set when he said, the first time the king of Greece had come onto a set, this is a French kafe and these are all habitats of the kafe, the extras, and that's, the thing the microphone is on is called the boom, and in the middle of this long tour he suddenly said to the king of Greece of course this is all Greek to you but I'm trying to make it as simple as I can your majesty, this was a classic, and became a classic. RF: A portrait of Joe Grossman. VG: A little guy, always bustling, very full of life, very Cockney. RF: Tough VG: Oh yes, he ran that studio very well, he also ran the firebrigade there, a nice guy. RF: Would you say the studio was efficiently run. VG: I would say so from what I could tell. I really wasn't into that side of it then, but as far as I could tell it was efficiently run. Mycroft, Walter Mycroft, was the most hated man there'd ever been at Elstree. RF: By whom VG: Everybody, an absolute horror, he was a little hunchback. He was devious, his secretaries left one by one because they couldn't take all the fumbling which went on, and he would fire them. There was an edict at one time when Walter Mycroft had all the lavatories rewhitewashed because they were covered in grafitti, and he issued an edict that anyone found defacing any of those walls again would be instantly fired, and about 2 weeks after all this had been done,·in one of the loos there someone had scored into the walls with black pencil, Mycroft is a shit, and there was a long line drawn by a pencil with an arrow to it to about 2' 6rr off the floor and someone had written I'm not. That's how much he was not liked. RF: Did you have any dealings with him. VG: Yes indeed I did. I used to go up with Nip Lane. One time when he had commissioned me to write a script, I know it all went in on quarto, they used to do all the scripts on foolscap and Mycroft looked at it and said it's far too long. So I simply had the entire thing types out again on foolscap and he said that's better, without even reading it. RF: Along with this dark and unpleasant side of his character did he have talents. VG: I think he must have had, otherwise he wouldn't have been there for so long. RF: He survived a long time. VG: Also they were making money with their movies, and no movie was make without his yes or no. He was a petty Louis B. Mayer. RF: Did he answer to Maxwell that you know of. VG: Yes. But I don't think Maxwell knew much about films. RF: I want to ask you about Maid of the Mountains generally, but was there a location trip on that picture. VG: Yes, Cheddar Gorge. RF: Not to Spain. VG: No such luxury. RF: The reason is Harry Miller was talking about a location trip to Spain and the things that happened on it but it seemed by unlikely. VG: It was Cheddar Gorge, this was on the Shenley Bypass, all our galloping. RF: Was it a contemporary piece. VG: No, it had been resurrected. Ruritanian. It had been an old thing, Josie Collins was the original star on stage and she'd been dead a long time. RF: Did you work with Harry Welch VG: Harry was in it, Garry Marsh, Renee Gadd, Betty Stockfield, Pat Patterson who finally went to Hollywood and married Charles Boyer. Quite a good cast, and Wally Lupino. A trouble free production, it just rolled on. RF: An actor was he paid weekly in those days, or by the day. VG: I was paid by the day. Because I wasn't on a weekly contract. RF: What kind of hold did they have on you if you were in a picture and on a daily rate, how did they call you. VG: They had first call on you, the same as today, so if you did do another job, you had to let the other people know you were on first call. RF: An this was for an indefinite period. VG: This would be for the period of the film. RF: No matter how long the film ran, they wouldn't give you a closing date. VG: If you had an agent, they'd work it out, I didn't have an agent, I did it direct. RF: I was just curious to the extent the artist was at the mercy of the production company, probably totally. VG: I would.have thought if you were in any kind of position as an actor you wouldn't have had problems. You'd have had a stop date and all sorts of things. As a daily artist there was nothing. RF: The extent to which casts in those days came from the West End. Is that a truism, for was a mixture of people specifically working for films. VG: No, I'd say the majority did come from the West End. You had the film starts, the people who were films stars of those days who didn't do stage. But people like Henry Kendall, who was one of their big stars, was a stage actor. Leslie Fuller of course came from concert party and he was a film man, not a stage man. Then you got people like Anthony Bushell, who also did stage, Ivor Novello who also did stage, the Houston Sisters. But there were also a lot of people from films. The big star who was just finishing then was Henry Edwards, he was entirely film, Betty Balfour and people like that were entirely film. RF: And they'd come up through film had they. VG: I should imagine so. RF: Any further memories of BIP. VG: It was a great big barn of a place and they had the sound stages. Our cameras of course were all in little rollable booths. rf: Still in 1932. VG: Yes, they were inside these little booths and they were pushed here and there, and all the booms were on telescopic, like the telephone thing that you pushed up, and you wound it up and it all collapsed, it wasn't tube in tube. RF: Maid of the Mountains was a musical, how did they handle the numbers, was it yet to playback or were they live on stage. VG: I think it was playback but i couldn't be sure of that. I can't e VAL GUEST Tape 1 of 8 remember any orchestra on stage. But it was a very hit and miss affair, because they were on disc, and getting syncs must have been very difficult. RF: I'm curious if you remember generally how sound was working in those days, it was very crude presumably. VG: I can't remember being told to do anything specific, to speak up or not to speak up, I can't remember any of that, it all seemed to go alright. RF: And was there more than one camera. VG: On some shots, only on some, otherwise it was mostly one camera. RF: And it was conventional set ups. VG: Yes. RF: Were you bitten by films by that stage. VG: Yes I was. In 1935 I was working on the Hollywood Reporter doing their London column and I reviewed a film by a man called Marcel Varnel. He directed in Hollywood, and he'd directed a film, and in the brashness of youth I said if I couldn't write a better film than this with one hand tied behind my back I'd give up the business. And Marcel got in touch with Billy Wilkinson, who edited and published it, and said if your reporter is so goddam clever let him write my next. It was a challenge, I said to Billy Wildinosn, I can't, it's silly, he said you made the challenge, you're going to make the paper look stupid, you go and take up the challengeor you don't have a job here anyway. RF: Where did this take place, London. VG: No, Los Angeles·. So I went to Marcel hat in hand and said I was sorry, I shouldn't have said that. He said I don't agree, I think you can write, because I've been reading your column, I'd been doing a column in there for a long time, he said would you like to write my next. I said yes. And that started a, we had an unwritten contract that he couldn't direct anything I didn't write and I didn't write anything he didn't direct. So that launched us in 35. RF: Can I clear something. You were writing for the Hollywood Reporter in Los Angeles. VG: No I was writing here but the paper went to press there, and doing guest columinist and thing like that. There were times when Billy Wilkinson's wife, Edith who did the column, had offended so many people she was bared from all the studios, so they used to get other columnists to take over and I used to write a weekly column, it was called Rambling Around. RF: Your recollections of the Wilkinsons would be rather useful. VG: Billy Wilkinson was an extraordinary man, he never had any money, when he decided to open the·Vendome, which was going to be the big big thing in Hollywood, the in restaurant to top them all, Billy didn't have 8 one cent and he called all the people he knew, and said it's going to be a fantastic opening, will you book a table. There's a guaranteed minimum of so and so. And that way he got his prebooking before the place was done. He got most of his money before a penny was put down, and he opened it entirely on spec, he got all the food people and the provision people saying look I've got 500 people want to come to the opening night, and this was the guy who owned and ran the Hollywood reporter, a brilliant man, brilliant wheeler dealer. RF: Did the advertising department influence editorial as far as you know. VG: Yes it did. And when I was doing the London column from Grosvenor House, we took an office in Grosvenor House, in return for a quarter page add for Grosvenor House in Hollywood Reporter. Billy would send me a cable, have everybody wish me happy birthday. And I would go to Alex Korda and all those people and say it's Willy Wilkinson's birthday will you take a page. Ah yes, no argument, no argument because he was a very powerful man. RF: Is this immediately post BIP, after Maid of the Mountains. VG: After. That was 34, somewhere round there. RF: Your recollections of Korda at that stage. VG: Alex was always very kind to me. get an interview with him. He always was very kind to me indeed. I liked man. I never worked with him. RF: Had he made Henry VIII. As a newspaper man I would always gave me page adds and things. He him very much indeed. Brilliant VG: Around that time he was making Henry VIII. And running out of money. London Films time. The I started in 1935 with Varnel. And we went on right up until 1942, up to about 1941/2. RF: These pictures are now rightly regarded as British comedy classics. But they weren't always perceived so. VG: No, they weren't, indeed I remember the reviews we got of Oh Mr Porter were nothing. They all said can do better. RF: It would be interesting if we could talk about these features in detail. We've interviewed Alfie Roome. VG: Alfie was at Gainsborough when I was there. Bob Dearing and Alfie Roome. RF: And Alfie claims Bob Dearing had very little to do with editing the picture, the cutter who is credited. VG: He'd right. He's absolutely right. That's for posterity. RF: That was Alfie's sumation, more or less. He was a pompous old fart. RF: Varnel is a neglected director, almost forgotten, but in the process of being rediscovered. VG: I learnt all my trade from Marcel. When I joined Marcel, I went on every picture, I was sort of general gagman, perhaps the odd second unit shot here and there he let me do, and I went through all those pictures which was invaluable training. RF: Let's talk about him and then move onto the pictures. VG: Marcel was a very excitable little Frenchman, who was a demon for work, an absolute professional, the one thing which was an anathema to him was to even think that he might go over schedule. And if something happened which was not his fault which had put something behind he would get in an absolute frenzy, but he was great to work with. RF: How would he cope. script. Would he speed up. Or tear pages out of the VG: He would speed up somehow, no he wouldn't take pages out of the script. That was a thing in those days. There were four of us under contract as writers at Gainsborough. Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat, myself and Marriott Edgar, and we wrote everything which came out of those studios, between us one way or another. RF: How about Orton. VG: I don't know, I think he did come in as a contract but he was, they brought him in once the script had been done, they'd say give it to Joe, see if he's got any ideas. But he was never really in our writing team. That wasn't at Poole St Islington. Joe wasn't there, he didn't come till the Bush. Leslie Arliss was there, but he was doing his own thing, odd bits an.d pieces. RF: Was he classed as a comedy writer. VG: No, he was a writer. Then he went to Hollywood, and he didn't have much luck there, and he came back to try and get into Gainsborough, and they didn't take him. RF: This was in the 3Os still. VG: Yes RF: What were Varnel's strengths. What made his films so effective. VG: Pace to start with, in those days when everything was desperately slow most of the time, Marcel had got an enormous pace. He also knew how far a scene could go in length. And many times he said about a scene which George Edgar and myself had written, he would say it's too long, you're losing you're momentum, telescope it more. But once those scripts were written, he never changed. RF: Was he a gagster. VG: No, he had a great sense of fun and comedy but he wasn't, no he didn't think but any gags and things like that. RF: Was he an amusing man. VG: Yes, he was very good company. He was a thorough professional man and I think they've forgotten him too easily. When he left Gainsborough and he joined, I think it was Columbia with Formby, Marcel said to me I know you're under contract to Gainsborough but let's use another name and write the Formbys for me. And I must say I did, to be honest. I used to do them at weekends and things, I was living down at Sunningdale at the time, I did two or three of them, I didn't do them all. RF: What was your pseudenym. VG: A different one every time, I honestly can't remember. A normal name. We thought together. We had survived all the Crazy Gang pictures and survived all that chaotic time. RF: When he presented you this challenge how did you set about it, what was the first film. VG: The first film that I did was called All In, it was for Gainsborough, he'd come over. RF: Did they contract you or were you freelance. VG: I was freelance, and then I was put under contract with Marcel. And All In the big star was Ralph Lynn, and we had a very cheeky page boy who used to come in with our bacon sandwiches in the morning, a cheeky little bastard, and when we were doing all in, the little bastard was given a part, Graham Moffatt, and from then on we wrote him into all the scripts. But All In was Gina Malo. RF: Was it your original story. VG: No, I can't remember what it came from. RF: I wondered if they said we've got Ralph Lynn, write a book. VG: No. I can't remember what the original came from at all. I did the screenplay, but I can't remember whether it came from a play or a book or story or something Launder and Gilliat had scribbled out as a story line. I can't remember that at all. RF: It sounds like a duck to water, you took to it instantly,writnig scripts. VG: I think so yes, mind you I had the ground work with Nipper Lane, but somehow when you don't have your name on it you don't have the confidence that what is up there you did. Once you've had your name on it you're an entity, before that I was a ghost. RF: Your awareness of technique, had that been from being a movie goer. VG: Yes, I was an ardent movie goer, and also from reading scripts. I had seen scripts that other people had, and I'd looked at them, and I'd looked at published versions of some of the big films, I used to get those too. RF: Then how did it develop. VG: During those days Edward Black who was our producer and one of the brilliant men in our industry, and there's a man who has just disappeared, 11 e VAL GUEST Tape) of 8 he died after he left Gainsborough, but he was responsible for the big success of Gainsborough in those days, 100% responsible, there was a man who could handle every single kind of picture as far as being a producer was concerned, he could think in terms of Crazy gang or Will Hay, he could think in terms of Tudor Rose or the Carol Reed thing, Hitchcock, and Ted sent me, or George Black his brother, who had the Palladium, asked Ted if he could borrow me, let me go and do some writing for George Black, in between my films, which I did and wrote an awful lot of those Palladium shows for George and the Hippodrome. The shows were reviews, I did one book show, George Black said I want you to come and have lunch with a fel}ow who's quite a good writer in his style and he took me to lunch with James Hadley Chase e VAL GUEST Tape 1 of 8 SIDE 2, TAPE 1 VG: It was a gangster thing set in Chicago and for the first time George Black turned his theatre, tables and chairs thing that it ended up with in Talk of the Town but in those days he made it a big night club for the whole thing, the play, it was written in a Chicago nightclub and one of the acts in there was little Julie Andrews twisting her handkerchief and singing with dad at the piano. RF: When would that be, 40s. VG: Something like that. RF: Did you find much of a difference working for the stage. VG: Not really. And I then dramatised No orchids with James and George put it on at the Prince of Wales theatre. RF: Yes it was a great succes de scadal as it was. VG: But the Palladium shows. I did a whole gang of those. Bebe Daniels and Ben and Vic Oliver. RF: Is that where you first be_gan to write for them or that you written to them in films. VG: The films came after that because Marcel did the film of Hi Gang and I did the script. But the Palladium with the Crazy Gang and George Black saying one day I'm going to bring in a fellow called Tommy Trinder he's very good. He's been around the country, and I'm going to put him in a show at the Palladium, write his material for him. So I had to write Tommy's launching material. And then there was Happy and Glorious, a lot of Palladium shows. At the same time I was doing musicals for a nether man called Furst Shepherd, I was doing the score with Manning Sherwin, we used to right all the musical scores together, he wrote A Nightingale Sang and a lot of musical reviews. When I finally started directing musicals, he did the score. But the Palladium days were great fund, Bob Nesbitt used to direct then, and George used to say take all the boys upstairs, Bob is not very good at comedy, take the comedy over and do it upstairs in the bar and let him get on with the show, and that's how we used to do it. RF: How did they work the shows up, they didn't tour them, they didn't open out of town. VG: No they didn't, the only show I ever did which opened out of town was for Jack Hilton, a thing called, I can't even remember what it was called. RF: Was there a lot of rewriting. VG: Not there wasn't. It was all pretty streamlined, odd gags of course crept in, you tried them out each night, they either stayed or dido't stay. The only problem then was the censor, we had the Lord Chamberlain then, all sorts of things you got up to to get by the Lord Chamberlain. I can remember one thing whcih we did with Bebe and Ben. I wrote a script and it was called Nurse Killbear. And we had a woman's dummy on the stage which lit up as she was giving her lecture and. the breasts used to light up and this that and the other. And we got into terrible trouble about e VAL GUEST Tape 1 of 8 this, because he read the script, the Lord Chamberlain, and it said the left breast rights up, and he said absolutely out, no way, so we sent the thing in again and we said we'd rewritten it and called it Ducts of Isabella, the left ducts of Isabella lights up and they passed it. RF: Did no one come from his department to sea the show. VG: Yes they did, very often, but once they'd seen something in which people were laughing at warmly, then you got away with it. You got an odd letter now and again saying that you must delete so and so - things which had crept in. RF: How was the script written, did you sit in a room with collaborators. VG: No I did it myself. If I worked with a collaborator yes, if I worked with George Edgar or Will Hays we used to sit in a room, or the Crazy Gang, we'd just sit in our office. RF: Were some people good at one thing such as construction, and others good at sight gags, other good at dialogue, or was it very much a community effort. VG: It was very much a team e_f fort. Once we had done our script, say a Will Hays or Crazy Gang, George Edgar and I would go down and read it to Ted Black adn Frank who was the script editor there at -Gainsborough. We'd read it and have a lot of laughs going through, there would be odd things suggested, and odd things which didn't come off and then we'd go back and do the rewrites. RF: So the rewrites were done at script stage and not shooting. VG: Never in shooting. There were no changes whatsoever unless a location demanded a change because of this that and the other. Usually I was on location with them. otherwise it was absolutely written. The same, people might find it very difficult, but the Crazy Gang they were all written, right from the start. Those things, the very first time they were going to do a Crazy gang show was one they had a t the Palladium called bK for Sound and Ted Black said let's do a film of it. So we did a script from OK for Sound and it was shot just like that. Now the 2nd Crazy Gang film, I don't know if it was Alf's Button Afloat or Frozen Limits, whatever it was, George said we ought to get the gang in, lets get the gang in, have a day with them and kick it around. It was a complete and utter waste of time. Because they they could do was what we did up in Wigan when we opened the case and the geese and this the whole day. After that we.didn't bother with the gang at all. RF: Were they disciplined performers on the set. VG: Absolutely. A bit of business would creep in which was very good, but absolutely 100% discipline. RF: I would be curious to find out what you thing what the secret of their success was, because much of their seems very basic. VG: They were warm hearted clowns, there was a thing in America called Hellsapopin wliich was a very big thing which really this stemmed from. But they were all very warm comis and they had an enormous cohesion together and they bounced off each other, it was quite fantastic. e VAL GUEST Tape 1 of 8 RF: Were they perceived as skating close to the wind. VG: Yes. RF: There was a certain amount of double entendre, less so than Max · Miller. VG: Yes, this was very gentle, for the family, it was very difficult writing for them because you had 6 of them, because you had Ches then too. And yo.u'd be writing the script and you'd say suddenly Christ, we haven't had Charlie Naughton on for 3 pages, so we used to keep a chart and when each one had a line we used to tick them off so we could see that they were reasonably, we knew Ches was alaright, he was the straight man he could have less. But we kept them level. RF: Was it verbal humour or sight humour. VG: Verbal more than sight. Sight obviously came into it because of the movies, but it was mostly verbal, and character, Tedd Knox was an incredible man for getting characters. He could be a char lady, a very elegant man about town, a lisping cockney. Whereas Jimmy Nervo was the acrobat, he could do more falls than anyone. RF: These were what Vaudeville stereotypes . VG: Yes. There were 3 separate acts which the brilliance of George Black said let I s put them together. Because they were all top acts on their own. And he got these 3 top acts and flung a crazy show around them. RF: They were London acts. VG: No they weren't actually. They had been touring, they had done London as well, but they had been a touring countrywide act. Nervo and Knox, Flanagan and Allen, Naughton and Gold. RF: As individual acts did they top the bill. VG: Yes. RF: But they became very very big when they became the crazy Gang. VG: That's right. RF: You say that was George Black VG: Yes, brilliant, brilliant man. So the writing of these scripts were done, George and I would bash them out. George had a wonderful music hall background, because he wrote all the Stanley Holloway pick up the muskett stuff. RF: The two brothers were born into the business. VG: I didn't mean George Black, I meant George Edgar, Marriott Edgar. He had been in pantomine, he had been in concert party, he'd been in everything, he'd written all these monologues for Stanley Holloway. So he had an enormous grounding in comedy, that sort of approach. RF: Again was it remembered material. VG: No, a lot of iot stemmed from remembered material. George would say to me, there used to be a routine where so and so did so and so. We'd say we can't do that but what about if we did this this and this. It sparked from that. So the old ones sparked, an awful lot of new stuff as well. RF: But he was an original creative writer. VG: Yes. And then we would come to a sequence, and he'd say I think I know how to go with this and I'd leave him. And I'd go on with the next sequence and then we'd gell them together. RF: Did you originally construct an outline script. Or did it just develop. VG: It just developed. RF: But you were working from sort of story line. VG: Mostly we would have a story line which we had jotted down on 2 or 3 pages. Just one line story things. Or we'd go down and sell the idea to Ted Black or Frank, or Frank and Sidney had got an idea for a story and then we'd all go down and kick it around and go on. Many times we would go up and write without having a full story line. RF: How did these films interlock with these performers' other professional life. Now the Crazy Gang were at the Palladium very regularly and Will Hay toured a great deal. VG: No, not once he did films. RF: He gave up music hall totally, I hadn't realised that. So films was his only endeavour, so there was no problems about deadlines. VG: None at all. RF: How about the Crazy Gang. VG: They did shows, they didn't tour, or if they did tour it was something like the Palace Manchester, 2 big dates and then the end. RF: What I'm fumbling towards is how the studio constructed a schedule for the year. They knew availabities did they. VG: Yes. RF: And how much time did you have to prepare a script and how long did it take you to write one. VG: I would say it took us probably 4 or 5 weeks, and then with the poslishing another couple of weeks. But certainly not more. RF: Were you suddenly commissioned to do it or were you aware at a certain date. VG: No, we'd generally be told, or what would happen. We knew we would have to do another Will Hay, and someone would think up a story line and that would be flung at us after we finished the Crazy Gang or after we finished what ever we'd been doing. RF: So it was the writers responsibility to come up with ideas. VG: Yes. But the producer, TEd Black could easily say what about a prison. And we got out of that Convict 99. RF: They were all original scripts. VG: Yes. Every single one of the Will Hay were original stories, they weren't from books or anything. They were created in the studio. The Crazy Gang every one was an original except Alf's Button Afloat which vaguely took the premise of the famous book. RF: Did you write to a budget. VG: Yes, we knew what all our films roughly had to cost. So you couldn't go too mad. If we did go too mad, when we went and did our thing with Ted Black he would say out. RF: Did you find it limiting or did you find it useful to have that kind of restrain.t VG: I think it was very good ground work for not being self indulgent. RF: So that was useful when you subsequently became a producer. VG: Yes. I didn't find it limiting at all. In those days none of us ever thought there was any likelihood of anything being filmed abroad. So you were tied to what you would film here or what you could build here. Whereas in later years you could write in all sorts of wonderful locations, and then you'd find you had to do it in Torquay rather than the south of France. RF: There was quite a lot of location work on these Will Hay films. VG: All in and around. Basingstoke was Oh Mr Porter. On that there was a lot of location. RF: Where was it done, a derelict branch line. VG: Yes it was a branch line, it was rather dicey because they were pulling it up as we moved, they were pulling it up behind us, so we were moving along it every day. RF: The station was on the line. VG: Yes. It was prettied up and we built the -si gnal box. RF: Let's talk about Will Hay. VG: He was a brilliant man, he was an astronomer. He discovered his own star and had books written about him and he wrote a book on astronomy. And he had his own telescope which he built himself, to a millionth of an inch, he would make his own machinery and the cogs. The had it at the bottom of his garden which is now the North Circular road. He was a brilliant man. Very serious, a great sense of humour but a very serious man. RF: A moody man. VG: No, easy to work with, superb timing. very easy, a complete pro with the most RF: You were writing for him, did he also contribute to the script. VG: No. Not in the slightest. RF: But he knew what was good for him presumably. VG: Yes. We knew him. and he knew what was good. He'd say I'd like to do this instead of that or do it this way or that way. He started, the very picture he did at Gainsborough was directed by William Beaudine, an American director, and he, Will Hay and Bill Beaudine tried to do a thing together and it didn't work out at all. And Bill didn't want any part of it. He said you do it, he said the boys know how to do it. RF: They tried to write a script, Bill Beaudine and Will Hay. They brought Bill Beaudine over. Ted Black said put them together. Will and Bill Beaudine and the scriptwriter who ever it was, probably Frank, and it was a complete waste of time. The didn't gell. Bill Hay was not, as long as he felt confident he would say go ahead. He was not a creative man as far as that was concerned. He knew his act. He could create his act, but he couldn't create a film as such. RF: Were there connections between the act and the character you created for him. VG: Yes indeed. The first one was a Beachcomber character from the Daily Express. They did a thing called Narkover, and they did that in Boys will be Boys, in which he played the schoolmaster with all his horrible children. That came from his stage act. After that the schoolmaster stuck for Good Morning Boys which I did. After that he said we've got to shake him, we've got to get rid of it. RF: What else do you remember about him VG: Charming man, a great sense of humour. Notoriously mean. RF: How did that manifest itself, never buying a drink. VG: Nothing like that, at Christmas nothing for the unit which worked for him, not even Christmas cards. RF: Was he greedy, did he expect a great deal himself. VG: No, he just didn't think, he just kept all his pennies. One day, he got a Norwegian girlfriend called Randy, and she got to know he never gave anything, and she said what are we going to give the boys for Chrismas, the unit, buy them a drink, give them a party, he'd never thought of it. And she instilled in him he had to give presents. After all he'd been created there, all this was being done, the least he could do was give a party. Anyway she instilled this in him. So that Christmas we were astounded we all got presents, all astounded. And Bill Kellina who was the studio manager got a big chunky solid silver thing for his desk which was an inkwell, a cigar cigarette lighter and an cigarette box, all in one thing. And this was. great except that he didn't smoke. At lunch,· we all used to lunch together, Bill said I don't know what to do about this, it's great but, so we all went and had a look at this and underneath it was Maping and Ware. I said simple, go to Maping and.. Ware, say Bill Hay gave me this, I don't smoke, can I change it for something else. What a good idea. So Bill Kellina went down tQ Maping and Ware in REgent St. And said his little piece and the assistant looked at it and said I 1 11 have a word with the manager. The manager comes out holding this thing and says we're terribly sorry we can't do much about this thing because it was bought 25 years ago. Bill came back to the studio. This was the most wonderful story of Bill's meanness, he'd gone into all his old things and he'd found this thing. But we all got silver pencil. I changed mine for a cigarette case because I smoked in those days. But we all did get presents which was thanks to his Norwegian girlfriend. RF: How long had you worked for him before this. VG: I would say this must have been our 4th or 5th picture. RF: He does seem on screen to be a partly enigmatic, partly remote character. VG: He was, but we used to have him to a lot of our parties and he would thoroughly enjoy himself, he I d be very quiet. He would laugh, he would chat, but he wasn't outgoing, he wasn't an outgoing person. RF: Was he at all diffident in terms of performing. can't do that. Would he say I VG: No. Not really. I'm sure he would say that if something came up which wasn't him or couldn't be done, or he didn't feel he could do, I'm sure he would have said it, but I can't remember him every refusing. But then as happens, when we had Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt and Will Hay as our trio who we wrote for, came the day when Will Hay said I don't want to be a trio any more. And so the other two went and we had to do one with Bill without them. Hey Hey USA. Edgar Kennedy came over to star with him and it was the least successful picture. RF: During this time you're based at Poole St Yes. RF: Did you have any dealings with the Bush. VG: No. At Poole St we were always very proud of the fact that we were keeping the Bush going, because the Bush was not making any money. And we were making packets. Then came the day when Bush moved and Gainsborough went over to the Bush, the that was after Bill Hay. RF: So Michael Balcon had nothing to do with_this. VG: No. We were saving Micky's skin. RF: About Ted Black. VG: A brilliant man. Fun, an enormous sense of humour, great to work with, you always knew were you were with Ted, and he could handle any kind of subject and knew what he was talking about. And it was a very sad day when he left Gainsborough. And went to MGM. I think he regretted it afterwards because at MGM he did nothing. They gave him nothing to do. RF: It was their way, they did the same thing with Balcon did they not. I think a lot of international film politics were involved at that stage, it had to do with the quota act. RF: What was Ted Black's strength as a producer. VG: His strength was, he knew his business, he knew what he wanted, he knew what he thought was right for people, for audience, he knew the budget and the shooting time, he knew all the ends of that business. RF: It as he at some time who had picked on the Crazy Gang and Willy Hay. VG: No, that was George, his brother. RF: For films. VG: It was his brother who said, I think, why don't you do one with the boys. Because they were very close Ted and G eorge. Because Ted sent me to George. And George would say why don't you do. And I think it was George who suggested to Ted why don't you use the boys because they were enormous draw in London, big big stars, they were one of the biggest pulling box office people then. That I think was when Ted said to George Edgar and myself go and see the Crazy Gang show. That was the first thing they ever did in films. RF: We were talking about how the films got made. The script is commissioned and then written, you're writing to a budget, how long a schedule. VG: About 5 or 6 weeks. RF: Was that average for a British feature of the time, these weren't B features were they. VG: 5 OR 6 weeks. Unless, I did a thing which was called Old Bob, about a sheep dog, Will Fyfe and directed by Bob Stevenson. That because the shooting.and the dogs and the trials was longer. RF: Do you remember what the budgets were in the late 30s. VG: Will Hays were around £90,000-£95,000. RF: As much as that. VG: I don't know what the first ones were. I know when we started on Oh Mr Porter there was a· lot of location and props and things, it was a round about that. VG: And would that have been gotten back in this country. VG: Yes it would. RF: Did they get much of an overseas release. VG: They got quite a good overseas release, not in America no, but Australia was always good, and strangely enough so was Japan and Germany. RF: How about Russia. The reason I ask is because I remember hearing once that George Formby was the best known English performer in Russia. VG: I don't know. But I'11 tell you one thing which was ·awfully good in those days, we could all learn our jobs without any barriers. I don't mean this anti union. But I'm just pointing what I did, for instance, I was able to go and work in the cutting room, being a writer, being gag man on the set. I could watch I could learn, I could do odd bits and pieces, I could do all sorts of prop jobs while we were shooting, it was a family, a sort of a family. The same sort of family in much later years was at Bray, Hammer. So we all learned our ground work. You could work on cameras too. Then you· knew in later life why a camera man can't do this or would like it this, why the editor would want it this, it was an enormous groundwork. RF: Was there much communication between the cutting room and the floor on the Will Hays. VG: Very occasionally someone would come down having seen the rushes. Come down and say we could do with an insert on this particular thing, because you don't see it clear enough. RF: With Alfie. VG: No Alfie would be kept up there, it would be Bob Dearing, Bob Dearing flung his weight around .with Ted Black. Being indispensable. RF: Did the unit go from one film to another. VG: On the Will Hays yes. We had a band of merry battlers. Jack Cox and Arthur Crabtree and when I started directing there I upgraded Phil Grindrod who was our operator and he became a lighting cameraman and he did several for me. They all knew their job. Basil Emmott was another one. He was a terror. He'd been so used to photographing wild animals from an aeroplane with Alan Cobham, on his first flight to Africa, he used to put on every light there was, they used to talk about the Emmott forests. It's difficult to get on the set because there were so many lights, they threw shadows everywhere, he was not a good cameraman. He was there for I don't know how many years. RF: Can we touch on some of the other writers. VG: Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder who later became a team. And they were there, Frank I'd known since BIP days, very clever guy. Also very professional, no bloody nonsense about him. Just professional writers. RF: There was so much talent, it seems to me looking back, and yet it wasn't always made use of in an effective fashion. Ted Black seems to be a very effective producer, but is it a fair comment that one of the great problems of the British film industry then was the lack of producing talent. VG: I wouldn't have known any producers then other than Micky Balcon by name. I didn't know him at all. RF: I think that he was a very gifted producer, and Ted Black also. VG: I would have said of all the producers I worked for Ted Black was streets ahead of anybody. There could be no worries with Ted, you knew if you had any worry of any kind, location or whatever, you could give it to him and he would solve it. So you had an enormous confidence going into movies that you had this backing. RF: Who did he answer to, the 0strers. VG: Mark 0strer, not Mark, Maurice was the head. We used to play poker that's all, he didn't know anything about films. RF: Isidore was the brains I believe. VG: I never knew him. Maurice, Bill 0strer we got very friendly with, a nice guy, we used to play poker in the dressing rooms during the airraid, he and Bert Ambrose the bandleader were great chums and they were always around playing poker, they use to lose fortunes. RF: What was considered a fortune then. VG: They'd be £500 on a card. Bert Ambrose, he died broke, he gambled it all away, but Bill 0strer was a charming guy, good company and good fun and knew nothing about films except whether they made money. RF: Did he interfere. VG: Never. He left it to TEd Black. And Bill never interfered. I don't know what Ted Black went -through,maybe he had some interference, but I never knew of Maurice 0strer making any RF: What did they pay you as a contract writer. VG: I think it was something like £25 a week. RF: Was that good or bad. VG: Medium. I'm talking about the old Gainsborough days, pre war. RF: Was that a general wage for contract writers. VG: I wish I could tell you I knew. - I was never curious what Sidney got. I got that every week. RF: Did you do freelance in addition. I was never curious what Frank got I really never knew. I only knew VG: Yes, because I was allowed to go and do the Palladium shows. RF: How about other things, were you still doing journalism. VG: No. RF: Were you writing books of any kind. VG: No. RF: Were there any anecdotes worth recording. VG: There were so many with the Crazy Gang and Hitch too, he was a terrible practical joker. RF: Did you work on any of his scripts. VG: No, but I was there all the way through the Lady Vanishes, because Hitch's office was next door to Marriott Edgar's and mine. And his secretary who later became a producer in her own right, Joan Harrison, we used to have a lot of laughs, and Hitch was making The Lady Vanishes. And I used to spend alot of time on the set. Joan came in one day and said can you let Hitch have a fiver, but he will give it back won't he, I'll see he won't forget, this is on a Wednesday, and a fiver was a lot of money, £25 a week, there's trouble, he can't get to the bank. Come the end of the week there's no fiver back so I call Joanie and say he hasn't forgotten, he said no he hasn't, he's stepped down to the bank now. So before we leave that night there's a tap on the door, and there's the page boy with a sack of money, it's £5 worth of farthings, and he said Mr Hitchcock asked me to give this to you, and this was his idea of a joke. It was a heavy thing, I now have to go to a bank, I'11 tell you what I did on that. Everybody in the studio, you know how you always have a lot of keys and things in drawers, you've got them and they don't fit. I got all the keys I could get from everyone in the studio, and I had a lot at home and spent the whole week writing little labels out and tying them to these keys saying, Hitchcock, 143 Brampton Rd, finder will be rewarded. I spent a further week dropping them in undergrounds, buses, parks, everywhere we went we dropped keys, and George Marriott Edgar would drop some, and we waited for a reaction. And it was about 3 weeks later that Hitch came into my office and said how many fuckin keys did you drop. And he'd been paying out 5 bobs to people bringing keys, eventually he realised they weren't his keys, and he never played another gag on me. RF: The stories which are told to me about his sense of humour indicate to me on the one hand they're so puerile, childish, on the other there was always an element of cruelty. VG: Very much so. RF: Did that manifest itself in friendships. VG: I wasn't that much of a friend, Frank Launder was far much more of a friend, he did the script for the Lady Vanishes, but it never manifested itself to me. He had always been perfectly regular. He always had this sadistic sense of humour, RF: Some quite horrendous, because two people have told us he would persuade his prop man to be handcufffed and then take a laxative and was handcuffed over night. VG: He would go to great lengths. There was a script writer called Angus McPhail, and Angus lived somewhere down Croydon way and was coming up to a script meeting with Hitch who lived in Brompton Rd, and Hitch said to him it's easy to get to me, right outside Croydon Airport there's a bus stop there, you get a bus there and whatever it· is, no 14, it brings you right to my door. And so that was that. Angus arrived at the time he was supposed to catch the bus and along comes a 14 bus and he says Brompton Rd., Harrods, and he's got all his scripts and he's busy with his scripts and he never looks at anything until finally they have arrived at Harrods, and the conductor said Mr Hitchcock's residence, and Angus who was always in the clouds said thank you very much, got off the bus, it never registered at all, he went and rang Hitch's bell, and Hitch is dying for him to say something and he doesn't say anything at all, he just goes on I've done the things.w·e. And Hitch says did you get the bus alright. He says yes, it was fine, now what I've done here. And Hitch e VAL GUEST Tape 1 of 8 \ never mentioned it but he told us all afterwards, he never fucking hell realised it, I spent all that money. That wasn't sadistic, it was a fun thing, but he would go to those lengths. He was a child too but a sadistic child. RF: A very insecure man it would seem. S I DE 3, TAPE 2 RF: Do you have anything more to say about Hitch, because he is now regarded as the greatest of the English directors. VG: He was a very good director. Hitch hated making films. Hitch's joy was preparnig them. And getting them written, and drawing his thumb nail sketches at the side of his scenes, at the side of his pages, and once he'd done all that he'd say shit I've got to make it. RF: Probably accounts for some of the pranks, they were just a way of passing the time. VG: He did not like making movies, he'd already written all his shots, drawn all his shots, and then to have to do it. He was a great character. RF: People intervened too. Were they happy pictures that you know of, observing them being made. VG: I think so. He was terribly rude to actors. But it was like daddy being rude. rf: How about the technicians, was he equally rude to them. VG: No, I don't think there were any problems. I think they just accepted him for what he was, what he asked for, what he did. I don't think there were any bad feelings or anything. RF: Are we now at a stage where Islington being abandoned, and how it fits in with your transition from being a writer to a director. VG: That was at the Bush. In 1938 everything moved over the the Bush as far as I was concerned, Hey Hey USA in 1938, Old Bones of the River 39, all those were Gainsborough Islington. Bandwagon and Gas Bags, Bandwagon was 1938 and that was at the Bush. At that time I was in the fire brigage. RF: The studio firebrigade. VG: No the real one for the war, we had signed that if war broke out we were in the NFS, the National Fire SErvice, so I had to spend some time learning my trade there and I was still at the studio, I was still under contract. And then came Bandwagon and 39 war broke out, I didn't do a lot except do the Fire Brigade stuff. And 1940 we were back in the studio for Charley's Big Hearted Aunt and the Gas Bags Crazy Gang and Inspector Hornleigh which was 41. My, I really moved to the Bush in 38 I think. RF: Do you know what the reason for that was. VG: Gaumont, or the Bush, had not been making money, Gainsborough was the one which was. Mick Baleen left and that left a big enormous"" place almost empty for production and that's why I think they moved Gainsborough over. RF: Did Poole st go dark. VG: I don't remember. We all tried to settle in. It was no where near the family atmosphere and it got a lot of getting that family atmosphere back which eventually Ted Black did. RF: Were these the days of the Polish corridor VG: Yes. And the Polish Corridor which had Ted Black's office and Maurice Ostrers, and a character called Godfrey Lewis, that's where all the poker took place, especially during the fire watching nights. During the actual war, the Blitz. A lot of poker went on. RF: Did you also have studio duties as a fireman. VG: Yes. And a lot of times, I was then living in Sunningdale, and a lot of times we stayed at the studio overnight while we were shooting. And the actors stayed. Cyril Cusack and myself shared a room and did firewatching on the roof in between times. RF: Before we move into the 40s do you have any final memories of the Will Hay films. VG: I remember one line which was one of the biggest laughs in Oh Mr Porter, but when we were writing it was when the runaway train was going on one line, Harbottle, Moore Marriott said don't look now but there's a train coming, that's one of the biggest laughs in it because there's on this single line. And when we were reading the script through to Ted Black he said oh you can get a better line than that. I said Ted I'm sure it's a big laugh, any way think about it. We went away and we didn't think about it, we let it go. The final script was going through for printing and Ted called up on the phone and said you've still left that line in. So I said yes, why do you want to take it out. You really mean it's a big laugh. I said I'm sure it's a big laugh. He said I'll bet you 10 sh it isn't, I said alright fine. It went through, and the press show, the trade show was at what was then in the Strand a place called the Tivoli, and we all went and we're in the front row of the circle and Ted's sitting next to me and up comes the line and it gets a belly laugh. Ted reaches into his pocket and hands me 10 sh there in the darkness of the cinema. That was Ted, he'd come prepared with the 10 sh ready. He didn't have to find it, it was in his jacket pocket just in case. RF: Am I right in thinking there's a spectaculra train wreck in Oh Mr Porter. VG: It runs into the buffers in the station. RF: There is a parody in that series, Old Bones of the River, whose idea was it to make a parody. VG: I think it came from Ted Black, I don't know it may have come from Frank. But we always assumed it came from Ted. The Edgar Wallace book. RF: And the Korda film. I wondered if that was an inside joke, an industry joke. VG: I don't think it was meant as that at all they just thought it would be a bloody funny vehicle for Will Hay. And we certainly weren't shown the film, it wasn't a question of let's take the film and send it up, we just worked from the book. That is if my remember serves me correctly, that is the only thing for Will Hay which ever came from a book. And we worked from scratch on that, the routines. RF: Are there non Will Hay and non Crazy Gang films that you chose to remember from that particular period when you're still writing. VG: I have to correct myself, Gainsborough was still going in 1942, RF: Islington. VG: Because I did a picture there called Back Room Boy there for Arthur Askey. So I'm not sure when they closed. 1943 I did my first full directing job Miss London and that was at Gainsborough. RF: I think the studio maybe closed temporarily during the war. VG: Bandwagon was certainly done at the Bush and Charley's Big Hearted Aunt, but I was still working at Gainsborough, in 1943 anyway. RF: Arthur Askey is part of your life since 1938. VG: I'm afraid so. RF: Why do you say afraid so. VG: I was never a fan of Arthur Askey. I never thought he was very funny, it was a cross that I bore. We tried to make him funny, some people thought he was funny, I wrote films for him, sophistocate him a little, you take the rough with the smooth. I was never an Askey fan, he was a pleasant enough little man. I did my best but I wasn't a fan. RF: But the great British public took him to their heart. VG: They did indeed, Miss London Ltd was a big success. singing and dancing and everything in that. RF: Bandwagon was based on the radio show. I had him VG: I had very little to do with that, I drafted a script and polished a final script but I was really doing my fire training then,that was made at the Bush definitely, Pat Kirkwood and Vic Oliver, Jack Hylton, Dickie Murdoch. I have practically all the films I ever made down stairs in my garage, the only ones I haven't are the Arthur Askeys. ACTT, Wardour St, 23rd August. VG: The Wagon, I with the again, I memories, next Arthur Askey was Charley's Big Hearted Aunt, after Band remember very little about that, I was spending a lot of time firebrigade. I wrote it, I think with George Marriott Edgar have very little memories of that at all, I have very little it was just a credit that passed in the night. RF: I remember seeing it as a boy and enjoying it. VG: It's a very difficult story to go wrong with. I remember doing the Ghost Train with him. Early 40s, which Walter Forde directed, that again I remember but was busy with my hoses. RF: Who's idea would it have been to do these rewrites for Askey, VG: Ted Black. RF: Was it the feeling he needed strong theatrical material. VG: Yes. They felt they had two, with Charley's Aunt and the Ghost Train, they had 2 enormous pulling vehicles, whoever they put in them. I think they thought they would try tried and proved stories, it was a terrific plus when they were trying to push Askey into screen stardom. rf: That indicates they didn't have much confidence with him as a performer. VG: They did alright his pictures, but he didn't turn out what they hoped he was going to turn out to be, and that was another big comedy star on their books like the Crazy Gang and Will Hay. RF: You subsequently directed him and he had an enormously long career,he was working until he died. VG: Not in films he wasn't, he had a reasonably short career in films, I think they eventually just didn't take up his contract. RF: But he had an attraction with the public, I wonder if you could account for what his appeal was. VG: His appeal was being the funny little man. He had enormous projection of warmth and fun and humour and bubble which was not him. It showed at least he was good in his acting at that, but I think that was what they went for. RF: What was the real man. VG: Very very mean. That was why he was nick named big hearted. He was Val Guest 2 of 8 always very effusive and pleasant. I can't say he wasn't pleasi'lnt. I think he had an enormous opinion of himself which sometimes you had to fight in a nice way. But very professional, I never had any problems with him at all. RF: To what extent was his partner essential to what he did. VG: Dickie, we had him in Ghost Train and Band Wagon. Originally Dickie was an enormous help, in the same way that Dickie Murdoch was essential to Arthur's whole being in the· way that Jerry Desmond was essential to Sid Field, which was another person I wrote for, London Town, it was essential, he was the side kick, the stooge, like Martin and Lewis. Very essential. Up as Arthur moved on, Dickie moved out. RF: Was Where's that Fire the last Will Hay film. VG: No the last one was Hey Hey USA, that was the last one he did for gainsborough. Then he moved on to Ealing, I don't think the contract was picked up, that was when he had said I don't want to be a trio, I want to be me. So we had to lose Hardbottle, Moore Marriott, and lose Graham Moffatt and bring in Edgar Kennedy from the States. RF: That must have been a very dangerous move audiencewise. VG: It was, because hey Hey USA was not a success. And they said either we go back to a 3some where we know we're alright, or we don't do any more. And Will Hay said I'm going to move on. RF: Hey Hey is listed as being 20th Century Fox. VG: That was the time all our contracts were signed over to 20th Century. And I think at that time they were doing Gracie Fields Sally, and Monte Banks directing and that was for 20th Century Fox, we writers were all pulled in to see if we could goose up the script. And we went to their offices at Soho Sq and sat for days in there, kicking the script around, and I think Where's that Fire, Ask a Policeman we did with MGM. RF: Now I've got a gap between 1939 and those based on your directing career in 1942. VG: I could tell you if I had my list but I cant tell you off hand. RF: Can you tell us about your transition into directing. VG: That was in the ear1 y war period, when I was also doing my fire brigade stints, The Ministry of Information approached me through the studio to write a script, a little 10 minute short about colds spreading deseases, sneezes and diseases. RF: Is that your line. sneezes spreads diseases. I remember again from the time coughs and VG: That's right. And they asked me if I would write a little 10 minute thing about this in a humorous way for Arthur Askey to do. I found out that 8 other writers had been asked before me so I pul: on a great Academy Award act that I was furious, insulted that they'd come to me no 8 on the list, and said I will only do this if you accept it that I direct it. They agreed. And I wrote The Nose Has It for Askey and they accepted it and I directed it. I was very lucky it went into the Leicester Sq Theatre with a Victor Mature, Rita Hayworth film called My Gal Sal, and the critic gave hell to My Gal Sal, and to be smart and snide about the picture they said the best thing on the programme was a Ministry of Information short called the Nose Has It, which was shear luck. So I went into Maurice Ostrer and said look, how about me writing and directing now, and so I got my contract. RF: Did you have a desire to direct before this. VG: Yes, because going through with Marcel who always used to let me direct second unit stuff and odd little pick ups, and I'd learnt so much watching him all those years, I was dying RF: HOw long had you been nurturing this wish. VG: I think from after my first film with Marcel, when I was on the Floor With Him, which was Monkey Business. From Monkey Business and Public Nuisance I thought I'm sure I can do this. RF: Had you been making efforts. VG: No, and this was the only way I made blackmailing the Ministry of Information. wanted to but I always concentrated on the one day it will happen. this transition, by virtually I had never tried, I always writing. And I thought maybe RF: I was wondering how receptive Ted Black would have been. VG: I don't think Ted Black would have been very receptive to that because he would have thought he was losing a writer. Because Frank and Sidney were in the same position, and it was only after I did my Miss London that they talked him into letting them do, I think it was 2,00 Women, I think that was their first one as directors. I never beat the desk or anything but I don't think he would have taken too kindly to that. RF: Why was that. Was there a tendency to compartmentailse. VG: I think if you had shown no, I'm going to put so muh Gainsborough money up for someone who has no directing experience at all, very dicey. The other person in those Gainsborough days was Leslie Arliss who was a part time writer, he came in with things and then went out after them. He came with the Man in Grey book, and he somehow managed to get them say OK make it, he'd done the screeplay, alright direct it, but they were very careful to give him Arthur Crabtree who was one of the most senior photographers there to watch over him, and they called Arthur down and said to Arthur, you look after him and make sure it goes alright and we'll give you a picture to direct. Because Arthur had always wanted to direct, that's how Leslie went in, with Arthur Crabtree helping him like hell. And I remember later they did the same thing with Jack Cox who was also a senior camera man there, they said if you go and help, and I think that was on Leslie's second picture, we'll give you a picture, Jack didn't want to know about a picture, Christ I don't want to direct, I'm a cameraman, so Leslie rather fell down because he wasn't terribly popular with Cox and Cox just gave the minimum thing. That's the way other people got into directing through Ted, really being an insurance for something not going wrong. RF: You had been writing specifically for comedy star talent,would they have been receptive to a new director or would they have said my god no, such as Will Hay. VG: I think he would have said yes. And the Crazy Gang, we were all buddies, in fact Bud was my son's godfather. And Fracis Day his godmother. I don't know what would have happened if they said that to James Mason. What they did say to James Mason, when he was in The Wicked Lady, James Mason was told don't worry you've got Arthur looking after you and he'd done a lot of pictures with Arthur Crabtree, but whether Jimmy Mason would have said yes to me right away I don't know. RF: Were cameramen specifically cast or was it a matter of availability. VG: They were contract people and they were told what pictures. I would go to Ted and say please give me Arthur and they'd say no he's busy on this or the other, but you've got Jack. RF: What are your memories of these people. VG: Arthur Crabtree was a giant of a genius, the same Jack was, two different personalities. Arthur Crabtree was sweet charming quiet, a sense of humour and Arthur taught me all I learnt about camera angles before i did Miss London. And to this day I can't tell you who photographed that, I really am not sure whether it was Phil or Jack or Phil Grindrod. But he drew on paper for me the imaginery line between people and the people looking left, and you must always show a change of angel. And he taught me an awful lot just sitting in the restaurant,in the canteen, at Gainsborough. RF: IN one quick lesson. VG: Yes, that was very good, that was Arthur. Jack Cox was a wonderful character, solid as a rock, had a very biting sense of humour. We had a new girl called Maggie Lockwood who had just been signed by the studio, terribly inexperienced, she was a stage actress, she'd been seen on the stage and brought under contract. And she was terribly unsophisticated and lived with two maiden aunts in West Norwood I think it was. I remember Maurice Ostrer said take her out for an evening, teach her something, I though I'll take her to the Olympia and Bertram Mills Circus and Funfair. Outside Poole St, Islington, the kids were real horrors, not horrors, they were earning their pennies, look after your car for a bob, otherwise they had been known to light bonfires under your car. And one time Maggie had a very dirty tiny little car, like a FIAT, it was an Austin, very dirty, and one day one of the kids had written in the windscreen fuck off , and she was saying I've got written all over my car, someone said what have they written clean it, and she said no fuck, and she said to Jack Cox what's fuck, and he said well my dear you've got to learn it some time or other, it's the Indian word for love. I will never forget that, it became a classic story around the studio. RF: She was the daughter of the Raj, was she not born in India. VG: I don't know. I now she lived in Godolphin Sq. She married Rupert Delyon. We used to to go and play poker there at night. And Rupert was always saying when we say what games will we play tonight, Margaret will chose, she's the star. I remember later they used to tease her on Night Train to Munich, Rex Harrison, we know they had separate rooms, and he used to say how many times does he come and tap on, and all this, and long johns, it was a hidious thing, anyway she got rid of him. That was Jack Cox, he had a very dry sense of humour, nothing phased him. RF: He must have been very compatible with Hitchcock because they did an enormous amount together in this country. VG: Yes, I think Hitch liked his dry humour. RF: Was Godolphin Sq terribly smart in the 30s. VG: Yes, it was. It was one of the new blocks. In the beginning Mount Royal was a very smart place, as rooms, more people lived there. A lot of people lived there, Will Hay lived there for a long time, I lived there. There was an awful lot of stars lived there. In introduced David Lean to Kay Walch his first wife there, because I think David lived there for a while. And Billy Wilder's brother, Bob Wilder. Bud Flanagan. Marcus Thief, Lord Marks and Spencers. RF: Where they large flats. VG: All I had there was one room and a bathroom. RF: And you lived in it or it was just a pied a terre. VG: No I lived in it. I had a little dressing room. RF: YOU think of film people in those days being comparatively grand. Larry Adler lived there, Cochran brought him over for a review. We're now on the early 40s which was a transitional time for the country and the film industry too, do you have any memories of the life and times, there was seemingly a different air, more opportunities. VG: Quite a few of us were launching out. It could be that people were leaving to go into the army or the navy or the airforce, the product had to go along, and the propaganda was terribly important, to keep making entertainment, in those days a lot of newcomers came into the theatre, maybe for the same reason, or the stars used to go with the ENSA lot overseas, so the London variety theatres still had to be filled, so I think more people had to be filled like that. RF: It was a very important profession, the home front moral, VG: Yes you were a reserved occupation as a screenwriter, and director, some of the directors went and joined the film unit, like Carol Reed. RF: You've got very good notices with your coughs and sneezes film VG: And then I sat down and wrote Miss London Ltd which was the first feature that I wrote which I directed, with Marriott Edgar, RF: Which you wrote on the understanding you would direct that. VG: No I had a contract for that and the contract came after the Nose Has it which is the MOI short, I then said to Bill Ostrer at Gainsborough here are the reviews of this, I want to write and direct my own here will you let me do it, and he said yes. He talked to Ted Black and Ted Black said yes and I then had a writer director contract with Gainsborough, I had almost written Miss London Ltd for Marcel Varnel, and I said I want to do it myself, and I had done the story and the screenplay, and the score with Manning Sherwin SIDE 2, TAPE 2 He was my partner for years, we did a lot of musicals together, a lot of stage musicals and films. RF: Do you remember the terms of the deal, did they try and squeeze an advantage VG: I'm absolutely certain they did but I can't remember, they'd squeeze everything they could out of you, but I would have done it for nothing. ·which in point of fact Frank and Sidney they did their first think, 2,000 women, they said we won't take any salary but we will have a piece of the picture, but you needn't lay out any money, I think that was their bargaining point to get the picture direction. RF: What are your memories of the first film. VG: I was very lucky because as an outsider who might come in and make ....-...., it his first picture in a strange place, I was virtually at home, I'd been there with them all these years, and so the unit was all chums, I'd worked with this unit under Marcel and they were all rooting for me, it made the task very much easier. I can't remember any problems on it, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and I had plotted it all out, in fact that was the first time I used what I use don every picture I ever make, I have a blackboard there with all the scenes worked out so the whole unit knows where you're going to be and what you can pick up from this angle. RF: tHAT WAS right from the very start. VG: Yes, that was easier for me, than me going onto the set and getting inspired, I would inspire myself and do my homework, RF: I was talking to Andy Worker just the other day and he remembered the way you worked, very good preparation. VG: Well I was never one of these genius boys, I could go on and get inspired like that. It didn't mean you stuck to it religiously, because many times things happened and you had to change, but at least the basic was there on that board and everybody knew where they were. RF: Did the mechanics of directing come easily to you. VG: Yes, strangely enough very easily and I'd seen Marcel and I'd seen exactly what Marcel did with group shots and this and that and gradually I started with his style of things and gradually evolved it into my own style. RF: I think also as an actor previously you'd take direction. I i VG: It was very much easier for me too, being an actor I knew what their i problems where, and I knew if I saw a guy hesitating because I said do I this and this and this, I'd think what's the problem with him, oh yes, I i I I 34 can see the problem with him, it's very much easier in that way-. The thing I learnt from Marcel was pace, just keep things moving, the faster you move on somethings, if you do have to stop it's twice as effective. RF: How do you define pace in this context. VG: Pace is in general cutting the pauses out between speeches. The old way of doing it was you spoke with the beat on the first accent, whereas in real life you don't wait for me to finish the sentence, you pick it up on the word that you know the sentence ends on, that's pace, getting a rhythm of light and shade. The fast sequences which go, things which can really click along and then you can suddenly stop dead and get and enormous effect by stopping and pausing and taking the next bit slower. Different light and shade. RF: So you think it's more delivery than actual physical movement. VG: It's not movement at all. RF: You can't do it at all with cutting either. VG: You can speed something up with cutting but you can't get what is pace, because you can't cut out the pauses between two people speaking without going from close up to close up so that's a ping pong thing. But to keep pace going it's a question of joining up the sentences,not to the effect that you spoil the dramatic thing, because when it's not dramatic it can join up so that people are sitting there waiting next, when it is dramatic you can then pause, but if there are pauses all the way through you have a deadly slow picture. rf: It's very stagey to have those pauses. VG: I'll tell you a very interesting thing, when scripts use to go to the Film Finance people who gave you your bond of completion, they had someone there who sat and timed your script, and your script would come back which you figured as an hour and a half as anything up to and hour and 50 minutes, and you say how can that be, and they'd read it to me and I'd he_ar.them read, and they would read the speech, beat, answer, beat, and you'd be amazed how many minutes that puts on a picture and people don't speak like that. RF: It makes them very difficult to watch nowadays because many of them are ponderous, that were made in that style, very slow. VG: I think, and this sound awfully grand of me to say this, and I don't mean it this way, I think a lot of my films which are shown on the box today, made way back then, have pace, they move. RF: Is that something you discovered for yourself or did you have any masters. VG: No, I learnt that from Marcel. RF: Do you think he learnt it from anyone. Because it was very much a 35 Hollywood thing, those prewar films of the 30s. VG: Yes, I think he learnt it in Hollywood. Because he was always on about things. He was on about scenes, that we had written, they'll never sit through this in Mansfield he used to say, which was where his common law wife came from, but he had a great thing about pace. RF: What do you think audiences got out of this, because it's difficult, and this maybe unfair, to see British provincial audiences in the 30s to be concerned about movement. VG: I don't think they were aware of it at all, it was just a matter of their looking at a film where they fidget and cough or they're looking at a film were they don't fidget. I don't think there's any more than that, you just keep them in their seats interested. It keeps the popcorn bag quiet a little more. RF: And their yardstick would have been Hollywood films. VG: By that time they'd really been inundated and brainwashed and conditioned by that sort of films. RF: Miss London Ltd was made at Bush. VG: No, Gainsborough. Bees in Paradise, the next one was made at the Bush. And Give us the Moon, the next one was made at Gainsborough. It's really extraordinary, I cannot recall moving backwards and forwards. RF: What did you have to move, your office. VG: Yes. RF: Presumably you were quite well at home in either place by this time. VG: I remember Miss London as being 43 made at Gainsborough, but I do recall doing the editing at the Bush. In Miss London we had a big Waterloo Station set and that was built at Gainsborough, Islington, so maybe we did some of it there and some of it at the Bush. Give me the Moon was definitely made at Gainsborough, Maggie Lockwood, Vic Oliver, Roland Culver and Peter Graves, and Jean Simmons, her first film. RF: Your forte was very much comedy and cheering up the home front. What kind of budgets did they give you, can you recall. VG: I can't remember, I wouldn't have a clue. RF: Were they produced by Ted Black. VG: Yes, a very helpful producer. 36 RF: What would he bring to the relationship. VG: You had an enormous feeling of being backed up whatever you did. If any problem arose Ted would solve it. In all the producers that I have had in my knarled career, only two producers have given me the feeling I am completely backed up no matter what happened, one was Ted Black and the other was Michael Carreras. You felt absolutely safe no matter what. RF: What were the problems a director would be experiencing. VG: Typically would be that your location did not turn out right for this or the other reason or the location manager had not found out for you, if you came back and went back into a studio, was a set ready, what was there to do, should we sit and wait for the rain to go, they were the problems, they happened today still. RF: Was there any interference from the money people, from the distributors. VG: None at all. Ted would see the rushes and a note would probably come down, we could do with more of this type of thing which Askey is doing or don't let him do too much of this, or the ever present Bob Dearing would send a note down which was usually ignored that I needed more cover. RF: Who effectively was cutting the films. VG: Mostly Alfie, although Bob would have his heavy hand, Bob would do quite a lot of it and Alfie would salvage it for us, because Bob Dearing had the uncanny knack of leaving the build up and cutting the gag. And we would get it round to Alfie afterwards, I'd work late in the cutting rooms sometimes with Alfie, even on the Will Hays. RF: Do you know where Dearing had come from VG: I don't know, I know when it all folded there, he joined 20th Century Fox as a casting director, unbelievable, he was harmless enough except, I don't know, I suppose he wasn't really harmless because he caused a lot of trouble. Being asked to do this or that because Bob thinks or Bob feels, he was really the one who used to fuck them up and Alfie used to put them right. RF: Is it fair to think of him as an empire builder that he had his little and he was determined to preserve it and for that reason he had to be vocal. VG: Absolutely. He was desperately old fashioned, and anything you did which wasn't back to the Chrissie White days or the Betty Balfour days, it took an awful lot of getting into him. I know in Miss London Ltd, several times I had people talking over each other. And we got big notes down from Bob Dearing you will have to redo this scene because people will not understand. And I remember having to go to Ted Black and saying for God sake, you can understand exactly what A is saying and what B answers, the fact you don't hear every word, Bob Dearing's edict was that you must hear every word, otherwise why write them, how old fashioned can you get. RF: One watches British films of the early 30s and they do have an air of creaking very often. Would it be fair to say this is the root cause. VG: Very much so. RF: And also in terms of narrative construction there are often narrative inbalances. VG: It could be. There I wouldn't be so sure of unless I saw a specific example of that. The general feeling is that writers too had a terrible habit of stating the obvious and using 3 lines where 2 words could have answered that question, they were mostly verbose. And allowing, getting to be allowed to cut that down and make it more colloquial. How to point that out in a small way, in my very early scripts I used to put it's a fine days, IT ' S, and invariably when that was directed and put on the screen someone would say it is a fine day. And that's what made things stilted. Also I used to put in to scripts prefixes like well I don't know instead of I don't know, it just made it a little more talkable, real, and I used to pull them in whenever I could, and what happened is the dialogue became a little more real. RF: And less influence on the stagey too, because British stage there was always this Went End VG: Sure. Now I said yes, sure sure while you said on the British stage that's what I mean by overlapping. And that's what Bob Dearing was horrified by, you must hear every word. RF: There is very good example, recently when I was watching Inspector Hornleigh and suddenly there was a British picture which was working, there was pace and there was characterisation, and it was neatly plotted. It was a very respectable job. VG: On Give Us the Moon, Maggie Lockwood had been dying to do comedy and I had a big fight to get, even Ted, to get her to do Give us the Moon, it was a comedy part, sophisticated comedy, it was from a book by Carol Brahms, it was called The White Elephant, and there was another film called The White Elephant so we called it Give us the Moon. Maggie was dying to do it and I finally got them to let me put Maggie in, it was a great departure for her, it opened her up, it wasn't a successful picture, perhaps too sophisticated for what they wanted, the whole idea of a club of people who didn't want to work, they became a club, a white elephant club, and were earning by their wits. RF: Was she up to it. VG: I think so, she had an enormous sense of fun, real lavatory laugh, raucous, and the ideal partner for her, and a real charmer, and I wrote him into every film I did as a juvenile lead was Peter Graves who had this great Niven like quality, in fact he looked like Niven in those days, gret throwaway charm and sophistication, so I wrote him into all those movies. Even with Askey. RF: Not as a mascot. VG: No, he was very good. Later I developed my rep company who I pulled into every movie RF: Which was because I respected them VG: Because I respected them and I thought they were excellent and i would never have anyonein if they were a pain in the arse, no matter how good they were, because once is good enough. We always had a good family unit and I usually carried the same people. RF: I should imagine you were very sympathetic with actors as well as your crew. VG: Yes. RF: There's a bit of a gap, there's I'll be your sweetheart in 45, and the next one is Just William's Luck. What·was going on around that time, the middle 40s. VG: I'll Be Your Sweetheart I shot in the height of the Blitz, and I had been removed from the Fire Brigade to go back to the film, and that was the time I was sleeping downstairs in the dressing room, I lived in Sunningdale at that time. RF: Was it the Blitz or the flying bombs. VG: Flying bombs. Most of us one way or other lived down there, even during Ghost Train we were living down there, in the basement. Great cameraderie then, there always is during the war. We muddled through. We used to have to do tours if we weren't staying, drive around holes in the road, the house at the end of the road had gone when you got there in the morning, it was a day of surprises each day. RF: Did you have a direct experience of either a VI or a V2. VG: No, I didn't of that. In the fire brigade I have everything in the Blitz. The only experience I had was I was living at that time in Virginia Water, at the time of Vls or V2s, I don't know which one it was, but one flew over our house and dropped just by the river, so close that I heard it go over and I went to the front door and I got blown back in. That is the only thing I've had with a flying bomb. I've seen them go over, I've seen them drop from the Lime Grove Studios, the roof, we've seen them drop in Putney and places like that. RF: They were terrifying things. VG: It as when they cut out, you'd hear them going and that was alright and then suddenly the engine would cut and oh RF: And with the V2s, suddenly there would be this explosion and you'd hear the bloody things coming down. Shall we talk about your fire brigade experiences. VG: There were too many of them. I remember they bombed Delarue the printers and I went on a search that night, it was in the City and they printed all the bank notes for everyone around the world, and we went there and all the printing presses had come right down in the middle of the building and we were wading in there and risking our lives and stuffing our boots with pockets of bank notes, it was pitch dark. And we all went back stuffed with bank notes after we put that thing out. We got back and discovered they were the Northern Bank of China. So then the thing was to find out, we put this under our mattresses, we were all sleeping, in St Pauls school, we used to sleep on the floor , that was were we were based, and we wanted to find out what these notes were worth. We all had visions of retiring after the war. Some one was brave enough to go. At Charing Cross there was one of those cash bureauswhere you could go in and find out various currencies,and I think 10,000 was worth a halfpenny. So we had all these things, apart from this some bright spark said they hadn't been numbered yet, there was no numbers on these things so it was all wasted. But the most terrifyign thing was working on the docks when they bombed the docks and the whole London was alight and we were on one side of the Thames with everything there. There was a barge on our side which was alight and we turned hoses on it to push it to the other side. And in the middle of the thing it blew up, it was an ammunition barge and we didn't know it. That was very frightening. So the following morning having to go down and hose friends and things off walls was pretty awful. Mates and colleagues who coped it, I do remember standing among all this in the middle of the night, on the side of the Thames with the hose, 3 of us on a hose with everything coming down still, because they just fallowed the fires and we were trying to put them out before they got there thinking dear god if I ever get through this i will never ever worry about anything in my life as long as I live, because nothing will ever be, and many times when a crisis has arrived in my life, this that or the other thing I've been able to recall what wouldn't I have given for this problem, and I remember standing there thinking what wouldn't I give·at this moment to be in a cell in Dartmoor, those lucky bastards there locked up, it gave you an entirely different set of priorities. RF: Which have lasted the rest of your life. VG: Yes. RF: Inevitably, anyone who was part of those times looks back in some fashion or other. VG: In a way its a very good thing to be able to hold it, because how many things turn up in your life and this has gone wrong, that has gone wrong, that has fallen through, what am I going to do. I think now wait a minute there are far worse things than this. RF: And also I don't thing the adrenalin ever pumped quite so rapidly. VG: And in many cases where you've been commended for bravery, it hasn't been bravery it's been you just don't think, you do whatever comes into you head. You don't think that man over there is in trouble I'm going to be brave and help him, you think shit get him out, you don't think, you don't think brave ever, afterwards you say what an ass I was, what did I go and do a thing like that for. RF: Were you as a fire man ever involved in any of the fire pictures, there was the Humphrey Jennings picture Fires Were Started. VG: No. RF: There seems to be a gap of a year in 46, were you still under contract to Gainsborough. VG: No, I 1 11 Be Your Sweetheart was the last film I did under my contract and I think in 46, that was after I'11 Be Your Sweetheart, I took a year in which I did little but write. That was the period when Gainsborough went over to Sidney Box, so there was a brand new regime there, ted Black had gone, RF: Do you know the ins and outs of that , the politics of that. VG: No. I'm afraid I don't but I know Sidney and his family moved in and took over. And a lot of us left. Frank and Sidney left. I don't think there were any of the originals left because Sidney brought in all his own people. So it was during that period between leaving Gainsborough and starting up with United Artists, that I spent most of the year writing or in California having a break. rf: What are you memories of California in 46. VG: I had a lot of chums over there, and my old Hollywood Reporter friends, and Los Angeles Times, it was a very bustling place. A lot of the big stars had gone off into the war effort and a lot of new stars were coming up. Everybody was very immersed in making amunitions and things for people, RF: The war was still on. VG: The war didn't finish until 45 RF: The bombs were dropped on Japan in August 45. VG: I'11 Be Your Sweetheart the, I think we probably did it the year before, the end of the year before. I think it was around Christmas time because there were long nights which we didn't like at all. Because of those things dropping, we used to have to stop shooting every now and then because of bombs dropping. The airriad sound has gone. I think it was around then, it was the last big Blitz. RF: That was late 44, early 45. When you went to California was it specifically as a break, you weren't endeavouringto set anything up. VG: No. RF: Just out of curiosity did you see Hitchcock out there. VG: No. I wasn't there an awful long time, at the most a couple of months and then I came back. It was just to get some sun and to get some food. RF: Then you were writing scripts. VG: Yes, I was doing odd things which later I pulled out, sold or discarded or made. RF: You mentioned United Artists, you made a connection with them. VG: Yes. I made the two William films for them, just Williams Luck and William Comes to Town, with Dave Copeland who was the head of United Artist over here, and William Collier Jnr, Buster Collier, and we made two films, the two Wiliam films, from the Richmal Compton books. RF: Were they successful. VG: Very successful. RF: I didn't meant commercially successful, were you happy with them. VG: Yes RF: What memories do you have of this period. VG: Very uneventful. There were those two films I did which were no problem except for working with kids is always a problem, otherwise we had no problems on that. We shot the second William in the Bertram Mills Circus and funfare, which brough memories of Maggie, but we had problems shooting that amongst all the people. We got ourselves in a little booth, with all sort of circus posters around it on wheels with a hole for the lens so we could push- ourselves around amongst the public and have our scenes played among the public and I would walk it through with my actress and say here and there and get on that and that, and we would stand by and push the box around to follow them, and you'd bang on things like the old silent booth days when we did early silent talkies, and we did alright till they cottoned on. The store holders and started to create like mad, because when we were there people couldn't get to their stalls, and they realiesd there was a camera inside and we were filming and they got very upperty about this. And they used to go to George Fowler my assistant director and say who'i the boss, they'd seen that th e boss was the guy who smoked the cigar, I was a big cigar smoker then, so what I did was get the props to go and buy a box of cheap Jamaican cigars and I gave everyone on the unit a cigar and everyone who smoked smoked cigars. We got by finally but that was the hazards. But I don't remember that period very much. There was nothing terribly outstanding. They were all fun. RF: Have you ever been aware particularly of the wider context of the film business, because that would have been the high spot of the Rank organisation and then the sudden collapse. I was wondering what if anything you recall of that time. VG: All I recall of the Rank Organisation is that from the day Sidney Box went in I never did any thing for them at all. rf: Never again. VG: No, I had to sue him once, because they made a film which was from a story which I had submitted and had never been returned and they made a film with someone else's name on it. And I sued them and they settled out of court, RF: Had you known him before he came into VG: No I hadn't. RF: Did you have any dealings with him at all. VG: After that I met him, because I went to see him then, because he said come dm-m let's talk about this. And what had happened is that I had given the story to read, another writer who's dead now a long time, a would be writer who had taken it to Sidney with his name on and sold it to Sidney and Sidney had made the film called Once Upon a Dream I think it was called, with Maggie Lockwood. RF: Was Sidney known for sharp practice. VG: That I wouldn't know, I didn't have that much to do with him. I don't think this was Sidney's fault. He'd just been sold something and went ahead and made it. Luckily I had the screenplay I had written and the screenplay this man had sold. RF: There are other indications that he could be a bit slip pery. VG: That's quite possible but in all honesty I can't say because I never had any other deal ings with him. He was very generous, he knew he hadn't go a leg to stand on so he had to be. The Rank Organisationat that time I wasn't particularly interested in because I had severed my bays with them, and I didn't particularly regime which had gone in, I didn't like them because I don't like any regime which brings the family in, however good they may be, Betty turned out to be a very clever lady. RF: They all had a talent of arts, Peter Rogers, Betty Box VG: Otherwise I never went back to the Bush again till the BBC did a thing on me. And I had to go back to the Bush and film on the very stage we worked on and my god that brought back memories, this is where the TV breakfast time is done, they had me standing on the stage with my chair, incidentally that might be an interesting thing. During the making of Oh Mr Porter, when I went on with Marcel on location as odd gag man, I never had any seat to sit in, and I was always sitting in other people's chairs until I was kicked out of them or I was sitting on boxes or whatever. And about a month after we finished Oh Mr Porter there was a knock on my door, and whenever there was a little tap on the door we always got a little rigid because we thought it was hitch up to something again. This time it was the page boy with a pig package addressed to me and inside was a chair, a canvas chair with my name painted on the back, and it was a note from Bill Hay saying I thing you've earned a chair. And this chair went with me on every film I ever made and has gone with me on every film I've ever made and it's home in my garage waiting for the next one. I've got the same chair, the only thing which has been repaired is the seat, but the back is still there, you can just about see the name, it looks like an old Rembrandt now, cracked and peeling, with a cover over that, it has been everywhere with me, all over the world, I've never made a film without taking that chair. The first time the seat had to be repaired, when we were making OK for Sound who were inveterate pranksters, Teddy Knox, while he was sitting in my chair lit a candle under it, and they waited it for burn, and finally I yelled and jumped up, they'd burnt a hole in my pants and a hole in my chair, so the seat had to be repaired, although over the years the seat has been repaired several times. Because it pulls away from the nails but nothing else has been repaired, it's as solid as ever. I've often thought there's a story in that chair, because I've got stills of that chair all through the years, stars sitting in it, and people sitting in it, in various locations, they took a picture of it, I didn't know they were taking in the middle of Bal bec k ,_ the ruins, we were filming over there in the Lebanon in the middle of the desert. RF: I have next Murder at the Windmill. VG: That was very interesting because I knew Vivian Van Dam who ran the Windmill because I had written quite a quite few things for his shows and I had written a numbers and things, musicals, for his shows, sketches and things so I was always at the Windmill and up at the canteen, and everyone throughout the industry had tried to get permission to make a film about the windmill. 44 SIDE 3, TAPE 4 VG: Get permission to make a picture about the Windmill but Van Dam had always said no, flatly no. As I knew them I never thought about pursuing this at all until Danny Angel, Major Danny Angel, whose wife Betty Angel was one of the original nudes in the Windmill, Betty Talbot she was, Danny came to see me and said I can get the rights to do a film about the windmill, because the old man is his father in law and he thinks he would let you do it, because I'd worked with them all, so I said alright fine, when do I make it. He said you've got to write the story. You're going to producer it, oh no I don't want to get into anything like that, he'd made a few documentaries Danny, I don't want to be a producer, nothing to do with it, and I talked him into producing it, if I direct it and write it will you produce it, and I finally talked him into producing his first movie. And I sat up that night and I wrote Murder at the Windmill overnight, the story which had to be OKd by Van Dam, it was OKd, and we went on the floor, we built the Windmill in the studio, we did a few things at the Windmill but not a lot, we built it all in the studio, we did it with numbers, shot it with production numbers and everything in 17 days and it went out and made a fortune. RF: ·which studio were you in. VG: I would imagine Nettlefold, Walton on Thames. On the other hand I can remember doing a picture but i don't know what it was but I was at Merton Studios. RF: It was an enjoyable film. VG: Yes, we had a lot of fun and worked like absolute slaves to get it done and I wrote all the numbers too. RF: From here on its a prodigeously prolific list of titles. this time you met your wife, Miss Pilgrim's Progress. Around VG: I met her when I was making William Comes to Town. She was staring in Now Yesterday at the Garrick which was Laurence Olivier I s first production on his own, and Larry brought her over from America to do this. And one of the small part players in Born Yesterday was an actor called Michael Balfour, who was a character actor, and he was playing one of the heavies in William comes to Town and one night we were shooting on Engleford Green, in the pouring rain, and we were all sitting in our big limousines waiting for the rain to stop and there were four of us, Michael Balfour, Leslie Bradley who finally went to Hollywood and did quite a lot over there and myself and John Pertwee, because I started JOhn off, his very first thing was Just William's Luck, and we were sitting in this car waiting for the rain and Michael Balfour started talking about Born Yesterday, he said you must come and see it, it's a wonderful show and there's a wonderful girl in it you've got to meet her. I said ok fix me some tickets. He fixed me a ticket. I went to see the show, and afterwards I went round and he introduced me to Yo and that was when we first met. And at that time she was the toast of the town, you couldn't get near her for dates for anything, and I finally managed to get a date and I always say the only reason she cottoned on to me was because that time, after the war when everything was difficult, I was the only person she knew who had central heatign, it was that very cold winter. This is where we got together. RF: A long and successful marriage. VG: I must say we lived together for I don't know how many years and people thought we were married and I kept saying lets get married and she said no no no, when the church and state get together and incomes can be not lumped together but separate , I said look this is the last day of this astounding offer, shall we get married, she said yes and we got married. We got married when we were making a thing for Hammer in Hamburg, Breaking the Circle, 1955. rf: She was in Miss Pilgrim's Progress. RF: I wrote that for her specially. I was terribly lucky because Fox were trying to test her, every American company wanted her to test over here because she made such an enormous success in that play, everybody came and said we want to do a film test. Danny Angel came to me and said can't you talk her into doing a picture for us, Yo had done all this in Hollywood, she'd been in movies, she was under contract to MGM as a young contract dancer, they had danced and learnt with Micky Rooney and Gene Kelly, they'd practised all together,she'd done all that. I did manage to say if I write a picture you like will you do it for us. And I wrote a picture called Miss Pilgrim's Progress, which we made for Danny Angel. RF: Were you associated with him now. VG: I hadn't set up a company·with him, I just worked for him. There was another youngster, because Danny these days always talks how he discovered two of the best directors and when he's asked who he always says Val Guest and Lewis Gilbert, Lewis and I always kid between ourselves how Danny discovered us, as a point of fact I discovered Danny. RF: Is Bob Angel his son. VG: No. Danny was Maurice Angel, the theatrical costumier. His brother, he loathed Danny, Danny was also late on pay, you haven't got it, I can't undersatnd that, oh I'm sorry it was under some papers on the desk. We all had this problem with Danny , he paid eventually. One time he came to see me about his new picture and I'd seen him down to his car, because he was walking with his stick still then, I said Danny I always have trouble with this thing, I would like in future for you to pay in advance, you know I always deliver. He turned to me and said I don't know why you distrust me like this, I treat you like my own brother, and he'd forgottenhe'd told me what a complete shit his brother was and how he couldn't stand him and hated him. RF: Producers are a race apart. Did Yolande ever go up against Judy Holliday for the part in the film. VG: No she didn't. Gar having written it originally for Jean Arthur and they'd played it originally on Broadway and they had so much trouble with her, she was pushed out and Judy went in, Garr always wanted to make it with Judy if it was made into a film. Becauseshe'd made the big hit and was a big name. She understudied Judy and Gar saw her play in I think New Jersey and said you're a star and when Larry Olivier came over to buy the rights for London Gar said you have to come and see this girl, so Yo didn't know but Larry took her back to London. RF: Shall we continue along the list, The Body Said NO. VG: Another one for Yo, incidentally, in Pilgrim's Progress, perhaps I 1 11 go back a little bit to I@ll be Your Sweetheart, when we were getting ready to make I'll be you Sweetheart, there was a knock on my office door at the Bush and I said come in and in comes a very tall guy who says I understand you're going to make the film I'll be you Sweetheart and I wonder if there is any small part I can do in it, and he was Michael Rennie. I said how tall are you and he quickly sat down. He said I'm just about 6 ft, not quite, I said you're taller than that. He said no, I said stand up and he stood up and I knew he was much taller that that, and at that time we hadn't got a leading man for Maggie Lockw6od, he told me he'd done bits and pieces, not very much, he was a stand in too, I said I would like to test you for the part opposite Maggie Lockwood, and there were two, he and Peter Graves, I see yes, thank you, can you test on Wednesday morning and he went away. I knew he was staying at the White House, we had his address, so we arranged the test for Wednesday morning, Maggie was not too happy about having an unknown but she came to the test and we sat and waited and waited, no Michael Rennie so I called the White House and he was still there, and I said what happened, he said my god you weren't serious, I said yes I was, I said it's too late now, I'll have to try and set up another test, and Maggie wouldn't test again, we had to set him up with someone else, he really thought it was a brush off. Then he came down, they all thought he looked too much like a red Indian and his clothes didn't fit, so I sent him down for another test, Sidney Fisher was the tailor then who did all the film people's things, so I sent him down to have a sports jacket done, Sidney Fisher did it very quickly. We did another test with somebody else, and that was the start of Michael as a leading man. When we were doing Pilgrim I s Progress, Michael had already gone to Hollywood and he was quite a name out there, I said why don't we see if we can get Michael back, and we got him back, at that time I think he was living with Margaret Graham and he came back and we made two of them, Pilgrim's Progress and the Body said No, because Pilgrim's Progress was a big success with Yo and Mike so we did Yo and Mike again on The Body said No. RF: They got international distribution had they. VG: Yes. Through Eros who either went through Universal or RKO. They were both originals I wrote for Yo mainly. And a lot of our rep company were in them, Peter Butterworth and Wilfred Hyde White and Pertwee. A whole lot of them we used to pull into every picture, I used to write bits for them. RF: How generally did you build up your company, did you see them in plays· or films VG: A. E. Matthews used to go through everything, I never did any thing without writing a part for him. And Arthur Hill who later went over to become quite a big television name in America. RF: You must have some stories about A. E. Matthews, VG: Yes, Matty was a fabulous character, a lovable old man, he became a very close friend. Always had a very wicked sense of humour. He was finding things tough on lines towards the end, but a great guy to have a round, he was always in a state of bemuzement or puzzlement but was always fabulous. There was one time when I had planned a thing called VAL GUEST Tape 3 of 8 Carry on Admiral which is where Peter Rogers stole his titles from, that was my original title, and nobody has ever said thank you or come to the opening night or anything. RF: It's on the list, it's not one of the Carry ons. VG: Nothing to do with them at all. It is a film of a farce by a writer called Ian Hay who is a very well know playwright in those days and had hit after hit after hit in London and it was called Off the Record and George Minter bought it and asked me to make a film of it and Off the Record was a terrible title, and I thought around and why not Carry on Admiral, it was all about the navy, and then George never registered that title so they just stole it. But on that particular thing, Matty, we had one particular scene which I had planned as a long moving shot with the camera ending up on Matty who had to say go stand by the window, he was telling his aide de camp, we do this many times and he never got the right thing, so I said don't worry, the moment I get off the window we'll put the board in there, the guy holding the board which says go stand by the window, just look there and there it is for you, he said this is terrible, it's just like John Barrymore having to have it all written down, awful. We did the take and I went through the whole thing, the guy went in with the board and we came to Matty and he went Willy, go and stand by that man with the board, the whole set was in hysterics, nobody could keep a straight face, and to this day I'm convinced Matty did it purposely, he was a very wicked old man, wicked sense of humour. When we did Drake's Duck he always pretended never to remember his name, when I went to see Matty about playing a part in this thing, as head of the war office, he said who's in it, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, later when we met him another time he said is this Fairfax man anygood, and he any good and he always called him Fairfax, always pretended he couldn't remember. Another classic story at one of the Royal Command Film Performances, Matty who in his day was a matinee idol, here and in America on stage, he was there and Larry Olivier came over to him, Larry said you probably won't remember me, Matty said yes I do, yes I do, don't tell me, and he thought for a moment and said yes you used to play double bass on the Berengeria. That was the sort of humour he had, he swore he really thought that but I don't believe it for a second. Very sharp up there. RF: He was a legend in his own time. VG: When he was in a thing called The Chiltern Hundreds, in between shows he would lie down flat, he liked his tiple of course, he would like flat, and one day the call boy came down and he knocked on the door and said half an hour please Mr Matthews and instead of the usual fuck off which would come from Matty nothing, he knocked again and still no sound, he opened the door and there's Matty lying on the floor. He shuts the door, races back to the stage manager and said Mr Matthews is dead, panic in the theatre, call the understudy, call the doctor, they all burst in and as they burst in Matty sits up, are you alright, of course I'm alright, can't I sleep in my own dressing room, can't I have a nap. Matty heard what had happened afterwards from a member of the cast. And after the show he called for the call boy and the call boy came down looking rather sheepish, Matty said next time you call and there's no reply you open it very quietly, if I'm lying on the floor you go to the stage manager and say I think Mr Matthews is dead. RF: Ive heard that story, it actually happened. VG: Yes it did. Matty told me himself. What an impertinence to assume 48 VAL GUEST Tape 3 of 8 I am dead. RF: What about Mr Drake's Duck. VG: I heard a very short sketch on the radio by a writer called Ian Massiter which was called the atomic egg and I thought it was a very cut idea. It was a very short thing, about 3 pages, out of which I expanded it and turned it into Mr Drake's Duck, it was originally called Mrs Drake's Duck because I'd written it for Yo. And then we got Doug, this was again with Danny Angel, and he through his agent said he'd like it to be Mr Drake's Duck, and so it became Mr Drake's Duck. RF: What sort of career did Douglas Fairbanks have at that point. VG: He was very big, a big big name. He'd done one for Launder and Gilliat before that which they'd shot somewhere in Austria with Glynis Johns, it was a spy thing. Apart from the fact that the old days with Bergner and Marlene when I knew him then. But this was the first one he'd done in England for a long long time, the Launder and Gilliat. And he read the script of this and he liked it very much and so we got Doug. They got on very well Yo and Doug and we had a lot of laughs. RF: Is he easy to live with. VG: An absolute pro to his fingertips. He was very much emersed at the time with Buck House, the Royal Family, but it was his wife who was the social climber, not him, he just fell in with it, a terrible social snob his wife, Mary Lee, but at that time he thought he had a reallife millionairess, her first husband had been Hartford Davis, who was, Garfield who was head of Western Biscuits, very socially minded, but he didn't mind, we used to send him up and he didn't mind being sent up. RF: No conflict between this social life of his and being a jobbing actor. VG: None at all. He used to say be a chum and get me off early on Friday afternoon because I've got to be at Buck House Friday evening, we were shooting down in Worthing, a farm, he enjoyed being sent up too, he used to drive in in the morning, and there was long muddy drive on the farm we were on and he used to come on Fridays, when he was going to London, he used to come in with his uniform on a hangar, with all the medals on it, because he was going to some social function. On the 3rd Friday he was called on, I got the entire unit to line up both side of this drive, all of us lined up, and as this car drove up from the hotel we all stood and saluted. He pissed himself, he could take it. RF: God knows it's bad enough now, but the sycophancy then must have been quite extraordinary. VG: He had just had his knighthood, his American knighthood, and my assistant director, George Fowler who had been on all the pictures all the way through, later becoming associate producer, George came to me and said what are we going to call him guv, are we going to call him Sir Douglas or what, I said I don't know, you better go and ask him, so George went to Doug and sa:i::li c ke y 13alcon, Br i t i s h Lion came in, there was no t r o u bl e in getting the mo ne y . We had La rr y and Yo a nd Cl i ff Ri c ha r ds . I must have seen every rock singer there wa s , t r yi ng to cast Bongo , I ' d seen Mra t y Wilde and Billy Fur y and s ome body called me up on day a nd said do you know the Two Eyes Bar i n Soho . I said no I don ' t . We l l go to the Two Eyes Bar and down in the bas e me n t is a yo ung guy singing t here and the guy who runs the pl a ce i s Tom Li t t l e woo d , so I rang up Tom Littlewood and sai rl i s he o n . He said yes he's on this we e k . So I went down there, this tiny cel l ar , not much bigger than this r1nd there was Cliff and the Shadows who were then called the Dr if t e r s , tattily dr e s s ed in jeans, and I l ook ed at him and thought this is our gu y . So we go t Cliff with hi s mo t he r , he was unde r a ge so his mother had to sign his contract. So I asked him to come and see me and I said do you think you can do this and he said oh yes. He ha d pl e nt y of confidence and we s i g ned him up and I think we paid him £2,000. RF : As much as t ha t . 81 UNCORRECTED VAL GUEST Tape 5 of 8 VG: He had to do all the singing, he had a lot of numbers, it was a musical and prices as up on that. So this was the st rt of Cliff. Cliff said to me could my mates be in it too. I said oh e'll find something for them, so I wrote them into one of the coffee bar numbers playing behind him. As there was a thing called the Drifters they had to rename themselves the Shadows. Cliff was wonderful because he was only a kid them but every day he wasn't working he would say can I come down and watch and he would come down and sit on that set and watch. RF: Was he as wholesome then. VG: Yes. RF: Unlike Mr Harvey. ! VG: But Larry was a lot of fun, a great character, but he could be very bitchy too. RF: Where did this figure in his career. VG: He'd done Room at the Top. And I think he'd done Butterfield 8 in Hollywood. And when he finished, on the last day shooting of Bongo he was flying off to do the Alamo. Bongo became a cult thing in Hollywood and Frank Sinatra had a copy and showed it at a party for Larry's arrival. I never had any problems with Larry Harvey. I think an awful lot of thing about people having problems with actors is because the actors don't have confidence, actors and actresses are the most lack of confidence people you could ever hope to meet and no matter no big, every star as such working with someone new their thought psychologically is that I've got to watch this guy because he is liable to fuck up everything I've spent 30 years building and until you get their confidence you have a lot of problems. Mind you there are people who are born problems as well, people like Steve Cochran when we made The Weapon, he was a born problem. There are certain people who are problems. I was told Lizabeth Scott was a great problem but I didn't have any problem with her at all, in fact she used to come and confide all her problems to me and she had enough problems because her name had just been found in the call girl's book, in New York, in that big trial, I'm sure it's a matter of confidence. RF: One you understood actors because you'd been and actor yourself, secondly it sound as if you had very congenial sets, it sound as if you've enjoyed yourself. VG: We always have done. 1ainly because I'm always working with a lot of people who've always worked with me before. So a lot of them I think are ahead of me. RF: And a lot doesn't have to be established in terms of relationships. VG: Larry had no problems and Larry was a difficult character. I know when he was married with Maggie Leighton, we'd go for lunch to the Caprice, the four of us and we'd be in absolute agonies because they['d pick on each other, insult each other, tear each other down, they got their kicks that way. But Larry had a terrific sense of humour, you could kid Larry out of things. You just had to know the button to press. RF: But at heart was he the Sammy Glick character VG: Yes, the wide boy. He certainly was. His whole relationship with 82 UNCORRECTED VAL GUEST Tape 5 of 8 Jimmy Woolf, it was good for him. I never forget on the last day of shooting on Bongo, we were in the bedroom scene, and there was a VE;_netian blind, it was Maisie's bedroom, they shared, a filing cabinet and on the cabinet was a vase with some fake flowers, and I took his last shot, and he wasn't flying for two days, and he was terribly unhappy about it, and he came to see the rushes the next day. It was perfectly alright, he said I don't like that we've got to do that again. I can't do that again now and you're off in two days, you've got to find some time to do it. I said look leave it with me , if we get time I' 11 call you at Grosvenor House, 1,ihere he lived, and he said you bastard, you won't call me, I said if we have the time we'11 do it, don't worry. Off he goes. The pietures finished. When he went to the Alamo, when he got there in the de s er t I sent him a telegram am holding Venetian blinds, filing cabinet and vase of flowers, what shall I do with them, and back came the answer up Jimmy Woolf's. That was the first time movie that moving nudes had ever been used on film, because we had our nudes in the strip show sequences, we had two versions, continental and English, which we always had to do in those days. Where the English had to have tastles on the nudes which made them far more indecent. The girls thought it was quite indecent to have to wear these tastles. RF: Who was the censor. VG: John Trevelyan. I used to invite him down to look at it, this is not badis it. RF:That was a very effective way of nobbling him was it not. VG: Yes. I had a shot of two people nude in bed a nd the guy was very romantically and gently running his hand down her body, and I had the censor down to show this scene, I said come and see this, he said don't mind it at all but you've got to cut be f or e it r eac hes the pubics, and I said John, you've got a thing about pubics, he said we don't have a thing but we don't like t hem touched. I've never forgotten that and I had to cut, that was Au Pair. RF: That was in more enlightened times. Because to give him his due he did try to enlighten things, if slowly. VG: The great thing about John is that he'd love to be called down to watch a scene whi c h might be dicey, he used to get a great kick out of t ha t . RF: Have you ha d much trouble with censorship. VG: Not here, we once had a fairly funny letter from the American censor, on one wi t h Diane Cilento, The Full Treatment. In that Diane Cilento swam nude because she had a very traumatic experience and she wanted to swim to cleanse herself, we got a letter from Breen whicti said the scene where Denise goes swimming is completely unacceptable, she must be fully clothed. So we had visions of her and her had and long white gl ove s . And s he ' d just taken her swe a t e r off and jeans of f , that's all. We i g nor e d it. RF: He'd done that from the script. VG: Yes, we always had to submit the script in advance. I must say 83 UNCORRECTED VAL GUEST Tape 5 of 8 because Bongo which went through with all these bits of nudity, the tableau were all nude, the dancing girls had to wear nipple coveFs but everything else was nude,·and· I remember shortly after that Olivier made the Entertainer in which there was a nude Britannia and they wouldn't allow it throught, it had to be tastled, and Larry was furious, he kept citing Expresso Bongo, while do you allow Expresso Bongo and not me. RF: Did it affect the certificate. VG: A certificate. We didn't get an X. We got an A which was an adult subject in those days, I din't want an X. RF: Is that one of your favourite films. VG: Yes. I have two Hammers, Bongo, the Day the Earth Caught Fire and Jigsaw tare the favourites of mine, that I'm not ashamed of, when I see them coming up I don't have to leave the country. RF: How about Further Up the Creek. VG: We couldn't get Sellars and they particularly wanted to do a sequel, I got David and I got my old friend Frankie in, it wasn't a big success. Today you can do Police Academy 2, 3, 4, I don't think up the Creek 2 was, the gag had been blown somehow. Again we went down to Weymouth and did the bits with the boats. Hell is a City, again is another of my favourites, again Mike Carreras. The one he had everything to work out, when to produce the police and not to produce the police, and we had an enormous cast in that, practically all on location in Manchester, we did a few insides on that which we built in the studio, but the majority was on location, very difficult filming too. RF: What is the genesis of the film. VG: It was about the Manchester police force, it was a book by Harry Procter, who wrote a lot about a chap called Detective Inspector Martineau, a wonderful character, and I would loved to have made more pictures on that character. And I think that Associated British at that time had the rights to it, and Mike Carreras fell for the book, he liked it very much and gave to me to read, then he bought the rights from ABP and we made it on location, and the whole thing was this Det Insp Martineau and this very human detective, tough, rough, human with his own problems at home, with a wife who nagged, falling for a barmaid who was part of his investigation, it was a real slice of life, putting the police down as human beings. RF: Was that one of the leaders of that particular genre, predated Z Cars on television. VG: Yes. asked me Baker is I think it was a good picture, and seen it several once to go to the National Film Theatre to see it, very good in it. They're all good, it's a very good times; they and Stanley cast. RF: Who was your cameraman VG: Arthur Grant. He was used to working on location by this time and getting it done in no time too. I weaned him away from Hammer, I put him under contract when I made my own films, he and i'-lo r ay Grant both of them, infallible team. VAL GUEST Tape 5 of 8 RF: Who was your favourite cameraman. VG: Diffiuclt one. Arthur Grant has to be my all time favourite, he's dead now, he was ready for any situation no matter what, if you said I know it's night but I've got to shoot it for sun now, he would find someway. RF: Was he an old timer. VG: Yes, he'd been with Hammer a long time, and he was very very good, another one was Ted Moore who went on to do the Bond movies, a difficult character, Harry Waxman was another one, another difficult character but good c9meraman. Not the pleasantest of persons to work with, he'd get himself in a tizzy, he'd wind himself up about something. And instead of saying alright see what we can do he would get himself in a big tizzy. RF: Disgruntled. VG: Yes. That's why, I got on with him alright, but I wouldn't say oh I must get Harry again. RF: But delving beneath that he was a very decent man and by god he knew his craft. He joined up with some of my regulars when I did The Day the Earth Caught Fire SIDE 10. TAPE 5 'VAL GUEST Tape 5 of 8 - he was working with my gang so I don't know if that helped or didn't help. It shows you how the police have their own little mafia, dossier and things, because I got on very well with the Manchester police and so did Mike, he said what he didn't like and I said what I didn't like and we were very closely knit, and we didn't do anything which we weren't supposed to do and we did everything we said we would do. And years later, Hell is a City was 60, and in 63 I did Jigsaw which is about the Brighton police and they said we've had good vibes from Manchester about you. Now we hadn't said we'd made a picture in Manchester, so they obviously circultated what about so and so. Following that I made 80,000 Suspects in Bath where I had to go and see the chief constable because we wanted· to take over the whole town, as I came in he said it's nice to meet you, and he got out a big dossier from his desk and opened it up and said now, Guest, I thought Christ, he's got Manchester, Brighton, all the reports for the other police, and he said in view of this yes. RF: I find this rather frightening because it does mean there are those computers underground somewhere. VG: I have to say it was for filming purposes, whether you've blotted your copybook filming, that's all it was. Should we be given facilities, did we take liberties, had we done anything against what had been agreed. It's like me calling up someone who's had their house used as a film, this particular person, there are a lot of people who won't have Michael Winner anywhere near them again, when they've been on location, villages. This get around because of the chaos, liberties. And I think the police did the same thing, and don't forget in each case this was a film about their police force. I said we have a good reputation in Manchester and Brighton, and he said yes I know, and that's when he brought it out, Guest, and he had the thing. RF: Next The Full Treatment. VG: That is from a book by Ronald Scott Thorn, who strangely enough was our insurance Dr and put us all through the mill before, when we got our film insuranecs, he was the film industry's insurance doctor, or one of them and he wrote this book. It was a psychological thriller about a psychiatrist and we got Francoies Rosay and Claud Dauphin and shot it in the South of France. RF: Madame Rosay would be interesting to hear about. VG: Again a real pro and no problems. Mucked in with everybody, fabulous actress. There were no special facilities granted. Claud Dauphin a great character, a great ladies man, very suave and smooth. RF: Were you shooting just locations. VG: All locations, were based in was on several. in xxxxxx, in Cannes, Nice, all round there, we , and Tony Master was my art director on that, he RF: The Weapon. With you favourite actor Steve Cochran. VG: That was the one I worked with him on and we had all the problems. 'VAL GUEST Tape 5 of 8 Also another actress in that. I can't remember her name, she did Little Boy Lost with Crosby. TJ:lis we made with a very strange little producer called Hal Chester who really knew more about nothing than anyone else. And he had come from poverty row, full of noises of what he'd done and he was actually one of the Bowery Boys, he really knew very little about anything, anyway I did that for him, I believe it was for Eros. I'm not .sure about that. He, we shot all round the bomb sites around St Paul's Cathedral, and some of it on Waterloo Bridge and Lambeth, it wasn't a very startling film, it was a good thriller. George Cole he played the villain and Herbert Marshall, a wonderful character. RF: Was he coming towards the end of his career. VG: Yes he was. And it was very clever how he worked it all out, he had a wood n leg, at the beginning he said to me I can do everything except turn quickly and get up from a chair in one. I can practically get up and then if you take me on another angle I'm up, but everything else he could do. If he had to turn suddenly, if I just turned his top and cut away, he was round when I got there, he gave me these little tips about his disability. Charming guy, his wife Boots Mallory who also used to be a film star in Westerns. RF: Why was Steve Cochran such a pain. VG: Steve Cochran had always been a difficult character, he was under contract to Warner Brothers until Jack WArner found his sleeping with his wife. And there was hell, he was not only barred from Warners but every other studio in Hollywood, so he came over to Europe. He was a bad tempered surly guy and he was having a fling with Sabrina, Askey used to have her on the show, great big boobs and no talent, he ended up not talking to each other, they used to pass notes to people to tell each other fuck off. RF: Did he not drink. VG: I was never aware of his being drunk. I know he died very strangely in a boat full of women. He wasn't the easiest of guy. RF: \fuat was Chester's role in the thing, he just set it up. VG: Yes. l!e wheeler dealered his way into being a producer. RF: I think he made quite a few films in Britain during this period. VG: He did. He went on to make more films, and I think this was the first one. I understood that he had been a production manager and odd things, but not that he had produced at all. Our cameraman was a wonderful cameraman called Ernie, forget, Hal used to be· around like a bothersome knat, get him away, get him our of our hair. My third assistant on that was Johnnie Goodman. I remember our poor cameraman, we were shooting in a bombsite just by St Pauls and Hal came on and wh'en the cameraman said we're ready, Hal said what do you mean you're ready, he said there's no light on the dome of St Paul's, our cameraman said you haven't given me enough lights for that, I don't have enough lights, that's half a mile away, he said shit you kn6w what in Hollywood we would do, and all this was going on. It was desperately cold, we were all in mufflers and track suits and there was snow on the ground, on this bomb si e and the cameraman tapped him on the arm and said Hal do you believe in Christmas, and Hal said of course I do, well fuck off and have a merry 87 UNCORRECTED 1 VAL GUEST Tape 5 of 8 one. And Hal never came near us again while we were on that location. He was a pest. RF: That brings us onto probably your favourite film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire. VG: Strangely enough I'd written that story about 8 years before I made it because nobody would ever let me make it. Everybody said no you do these other things so well. RF: Who turned it down. VG: Practically everybody. British Lion, Minter, Rank, Columbia. RF: Wl1at would they say. VG: Nobody wants to know about the bombs. Who's going to go and see a picture about the bombs. Anyway everytime some producer said to me is there somethign you want to do next, I'd say yes, read this, and it would come back each time don't joke, nobody's going to see it. RF: It existed in full script form. VG: No, story form. I had about a 20 page treatment. Then I went to Stephen Pallas, he said alright I'll do it. British Lion didn't want to know at that time so they weren't going to put any money into it, so Mickey Baleen, Stephen Pallos, and another guy, Max Setton, they started a productioncompany called Pax and Pax got the money together. It was the only film which has ever been made for the Pax Production Company, it was a Val Guest Production for Pax. And we finally made it. That entire film was made for under £200,000 which was desperately cheap, even in those days. We made it at Shepperton. Tony Masters was my art director. That was a very difficult picture to make because it was a bout London deserted and breaking down with lack of water and the heat, and I had to clear the whole of Fleet St and put rubble and dirt and dust, and using the Daily Express Building, their windows, and make them look as if they were broken. RF: When was that on Sundays. VG: We didn't do it on Sunday. He did it on midweek and we were allowed to clear Fleet St for 2 minutes at a time. A whistle would blow and we could have 2 minutes. RF: And the police would cooperate with that. VG: They had a stop by the law courts and a stop at Ludgate Circus. And what we would do is we would have a truck full of Fullers earth and rubble at our end, and the police put no parking signs all the way along Fleet St, both sides, for a deserted Fleet St., and we had one car which we had overturned and put on the sidewalk, outside I think the Yorkshire Post, and when we were ready to go, and our actors had rehearsed, we'd say right ready and the truck with fuller's earth would go up Fleet St towards the law courts, with all the props shovelling fullers all over so there was dust all over Fleet St and as the truck went up, two motor cycle cops followed, one each side of the road, kickign these signs down, and the moment it got to the law courts the whistle went and I had two .minutes to do my scene,and then another whistle would go and all the : stuff would come again. 88 UNCORRECTED ';1AL GUEST Tape 5 of 8 RF: That was astonishing cooperation from the authorities. Do yo think that was partly because you got such good marks from before. VG: It could be. Also, the Metropolitan Police have always been more difficult than the City police and we came under the City police. In Battersea Park we had to have this terrifying fog which descended over · London and we had our fog machines in Battersea Park, and we hadn't said anything about fog machines, we just got permission to shoot there, and it happened that it was the opening day of the Chelsea Flower Show, we'd cut off Chelsea Bridge, they'd allowed us to do that, to have queues lining up for the water rations, and the fog was drifting over Chelsea Flower Show, so we had about 200 crowd there trying to grope through the fog, so of course the police were sent because of Chelsea Flower Show. And I still had two more, one tracking shot and one very important shot to do ,in this fog. So the police were there saying this must stop immediately, so I sent my assistant, my production manager, my location manager to talk to the police, to argue with the police while we got on, to keep them busy while we finished the shots. And eventually we did finish the shots and they said take them out at once. And we did. The whole of that picture was brought with those kind of difficulties. RF: How many times did you have to close Fleet St. VG: One day, two minutes at a time, and after each two minutes we had to allow at least a quarter of an hour. And they usually demanded 20 minutes of free traffic. That was worked out like a battle. RF: You were asking for trouble scripting it like that. VG: I had high hopes and ever an optimist. RF: Christiansenstood out. VG: The strange thing about Chris, some people said what a brilliant off beat performance, others said how fucking awful. We had terrible trouble with him, not trouble, the poor guy could not remember a line, I wrote them everywhere for him, and we went to enormous amount of editing and i took a lot of cover in that scene so I could cover up a blip or a cut, and we finally did it almost line by line. But we had been lumbered, I lumbered myself, I said here come, play yourself, he did all our clearance for us, he was the one who got Beaverbrook to give over the whole thing, he was also on my press guy on the film keeping me on the right lines, although I'd been in Fleet ST, I didn't know that much about it, and being hris's own office he was invaluable as my technical adviser. RF: It was something you devised, or did he want to do it. VG: I talked him into it. Talking to Chris he was an intelligent guy, I never knew what would happen to him once I got him on screen. I didn't expect him to be in such terror and he was. The first day he wasn't in terror and we'd gone so far by then, he started to get the terror when he realised what he'd bitten off, then it was too late. And I couldn't really recast by that time. RF: Other than those predictable problems, was it a relatively trouble free film. VG: It wasn't worry free, and I don't think it was trouble free because 89 U CORRECTED VAL GUEST Tape 5 of 8 our locations were trouble. There were no people who were trouble. Eddie Judd it was .his first big break, so he was edgy, he wasn't the easiest of persons, but I can see why. It was a big thing to carry, and again the guy had a sense of humour. At Battersea Park, doing a scene where he's saying goodbye to his kid who's in a baseball cap, Renee Asherson was his wife, and the kid forgot his lines twice, and Eddie just blew up. Why can't the fucking kid, this was not a thing you do, he used to do it with Christiansen too when Chris blew, and that just makes people worse. I said to the kid, will you do something for me, if ever Mr Judd forgets his lines will you throw your baseball cap on the floor and kick it out of the shot, whether I've said cut or not, I said I mean this, and I did it, that finished Eddie, I never had any problems with him. Leo was wonderful in it, again part of my rep company, he was one of my favourites. Again a man with a photographic memory, he said his script through once and knew what it was, when we came to shootnig he would look at the page and he would look at it for no more than five minutes and have it indelibly in his head, he never fluffed a line and knew everybody else's, and incredibly memory, I've never seen that on anybody else. RF: Was there any trick work. VG: There was quite a lot of special effects. Les Bowie, my effects _man, he did them for us. They were a little late coming through, but we were still clear of our budgets. There was trick stuff like fog coming down the Thames, the Thames dried up, the trickle, Trafalga Sq completely and utterly empty at midnight with hundreds of people in there listening to the prime minister's broadcast. All the various capitals of the world on the countdown of the atomic explosion, we had shots of every capital, Red Square, all these had been absolutely emptied and speakers put in there, those sort of shots. That year, later that year, I had been nominated by BAFTA, it was then the British Film Academy, it was one of the nominatiosn for the best screenplya, I had so many other pictures for which there had been nominations,Hell is a City, and Yesterday's Enemy, and each time I had been to these awards, and I am not an award person, I said to Yo I'm not going to go this year, and we really weren't going to go and Theo Cowan who must have known, because Theo always does the publicity, he called me up and said you are coming Val aren't you. I said I'm not. He said you know what it's going to look like. I said what. That you're pissed off that you never got anything. It's going to look bad for you, people will say why didn't he turn up. I said do you honestly thing that do you. He said yes I do. In the industry it's a mark of respect. So I got dressed and at the last moment I went. And I sat at a table with John Schlesinger next to me. And John had been nominated for Terminus, a short he'd done. Suddenly the nominations come up and I'm announced. We've got it. I go up and get it from Prince Philip. And I race back and call Yo and say I've got it, get up. She got up, and somehow she got to the Dorchester, John got it too, and he said he nearly didn't go. And it was only because Theo had very carefull,y going that we were there at all. very cleverly shamed up into RF: Going back to the special effects were they as a craft in fairly rudimentary form, 30 years ago. VG: No, I think we were pretty good at it. In view of what the Americans had spent on it e were rudimentary. But I had some pretty good 'VAL GUEST Tape 5 of 8 effects. There are a couple of effects in The Day the Earth Caught Fire that look like effects, but a lot of it is very good. And is up today's standards, except a couple. Les Bowie was wonderful. He worked with Hammer too, in fact he did Quatermass, he did the monster. RF: Who released the picture. VG: Universal in America and British Lion here. RF: And did they get behind it. VG: Yes. And it did very good business. We're still getting cheques from it, theatrical and television. And also from cassette. It's funny the things which keep coming in in residuasl. You think Christ, I thought everyo9e had buried that. RF: You can see why the libraries are so valuable nowadays, why they change hands at so much money. Did you ever regard it as having any political statement. VG: Yes I did, but my politics were always terribly wide. I always wanted to make that story, because the only politics in it were to say the only war that mankind couldn't fight was god, the elements and the only way to defeat that was if mankind got together to fight a common enemy, the elements. That was what we'd done to the elements, the bomb. So it was probably the first anti bomb thing. It was not anti us bomb, it was anti the world, it was saying mankind can do this so why doesn't mankind get together and see some sense. And that's why the end of the film you have this boiling hot almost melting machine room of the Daily Express, two editions waiting to be put through, one saying world saved, the other saying world doomed, and they were waiting for which front page to put on, waiting for the countdown of these bombs, the idea being that Russia was putting up 8 of their biggest bombs in a row across the Siberian desert, and the West had put up the same amount at the North Pole and they were going to be detonated at the same time hoping it would shift the earth's orbit in some way away from the sun, the end of the picture is will mankind come to its senses or not, we never resolved it. RF: Isn't it resolved. VG: No. I had a terrible fight about that. Everybody said you've got to, I said I don't want choirs singing over St Pauls. What we did do is we did go to St Pauls and the cross for the countdown, we had the countdown go off and then we came .back to Eddie Judd dictating this last story with the two things, saying and we don't know whether mankind has solved the thing, and I went into the cross at the end at St Paul's. Jigsaw was from a book by Hilary Waugh, a Canadian writer, set in a small tow-n in Canada and I thought I would make it in Brighton, and this is when I went down for my permissions, because instead of the Canadian police I wanted to make it about the Brighton police. And as Jack Warner had been very tied up with the best side of the police, with his television things, that went for us, and he actually was very very good in that picture as the plodding cop who finally gets there. That's another one of our favourites. I tried a lot of stuff out in there, which hadn't been done, the back and forward cutting in time, without having to explain it, I tried to write it so you would understand what had happened. VAL GUEST Tape 5 of S RF: Had you been influenced by someone. VG: No, I'd always wanted to try an experiment of this kind. RF; Did you script it that way. VG: Yes it's all in the script. We did an awful lot of shooting on location, the Cuty Sark and Brighton Station, and the whole of Brighton. RF: You must have enjoyed working on location. VG: I always did because I thought it gave you so much more reality. RF: No matter how marvellous a set is its always a set. VG: Nbw there I gave an art director a break who had been my assistant art director, Tony Masters' assistant, and Tony Masters had gone to Hollywood, a fellow called Geoffrey Tozer, and I used Geoff a lot after that. That was his first break as a full scale art director. And I used -----, him on Boys in Blue, as latterly as that. RF: You're independent. Who was that made for. VG: Pallos, Britannia, his own company, but I produced it. Britannia was his own production campany and he used to make his deal with whoever, RF: He seems to have been a very active producer. VG: He was. RF: What sort of man. He was a wonderful character, he's now retired to Spain. He was Hungarian and he used to work with Korda and he was one of Alex Korda's third right hand man. He idolised Korda, Alex, there was a wonderful story about Stephen, he said to Korda one day after Korda had made some great pronouncement which was a brilliant pronouncement, Stephen said to Alex, sometimes when I'm with you I feel inferior, and Alex said you know why Stephen, because you are inferior. That was a classic st ry. But he was a brilliant businessman, artistically, he knew what he liked and what he didn't like. He was prepared to have a go, he was prepared to have a go at Bongo, he was prepared to have a go at The Day the Earth Caught Fire. He was prepared to have a go at Jigsaw. He didn't want me to do Jigsaw. After the Day the Earth Caught Fire he said to me make a little picture like this, I said I'm dying to make this picture, he said but, I told him Harold Lloyd, who was a family friend, a great friend of Yo's, Harold said after he made his famous Safety Last somebody said to him, don't try and outdo it, do a small one and they cannot say it's not as small as, they can say it's not as big as, then go back and do a big one. He gave this advise after I did The Day the Earth Caught Fire, everybody was saying what are you going to do next, he said don't attempt to do anything that size, don't attempt to do a weighty subject, do something small and then you can bounce back again, which is why I did Jigsaw, but I was very keen to do Jigsaw because I liked the story enormously and thought it was very clever and very amusing to show the police working and not getting anywhere. The awful dead ends they come up against which is what that picture shows. Stephen didn't want me to do that, but I did. 'VAL GUEST Tape 5 of 8 RF: Jigsaw did what sort of business. VG: Reasonable. It did enormous business on the continent. It got very good reviews, in the main, which is the best part of that. RF: These were still good years in the cinema. VG: And Yo did a small part for me in Jigsaw. RF: 1963 80,000 Suspects. VG: That was based on Pillars of Midnight by Ellaston Trevor, which was not a very good title was the screen, so I dreamt up the title 80,000 Suspects. I did it for Rank. Again we had a good cast and we literally took oyer the city of Bath, the main idea was a smallpox epidemic was going :i.n Bath and therefore it had to be isolated from the rest of the country. The entire city was isolated and the doctors, there was a terrific strain with their wives and families, it was a thriller too in a strange way, it was a piece of life, I VAL GUEST Tape 6 of 8 SIDE 11, TAPE 6 RF: Was it all filmed in Bath VG: I would say say 75% of it. And the rest Pinewood. We hit · the day, the day we started was the coldest temperature in living memory and there was snow everywhere and we had to say is this going to last because either I had to shoot in snow for three weeks or wait till it thaws, what am I going to do. So I called Earl St John about it, we start now, we kick off in snow, but send us however many tru ck s our location manager wants to be able to be put our own snow down, salts, we'll have them standing by so we can duplicate, which is what we did. And not only did we never,use it, we had to get know ploughs to where we were shooting and Yo had to go to the Roman baths on the coldest night of the year, we had to jump in in her Dior evening dress because she was supposed to be tidly, we had to shoot this thing like an army, because once she was in she said she'd rather stay in for all the other shots and then get out. So while she paddled, it was warm water, steam was coming up, but nevertheless on the coldest night in living memory. We had the Ex press down there and they were taking all the pictures and we just moved around that pool and shot as quick as we could, over shoulder, this way, that way, we just got it all done before we was brought out. Shootin g in the sts. when we had tracking shots, we had just under the camera braziers burning all the way down that st because you couldn't walk it was so cold, so they were walking past braziers which wasn't shown by the camera, but all that breath was coming, it was desperately cold, and we had 100s of crowds there too. One day Rod Steiger came down, because he was married to Claire, and Claire said please keep him off the set, so we did everything to keep him off the set, take him on tours of Bath, RF : Why did s he not want him on the set. VG: It inhibited her. RF: Kay ,1lalsh was also in the film. VG: She had just come out of a terrible depression, break down, and I gave her this little bit to try and break her back, she was terribly insecure. She had a rough ride one way or another. We had a very good actor in that '·. lic hael Goodliffe, again an actor from my rep who I used a lot. Ive had one sequence where the whole town had to come and be vaccinatde, mass vaccination because of this smallpox thing, and _ everybody had to line up in the snow. And somebody had told me when I got down there that Graham Moffat ran a pub just outside bath, on a hill, and I said I've got to go and see him. So we drove up one night o the pub and there1 s Graham, now losing all his hair, with this little monk's fringe, fat, and I went up to the bar, and he had his back to me and said 2 tizers please, and this thing froze, he turned round, to say who is this twit and he suddenly saw me, and it was quite a moment, I hadn't seen him for 30 years, I said do you want to do a bit, I'11 write something for you. So I wrote in a piece in the vaccination line. The cameo was fat man in the line waiting to be vaccinated and when he got there, just he sight of the needle he fainted. It was probably Graham's last film appearance because shortly after that he died of a heart 94 UNCORR ECTED VAL GU EST Tape 6 of 8 attack. Ire had a terrible thing a few years before that, J:!e had niccups which couldn't be cured. and he was just hiccuping the whole time, they even took him up in a plane, finally I don't know how they did stop it. But it must have put a terrific strain on his heart that because it went on for a long long time. And carrying that weight. · RF: And being a publican isn't the healthiest of lives. VG: I'll tell you another think which is rather sad about Graham, from a fat cheeky boy who everybody loved, he became a fat balding man and found it very difficult to get parts, very sad, because he had all that joie de vivre still there but it somehow didn't fit. rf: His range as an actor was limited too. VG: But there were all these parts he could play. He could play a barge owners, a cabbie, he could still be cheeky, but somehow it all fell away. But he was a happy person, never seemed to be worried about anything very much, but then I didn't know him when he was a grown man. I went once, the National Film Theatre, they did a week of 1,000 clowns, and they had Oh Hr Porter on and they found Graham and they asked Graham and me if we'd go along and chat, and that was the first ti e I'd seen Graham for 20 or 30 years, and I'd taken my young son to see the film, he was quite young, to see the film, see if you think it's funny, it's a film I wrote many years a go, me meet Graham in the bar there and I introduce Chris my son and I say he's going to be the funny fat boy on the screen, and Chris said yes, and we went in and saw the thing, and afterwards Chris was very silent on our drive home, and I said didn't you like it, he said yes I did, what's a matter, he said were you a grown man when that old man was a little boy, he couldn't figure this at all. September 6, 1988 RF: We're now onto the Beauty Jungle, 1964. VG: When the press found out I was doing a film about the beauty jungle in 1964 and it was printed in odd press coverage I got a letter first of all from Eric Morley who demanded to see the script and pointed out to be I couldn't use Miss England, I couldn't used Miss Great Britain, World, any of that. I didn't answer that, it didn't call for nn answer, later we got a letter from his solicitor wanting to see the script. I said no way could they see the script but I'd be delighted to invite them to the premiere. There was all niggling going on there so we called it Miss English Rose and Miss Globe instead of Miss Universe. An enormous number of people were tested for that from Nyree Dawn Porter, Susan Hampshire, for the girl who started on the beach on Weston super Mare ,.,rho went on not to become Miss Globe and all the machinations of beauty contests. I didn't pull any punches, I didn't name any names but we didn't pull any punches. But to find the girl was a great problem, and I had an idea that Janette Scott had a lot more to her· than had been thought, so having tested Janette, and Earl St John was not impressed by that, or by any of the other tests, so we got Janette a wig, a blond Marilyn Monroe wig, and I put her down under a fictiousness name for a test, and I did a test \vith her made up Monroe type, we did a silent test, and the test went into the rushes the next day, and Earl said who the hell is that, and I said someone we'd like you to see, she can act, she's done acting before, he said that's fine by me, and this is how Janette Scott got it. And she was very good in it. 95 U 1COR P.ECTED ' VAL GUEST Tape 6 of 8 RF: To what extent could Earl St John influence casting and script. VG: He could, very much· so. Earl was a great power there. It was Earl who said no to Frank Sinatra when he was willing to come over and do a film. I remember another film we were doing when we had Paul Douglas very excited, at that time he was very big, after he'd done Born Yesterday, and Earl said no. RF: These were contractual rights he was operating on behalf of the Rank Organisation. VG: That's right. Beauty Jungle was a Val Guest Production but it was made for the Rank Organisation, and as such he had a say in what our budget was and our main character casting. RF: Add he in term was directly responsible to John Davis. VG: Yes. John Davis as far as films were concerned didn't know anything about films, RF: On balance what do you think his decisions indicated, an ability. VG: His decisions indicated the fact that he had once been a barker outside a circus, he was a very good showman, EArl, and his mind worked in things which could be used in showmanship. RF: And things the public would pay to see. VG: I don't think creatively, I might be maligning creatively a poor dead man, but I never found creatively an executive producer who was creative. His whole mind was channeled into what was showmanship, not what was good movie necessarily, what was showmanship. RF: Who else was at Rank. VG: There had the accounts department there, Robbie Robinson, Jack Fallon who did your budgets for you, they sim ply did a budget which put a lot of money on your picture, which needn't have been there, simply to protect Rank. Your location contingencies, whatever your budget used to be they'd say put a third on again. Your location contengency fund was something which bu ped your budget right up and also safeguarded them, if they were doing a bond of completion. You always had the battle of the budget. RF: Did you have a studio overhead assigned to your picture. VG: Yes, but I can't remember what the percentage was. A picture like beauty jungle, which was not inexpensive because we had all the south of France locations and Miss Globe final contest was held in Cannes, we had quite a lot of expenses on that, but the cover they gave themselves on that was enormou.s 1 L • And you took a full British crew down to the South of France. VG: Yes we did. And at that time you had to take a french crew, a minimum French crew to balance your English crew, that was a union thing in France. So you always found a productionmanager, we had a fabulous productionmc;J.nger that I've used all over the years called Louis Fleury who had been in the resistance during the war, and along the whole of the I VAL GUEST Tape 6 of 8 south of France they knew him, and he got all sorts of incredible things done as a French executive production manager, and he used to run his own company through which we hired, so I give you the minimum he, he'd help you, so if you went out you'd have to take a minimum which was more than a minimum. RF: Did you find the municipalities down there corrupt, were there a lot of backhanders. VG: Yes. Dut not just the South of France, the backhanders in Spain were unbelievable. To the highest that you could go in Spain. I can't think o f any officialdom in any part of the world where there hasn't been dropsy, wherever I've filmed. RF: Including this country. r VG: Yes, but not as much as abroad. RF: You'd be paying out for what, permissions. VG: I never found any dropsy with the police over here, never, and I've done 3 very solid pdlice pictures, and I've never had any suggestion of that. No it's municipalities people, the people who are town clerk for one year and want to make the most of it. RF: How did the Beauty Jungle fare. VG: We got our money back but we didn't break any records. It was a shame because I thought it was a good entertaining picture, but I think we suffered from not having any top names. Because we only had Ian Henry and Janette Scott and a few guest appearances like Norl!lan !Iartnoll and Duchess of Bedford and Edmund Purdom. That's one thing about Rank, they never insisted you had names. RF: How many of those were contract artists. VG: Of the people in Beauty Jungle. None. A wide open brief. The idea was to get an unknown girl and give her a star vehicle in which case Rank would have wanted some sort of ·tic, but when they found out it was Janette Scott they didn't want the unknown girl tie. I think if we'd had SOf:ie s tronger names to pull them in it would have done much better. Ian Hendry was a brilliant actor but l'!lOSt impossible man to work with. He was trouble. He had a great drink problem, and he would get very obstreperous with his drink, v,hereas Ronnie Fraser who also had a drink problem and was in that, but that was a benign one, in fact I remember one scene, we were shooting in the London Hippodrome as it was then, one of the finals of something and I had a scene with Ronnie Fraser who was a publicity man in the picture, and Ian sitting at a table watching the finals go through, and both of them were falling off their chairs, and I tied, '.!, who paid it to Val Guest productions. When the film was finished that wonderful '.·!G- 1 editor Maggie Booth, she flew over and sat with me, I was really thrilleci to be working with her, she I d done all the Garbos, she'd done Ben Hur even, been on the original. She was a fabulous characte.r 117e sat throughit and it was incredible the suggestions she made, I learnt quite a lot from her, ecii ting, then my editor on that was Bill Lenny too. I 99 UNCORRECTED did 3 films with David, I found him a great character,great fun to work with, no problem, full of merry quiffs, all he was worried about i,s that you will take care of my t rkey gullet, RF: He was self deprecating as an actor. .VG: I think that was a front. He knew very well what he was doing, he knew very well what he shouldn I t be doing, he always said don't let me overdo it son, don't let me overdo it. I think this was part of the Niven character, charm. RF: Did he have enough of a range to be called an actor or was he just a personality. VG: He won an award for Separate Tables and that was an acting part. He was a Jery good actor. He got saddled with the lightness, because this is what he was superb at but he could do dra1:1atic stuff too. He was a delight to work with, we had many laughs we were partners. I would have not mad if he hadn't been all the way through Casino Royale. I wrote 2 of my chums into that. 1 0 0 U ICORRECTED SIDE 12, TAPE 6 RF: Is it just nostalgia·or were the 60s more happy times. VG: I have to be honest about this, but I seldom have not had a happy time filmmaking. The 30s were just as happy a time filmmaking. RF: I was wondering if it was easier to set up a picture in England in the 60s when there was so much American money VG: Definitely, there was a lot of money and it was much easier to set things up. I don't know what we reaped from that, whether it was over optimism, it was a great time to be living. I honestly can't say as far as filmmaking was concerned it was a happier time that most of the other things, maybe i've been very lucky. ! RF: This probably brings us to Casino Royale. VG: This is a film in itself, the making of that, the legendary Charlie Feldr.1an who was the producer on that called me to go and see him, I had many long days and nights with Charlie Hho said we want to make, he'd bought the only Bond book which had got out of the stable, there Hasn't even one single sequence that he could used because they'd all be pilfered, there was nothing in there except the card game, even that had been used in one way or another in the Bond films, so he really had nothing. Ile said I've got a script by Ben Hecht. I said that should be good. It's too serious but anyway read it, so I got another script by Terry Southon, that's no good either. There was a third one, I can't remember what. He gave me these 3 scripts to read, I read these 3 scripts, there Here odd things in them, finally he said what do you think. I said let me pull in Wolf Hankowitz again, and Wolf did some sort of a treatment and went off. It finally ended up with Charlie Feldman saying make it a Kaleidoscopic picture, we don't want just want one James Bond, we'11 have 18 James Bonds, everybody will be calling themselves James Bond which is how we launched into it. RF: ·=!c1s that a considered decision. VG: It was a considered decision, he wanted some gimmick, he said I'm going to have 18 James Bonds and 6 different directors. a 100 years ago Rene Clair did a film called If I had A Millionand each had a segment and somebody had taken that theme, each had a seg□ent and they got all the top directors each to do a segment. F: It doesn't seem then a top of the head decision, does it now looking back. VG: h7hat it seeE1ed then was that he was going to send it all up. You couldn't make a serious James Bond picture so you had to send it up. A story line was got up, a full story line which had pieces of the script and he said to me I want you to be the coordinating director, you take your segment which I think was the last third of the picture, with 1{oody Allen, take that ancl be the coordinating director as well. I then became the writer of bits and pieces which I didn't get paid for just to try and keep the thing to ether, and then the chaos started. He spent a fortune on sets, he spent a fortune on clothes. Incidentally I said to Charlie you can't just have segments, you've got to have a linking story all the way through, I'll write the linking story if you let me have my two chums to link it with, who, David iven and Ursula Andress, because I knew with 101 UNCOR R ECT ED VAL GUEST Tape 6 of 8 those two I could giggle my way out of anythign. He said you've got your chums. So I wrote Ursula and David as a link through that just to keep me sane. The sets would suddenly be changed before anything was shot on them, because Charlie who couldn't sleep would look at all the magazines and he would suddenly see a bedroom suite in some magazine and say 01rist we want that, the money wasted on changing, then he didn't like the colour of the drapes, and all the dresses had been made to go with the drapes and as the drapes were changed the dresses had to be changed, I can't tell you what went on. I think he was going to outdo every other Bond which had ever been done, that was his thing. I had been with Charlie when he was on the telephone to stars, he was on the telephone to Bill Holden saying you've got to come in just for a cameo, George Raft, the number of people he called, they all said no, but sor.iehow Charlie's charm got everybody, the only person he didn't was Belmondo who said no flatly, So Charlie got hold of Ursula, who was his girlfriend at the time, nd said you've got to get him. · RF: Was he paying their full rate. VG: Yes, indeed afterwards we needed some voice overs or some dubbing from Ursula and he called her in Switzerladn, he said I can't, because by then he was millions over budget, he said I can't pay you, I really can't pay you, just come and do the thing, I'll pay the fare. Ursulawho has a mind which ticks up dollars all the time said no, and finally Charlie got her over, and Ursula and came over and did all the bits I needed her for, and when she was finished Charlie gave her a white Rolls Royce. It cost I don't know how many times more than it would have cost just to pay her. But that was Charli.e RF: It was Columbia's money what were they doing in the meantime. VG: They were going bezerk. They sent a fellow called Jerry Bresler over to hold things down, as Charlie's hatchet man, he was a complete waste of time. They were going bezerk and people used to fly in and fly out. And one day when some Colunbia head was coming in they went to enormous trouble to get Hugh lleffner,because we had a whole sequence in the Playboy club which was supposed to be the underground head, and the day the Colwnbia people arrived Charlie put on a big show of all our playboy girls plus Hugh Heffner, he got Hugh on the set, it was all on to cafuffle a few people. Charlie would ring me up in the niddle of the bloody night and say Val, we can get Bardot next ednesday what set are we on, and we were films at MGM and Pinewood and Shepperton, we had set on all 3 of them, and I'd say we were on the Casino set and he would say write her in, and odd stars would turn up, say George aft, write something in. RF: Do you thing Around the Horld in 80 Days was on his mind where '.1 lixe Todd had done roughly the same thing and got away with it. VG: Possible. But it was murder making it. If I didn't have. some gigglers I would have gone bezerk. Because not only as I doing my last sequence, Woody Allen, who is t_he most morose person you could ever meet, a nice guy, but you'd have to hold his hand and say you can do it, don't worry Woody , you can do it. And Woody and I would sit up into the middle of the night rewriting their script, and Woody would come in with different things, very funny things, which we Hould write into script form, he wasn't very sure of that at that time, and we would sit the two of us writing and Hoody would say, the executioner \.;ill take all these lines out, we'd go to Charlie and say it's funny let's shoot it, Charlie 102 U?: COR I;EC T:. D ' VAL GU ES T Tape 6 of 8 ma i me d an awful lot of the stuff, and poor Woody was in an awful state, he's a mu r de r er , he's a mur der e r . And I had t o sooth him down a ncl a lot of the stuff we put back fn whe n we g o on the floor, which i s not l i ke me bu t I knew it was funny s t uf f . \foody was very unhappy wi t h Charlie, Cha r l i e was a man one day you wanted to hug him, the ne xt day you wanted to gar ot t e him. He r e a l l y brought out the absolute ext r eme s . He was ne ve r sharp but h is compl e t e befuddleraent and he befuddled yo u by changing his mi nd on the ho ur a l mo s t on the ho ur a bout t hi s that and the ot her , so it was i pos s i bl e to make a nyt hi ng to s c hed ul e be c a us e Charlie changed t he whole schedule. RF: In t he r e wr i t e s wer e you a bl e to keep any r ef er ence to wha t had gone before and what might come a f t e r . VG: YJs, a li t t l e bit, but it wasn't easy. Then t he r e came the time when John Huston said to me t hi s is a l oa d of crap i sn ' t i t . He s a i d I don ' t think I can take any more of this, if I fuck of f the Ireland and play some poker if there are any odd t hings will you pick them up f o r me . Off he went. That was the way things went. There was a di r e c t or , Joe McGr a t h , who came in and went out straight awa y .. Sel l ar s wanted ni m in and Sellars wanted him out aga i n . Bec a us e Pe t e r was going through one of his manic depressives, he came on the set and somebody had to be on the s e t that day, he would crucify somebody, then t he next day he'd be in deep depression bec a us e what he'd done, Orson We l l es could not tolerate Peter Sellars at all. And because of Pet er who had a he ar t thing, he used to play on t hi s , I've got to go by 4, I can I t come in till noon, depending on his whi ms , and Orson got very angry about this, andsuddenly one day Cha r li e c a ll e d me and said Pet er has gone to Ma r bell a , I said why, he decided he needs the rest, someone has to tell Orson this and Orson said r bel l a , so he went t o his dr e s s i ng roo , took al l hi s ma ke ­ up off, went to the pr o duc t i on office and said I' !J going to Spa i n , my s e c r e t a r y will l et me know wher e I ' m go i ng to, and when that fucking ama t e ur is r e a dy t o come back to work, I'll come bac too. My s e cr e t ar y wi l l l e t yo u know whe r e I' '.TI go i ng , so i n a major cas i no card pl a yi ng sequence we had both of them gone . Eve nt ua ll y Or s o:1 was talked out of that, and the whole seque nc e was s ho t with onl y one of them pr e s e nt , it was ove r a double s hou l de r , be c a us e Or s o n wouldn't ·.wrk wi t h hi □ , those ki nd of things made l i f e di f f i c ul t . :ff : :Iow lonz did it take. VG: Nearly a year, it would ha ve taken m or e but finally I said to Cha r l i e , I've given you a lot of l i f e , I've got to ge t on with my life, my e d i t o r Bi l l Lenny he went on wi t h it, a not he r 6 mo nt hs . RF : 1.Je r e you with it for t he f i na l cut. VG : I di d all my s e que nc e . Ano t he r thing whi c h ha ppe ne d , a f t e r Peter's thi ng of go i ng to Spain, Charlie Feldman ca l l ed me on the set one da y , whe n you've finished shoot i ng c a n you come and s e e me, I go back to'South Audl e y St and Cha r l i e says have we go t e noug h of Peter Sellars to finish pr i nc i pa l pho t og r a phy , which means we cut h i s c on t r a c t as fr om now. I don ' t know. Go and look i t t hr ough . So I s pe nc the whole we e ke nd l oo ki ng at e ve r y s e que nc e with Pet er Sel l ar s ;na ki ng not e s of what we nee ded s t i l l . Wh e n I went t hr ough what we needed I thought we c o ul d ge t a r o und to it e xc e pt the f i na l scene, when t he y ' r e all in heaven, we ... needed Pe t e r , Cha r l i e said yo u ' re t hi nk of s ome t hi ng , he ' s f i ni s he d . Throw hi m o f f . So they cancelled pr i nc i pa l pho t o3r e hy which was one of 103 UN CORRECT ED VAL GUEST Tape 6 of 8 the biggest shocks Peter ever had and almost gave him another heart attach, so I had to join up and do odd shots, I had odd shots for John to do with Deborah Kerr, it was a shambles. RF; There were units working in paralle.l VG: At Shepperton, Pinewood and i'iGM. \·:e were working at all those place, we had standing sets there, the Casino set was at Shepperton and stood the entire year. \fo moved around and said which studio are we in tomorrow and theyd tell you at the end of the day. There were several units shooting simultaneousl.y Then when Huston bowed out I had to juop around. At the end we got away with Sellars of doing a blow up shot, a cut out shot of Peter, at the back of these things with heavenly clouds whirling around. They were all in the same shot so you didn't necessarily pick out one person. RF: Do you know what the cost was. VG: Around 18 million dollars which in those days was an awful lot of money. It almost broke Columbia. I used to keep saying to Charlie, you're mad, you've got to stick to what we1 ve got written, you can I t suddenly see something in the Saturday evening post and say I want to write something around this bidee. The picture opened in 18 places at once around New York, maybe not 1 8 but an enormous amount of cinemas, and at the end of that week his takings were colossal for the first week, and Charlie called me at 4 o'clock in the morning from New York, do you want to know what we've taken this week, what Charlie, now who's fucking mad, have a good night and then hung up. The next week went down a bit, and down a bit and by a miracle I think last year or the year before it had got it's money back. When it was finally finished none of us were sura whether he'd say to us no I've got another week, I've got another idea. Charlie said to me I can never thank you enough for what you've done for me on this picture, I'□ going to give you not just your director's credit, but on the opening sequence I'm going to give you a sole credit for the overall directing of the film, directorial supervision, I said Charlie I love you but if that appears on the screen I'll sue you, you'll get a law suit from me. He thought I was made. I said don't you dare do that, I'm serious. At the end of 9 months the whole thing was ready and had been dubbed and Charlie Feld□an said to me I want you come come with me to San Francisco where 1-:e're going to sneak t e preview, I said I cannot, I've go to et on with my life, I had another movie, so Bill went and bill told me afterwards Charlie □ade notes all the way through and when they had their meal at night Charlie had worked it out that in the first reel there were 2 belly laughs, in the second reel there were no belly laughs in the third reel there 5 belly laughs, and so on through the picture, so in the 5 belly laughs take two of them out and put them in the reel where t ere aren't any, seriously. -He died not long aften;ards, e was aL,ays complaining about his pains, he had cancer. 'This guy was a myth, even as an agent. I'm sure this was going to be the last big splurge that he did. He kept saying this is a psychodellic movie. RF: \fuat kept you with it, it must have sorely tried you patienc.e VG: Yes it did, except that you get onto a thing like that and you know there are some good things in it. There were so:ne fabulous sets apart from anything else. ichael Stringer did some brilliant stuff. It was a challenge and every time I would say look, he had the charm of the devil which had made him what he was, and he tal ed you out of it, you went 104 UNCOR TI:CCTED on, come on let's lick it. Another thing which kept me on it wer David and Ursula, we could send it up, getting paid aren't you churn, David would say, write it down as a great experience. We went to the South of £ranee at one time to photograph everyone coming out of the sea in sorkels, but they were doubles, and we were filming in Nice, and I got back to the hotel and was told there's a call for you from Miss Andress in Berne whatever, I called her and she said what are you doin3 there, I said we're shooting, she said what are you shooting, and I told her and she said don't you love me anymore, I said of course, well why ara I not there, why are you using a bloody double, she thought at least she could get a little bit more out of this crazy picture. RF: So everybody got out of it extremely rich. VG: E erybody made a lot of money out of it. Except Columbia. RF: Did you somewhere at the back of your mind have hopes for it. VG: Yes I did. Several times I though I think we've licked it and then .---... Charlie would come up with another brain wave, more ways of spending money. RF: Orson Welles, what do you remember about him. VG: I never directed him, I can't remember if Joe McGrath had left or not Bob Parish was brought in to take over from him. RF: It was a strange mix of directors. VG: Yes, and we didn't know at the beginning who he'd got. John he 1 ,j got and he got me, we were the only two who had contracts signed. John called me one day and said who else have we got, I said I didn't know. I know we had got Richard Talmadge who was there to do all the chase sequences and stunts and direct all that. He was Hollywood famous for it. Other than that I didn't know. Then Ken Hughes was pulled in. And Bob who too!< over from Joe. There were four of us and we were criscrossing where characters did take over one fro:.1 the other, none of John's sequences spilled into anything else, it was a complete sequence on it's own, but the cnsino did because I brought in as part of the link, I can't rer.1en:ber how He linked John's sequence .1-:i th the rest. I can remember going to the premiere , and John uston HAS about 3 seats down, we were in the circle, I waved to hi□ and then he leant right out across the rail and said are we Hise to be here. rf: Is it worth asking about John uston. VG: I'd known him before, a wonderful character, a law until hi:.1self. Ile too!< my first assistant I had ,-;orked on I don't know how many pictures, Roy Baird, and Roy said i'm going to do a couple of days with John is that OK, John was so taken ,,ith :<.o y that he did a lot of war,'. for him. RF: .1-l'hat fuelled Huston's disdain for authority. VG: I think he'd seen so much what arrant nonsense authority mostly was about, he didn't tolerate fools gladly , I think he treated then with the contempt he felt for them. It was contempt. John just to pack it up, I've had enough of this. His attitude was if a producer was not behaving professionalylHhy should he. ... 105 W'.COR1ECTED t : Shall we now move onto Assignment K. VG: He shot it all out in Munich, Leo >lcKern, and Michael Redgrave who was a very sick man, had terrible difficulties with his lines, he wrote me a wonderful letter which I still have after the picture. RF: Stephen Boyd was also in the picture. VG: Ile was a great gigler, a great professional, very nice guy. In the script he was supposed to be a great skier, Camilla Sparv, who was also dying, she was a top skier where she'd come from, she was skiing all the time, so Stephen went to Aspen, Colorado to take some lessons, and on his way he saw 3 ambulances speeding past him, and he drove into the club, went up to the desk and said my name's Boyd, Stephen Boyd, I have a room here for a week, I won't be needing it. And went out into the car and came back. In London he said I have a terrible confessio,nI can't ski, so we put him through a crash course of just being able to start and stop, a very gentle guy. He had a top Czechoslovakian actor, I can't remember his name, and he was dying to get some money paid outside, because being Czech it all had to go back, he's dead now, so I can tell that. Also the first thing of Catherine Schell, she was Catherine von Schell then. It was a couple of days work. It was also the start of John Alderton, I'd seen him on the stage so I wrote him a bit in. IIe used to say I don't know what to do in films so just turn me and point me in the directionyou want me to walk. RF: Who \vas the production company. VG: Columbia. VG: They forgiven you for Casino Royale. They never blamed □ e for that, they were very nice about it, they said if it hand't been for me it would have been a lot worse. RF: \.!hen Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. VG: That was a gigle, that was Hammer and they asked me if I could rio a prehistoric one, as I'd never done a prehistoricone I said yes, why not, let's have a go, and we went out to the Canary Islands. As there was no language in it, it was all made up language, nobody had to learn their lines, it was interestign with Jim Danforth who was Ray Harryhausen's sidekick and it was the first big things he was doing on his own, and nominated for an Academy Award, but Bedknobs and Broomsticks pipped us. RF: Fas it rigorously planned. VG:· Yes, I have the whole storybook at home, \ve went to an island called on which the foot of white man had almost never stood, there was one enormous German hotel and practically nothing else on the island,. there was one awful road, and we stayed at this hotel and then up into the ountains and lava beds. RF: What were the production logistics like when you were so isolated. VG: We planned very very carefully, we couldn't see rushes, there was a place inland where the main telegram and post office place, we couldn't phone London from the hotel, we had to go into the town. Aida Young was the producer on that. It was just a romp. Robin Hawdon played the 1 0 6 U'.-;CORRECT :.D , VAL GUEST Tape 6 of 8 office boy in the Day the Ea r t h Cnught Fi r e , he 1-,as a stage actor, I though t he looked pr e t t y good and I brought him in to be t he l ea di ng man o ppos i t e t hi s strange · Victoria Ve tr i , she was a playboy gi r l , cent r es pr ead . Ri:;,.. Toomorrow, Toomor r ow. VG: Tha t wa s the first space mus i c a l . Ol i vi a Ne wt o n John was playing i n a cabaret and Ha r r y had seen hre and had asked me to me e t h e r and we ha d a chat and I t hough t she's a br i ght g i r l , a cute pe r s o na l i t y , l r r y ha d to a g r ou p together and put her in. this group, none of 1-,hich ever di d anything, and they made records, and LP, I was very t ake n wi t h Livy, I thought she had everything goi ng in t hi s fresh bubbl y wa y , Kershner wanted Livy to have a love seen in i t , and Ha r r y came to tell me a bo u t this andI spoke to Livy a nd s he went bezerk, ! RF: What s or t of love scene. VG: J us t a ki s s and cuddle, f i na ll y we never did the l ove scene. I3ut all t hr o ug h it bubbl y , bounc y , was qui t e lookerl as obvious t hat she cute as a button, was goi ng pl a ce s , s he was ... 1 0 7 U -!C0 1 R ECTED ,VAL GUEST Tape 7 of 8 SIDE 13, TAPES 13 Th young guy in it Bengy Thomas, nothing ever happened to him, I don't know 1•1hy he had a very good voice, the last time I saw him was in an American Express ad in Rome. I thought he had great talent. Livvy never thought she would do anything much more her except sing. And after we'd done the thing, Cliff Richards helped by putting her on his show, that took her up a little bit. That was a madhouse. RF: Mainly because Harry Salzman. VG: Yes. RF: \'Jhat period is this during his life, has he left Cubby yet, have they split. He's go t all this money and doesn't know what to do with it. RF: I don't know how much money he had. Because Harry and Cubby broke off with acri□ony. He was paid off but not well as he would have been if he hadn't done what he hadn't done. The reason Toombrrow was not heavily shown was because I stopped it because I was not paid for the last bit of the film and I took Harry to court and I won my case and my two star witnesses were Frank Launder and Carl Fore□an. And then my solicitors found out, and only then, that the company we'd signed contracts with , Sweet usic in Geneva had absolutely no money, and Harry's name was on none of the papers, so he never paid, so I was stuck with court fees as well, his lawyers Harbottle and Lewis bowed out before the court case, because they said we haven't got a leg to stand on, he got away with it. As I had one of the top lawyers. Tne office had not checked we were suing a company with no money. So it was shown at Leicester Sq and I had written to Harry saying, no London Pavillion, I'm allowing this to open because all the publicity but I have to tell you I will injunct it after the opening if I have not be paid, RF: Could you attach it. VG: '.o, his S;Jiss coriipany had borrowed I don't know how many million dollarsfrom the Swiss Dank, Bank of Switzerland,and as collateral Harry had put up the bond, now :iarry and Cubby's joint agreement that nobody else could be partners in their deal, now Cubby finds he's got a Swiss bank as a partner, it was all sticky and messy and to this day I've never got a penny, £75,000 as still owing, a lot of money in those days. And I had to pay our legal costs which had been awarded against Sweet Music. That was United Artists. It was never shown. RF: ffi 10 took the loss. VG: Sweet:,fusic, the Swiss bank had to try and get the r.1oney back from Sweet l-iusic. RF: Au pair Gir1 VG: That was a romp, it was my first nudie, I did it because Guido Cohen was an old friend of mine, who also used to be with Korda, called □e down to lunch, we're going to do a send up of all the nude pictures, it needs a very light touch, comedy, without any way being porno3raphic, I said why not that's another thing I'd never done, let's try it. It had a very 108 U:·:CORRECT D Ni\L GUEST Tape 7 of 8 good cast. It made an awful lot of mone y , we're still getting cheques in fr:om it. RF: The same is probably true of the next one, Confessions of a liindow Cleaner VG: Guido called me down again and when I got there I found he had a young guy called Greg Smith who was tr yi ng to make his way in the film business, and Mi c ha e l Kl i n g e r . And they pounced on me, they said t he r e is a man c a l l e d Christopher Lee who has written a whole load of confession books, we've got a confession book, confessions of a windowcleaner and we'd like to make a film of it. Guido said as you've done Au Pair, you might want to step one up and do a comedy series, so we go t together and chatted and I said fine, I made a deal with them i f I wrote and directed the fifst one, and I had a piece of it, if it came to a series I would a ls o have a piece in all the other ones whether I directed it or not. That was how we s t ar t e d , that wasColumbia again, they did I think G in all, I only did the first one, I launched it off, the cheques wh i c h come from Columbia even now are unbe l i e va bl e on the series, because it was sold to Home Box Of f i c e , sold to Amer i c a , after it's screenings in Ar.1erica it went on cassette and is doing a roaring trade, Confessions of is the bl oc k buster, it made so much mo ne y when it came out here that Columbia for the first time here had to pay Cor po r a t i o n tax. Wh a t made Confessions was that I tried to walk a t i ght r ope of skin flick and comedy, we kept it bubbling, we never took anything seriously, it was always sent up, that wasthe only way I'd do it I said if you let me send it up. It had to be gossamer light, walking the tightrope all the time. Instead of being emba r r a s s e d t he y were l aughi ng at the nudity. I've had an awful lot of stars which have done nudes for me , Ur s ul a was just a pr o a bout t he whole t hi ng . Claire Bloom was worried in 80,000 Suspects about stripping for the shower, I said al r i ght we'11 use a double, as long as I can vet the double, I got a gi r l down and I go t her undressed in the caravan and she dropped her dressing gown, to see what her figure was like, I said OK, as we Here wal!dng m,ay fros the caravan Claire put her arms t hr oug h mine and said I I ve got better boobs than that, I said what does that e a n , she said I'll doit andshedi d . Diamond lercenaries, it Has going to be Jack Palance but we didn't use him, it -.vas Hugh O 'Drian, t'.1at h·as a t e r r i bl e picture to make, we s ot mostly in the Nanibian desert, a place called in South \·,les t Africa and flew in every r:1o r ni ng into the desert because I wanted to shoot ,-,here people hadn ' t shot, so we were dropped in ever y morning by helicopter, they flew the food in, it was tough going, but enjoyable. It had Peter Fonda, Peter was a ge nt l e pain in the arse, Telly couldn't stand him, called him the amateur. He was on the health kick and '.1e ' d asked for a blender and it hadn't ar ri ved in t e mor ni n for his breakfast of 3 bananas and an arm and a leg and he refused to come on location till it arrived, and as you had to fly to to get it, and fly back, that sort of thing. RF: \fas it a script or adaptation VG: It was an original script by Michael h1i nd e r , it wa s n ' t very gooLl, I took it over and they brought an American writer, Gerald Sandford, and we wrote it between us, I had writ ten the script and he ,,as brought in, AIP it was being done f or , and they brought him over to nake sure t he· script wasbeing Americanised. 109 u: rc ORRECTED 'vAL GUEST Tape 7 of 8 RF: An expensive pi c t ur e .f or AIP VG: It was an expensive picture and produced by a vi l l a i n ca l l e e! Na t Wachsberger, another one of f i l ml a nd 1 s villains, tal k a bou t £75,000 being the wo r s e hit, this 1-ms well over 100,000 dollars, that I didn't get paid, I sued him in Amer i c a , everyone was suing him and no body could get paid, t he n he had a heart at tack . Gerald Li ps ky one of the top lawyers in Ame r i c a said 1111 t ake it on for nothing and if I ge t it we'll split, I said OK, he said you've got a hell of a case, beca us e it made a . f o r t une , it Has in Variety top 10, and Na t j us t went on a round the wo r l d cruise with hi s wi f e . He ha d c ompa ni e s he r e , here here. There were characters f roR earlier pi c t ur es tr yi ng to ge t it too, RF : 1·JcJ.s he bl a c kli s t e d VG: No , he made one after that in It al y , an i nt e r gal l ac t i c s pac e t hi ng . I 6ot paid my salary, it wss my percentage he got away •.,;i t h . He had a terrible deal on production when he wouldn 1 t pay I CM who he done a pac ka ge deal wi t h t h e ir actors, he would pay t hei r actors, he wassel do□ on location with us, he was in J ohanne s bur g or So ut h of Fr a nc e where he had a house and cheques just di


Val Guest. Valmond Maurice `Grossman.  "ValGuest (11 December 1911 – 10 May 2006) was an English film director and screenwriter. Beginning as a writer (and later director) of comedy films, he is best known for his work for Hammer, for whom he directed 14 films, and science fiction films. Married to Yolande Donlan.  

Guest was born to John Simon Grossman and Julia Ann Gladys Emanuel in Maida Vale, London. He later changed his name to Val Guest (officially in 1939).[4] His father was a jute broker, and the family spent some of Guest's childhood in India before returning to England. His parents divorced when he was young, but this information was kept from him. Instead he was told that his mother had died.[2] He was educated at Seaford College in Sussex, but left in 1927 and worked for a time as a bookkeeper.

Guest's initial career was as an actor, appearing in productions in London theatres. He also appeared in a few early sound film roles, before he left acting and began a writing career.


For a time, around 1934, he was the London correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter (when the publication began a UK edition),[5][6] before beginning work on film screenplays for Gainsborough Pictures.

This came about because the director Marcel Varnel had been incensed by comments Guest had made in his regular column, "Rambling Around", about the director's latest film. Challenged to write a screenplay by Varnel, Guest co-wrote his first script, which became No Monkey Business (1935) directed by Varnel.[5] This was to be the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership between the two men.[3] Guest was placed under contract as a staff writer at Gainsborough's Islington Studios in Poole Street.[5]

Guest wrote screenplays for the rest of the decade. His credits included All In (1936) for Varnel; Public Nuisance No. 1 (1936); A Star Fell from Heaven (1936); O-Kay for Sound (1937) for Varnel with The Crazy GangAlf's Button Afloat (1938) with Flanagan and Allen. He also wrote the Will Hay comedies Oh, Mr Porter! (1937) and Ask a Policeman (1939). He wrote Hi Gang! (1941) for Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels.[1]

Directing career[edit]

Guest became a fully-fledged director in the early 1940s (he had been responsible for some second-unit work previously). His first film was an Arthur Askey short, The Nose Has It (1942), warning of the dangers of spreading infection.[3]

Guest's debut feature was Miss London Ltd. (1943), again with Askey; Guest had worked on the scripts of earlier Askey films. Guest's second feature as director also starred Askey, Bees in Paradise (1944). He followed this with two films starring Vic Oliver and Margaret LockwoodGive Us the Moon (1944) and I'll Be Your Sweetheart (1945); the latter was the first and only musical from Gainsborough Studios.

Guest directed two films based on the Just William stories, Just William's Luck (1947) and William Comes to Town (1948). He wrote and directed a thriller, Murder at the Windmill (1949).