Val Guest

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

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Interview notes

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 Transcript.

Tape 1 of 8

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

[NB This transcript, whilst ‘complete’ includes some paraphrasing and omits some repetition. DS 2021]

Val Guest = VG; Roy Fowler = RF


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 gunny business in India.

RF: Where did you go to 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 [British International Pictures] 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 are now in the [19]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 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 poems 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.

[10.00 minutes]

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 credit

VG: I really wouldn’t 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 bits 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 Vaughan Dean, 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 Vaughen Dean 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 overhead railway, miniatures 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 used to be there, whether were were working or writing or doing extra work.

RF: It sounds rather like a club.

VG: It was.

RF: And even if you weren't working on something would you hang 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 [£3-75p] 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 [café]nand these are all habitats of the kafe,[café] 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: Almost a “Goldwynism.” A thumbnail 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 fire brigade 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? Performers too.

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.

[20 mins]

There was an edict at one time when Walter Mycroft had all the lavatories re-whitewashed because they were covered in graffiti, 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' 6” 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 made 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 very 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 it 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 stars, 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 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.

[30 minutes]

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 Wilkinson, 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 challenge or 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’m 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 columnist and thing like that. There were times when Billy Wilkinson's wife, Edith who did the column, had offended so many people she was barred 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 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 ad. 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 never worked with him.

RF: Had he made Henry VIII. Or not? As a newspaper man I would always get an interview with him. He always gave me page ads and things. He was very kind to me, I liked him very much, very much indeed. Brilliant

VG: Around that time, he was making Henry VIII. And running out of money. And I Claudius. London Films time. Then 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's right. He's absolutely right. He was a pompous old fart. That's for posterity.

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. Would he speed up. Or tear pages out of the script.

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.

RF: Who were?

VG: 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 Jock 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 Jock, see if he's got any ideas. But he was never really in our writing team. That wasn't at Poole St, Islington. Jock wasn't there, he didn't come till the Bush. Leslie Arliss was there, but he was doing his own thing, odd bits and 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 [19]30s still.

[40 mins]

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 routine 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 [George] 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 pseudonym? Did you take any credit.

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 with 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 [in] 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 cheeky little bastard was given a part, Graham Moffatt, and from then on we wrote him into all the Will Hays. 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 picture for him.

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 maybe something Launder and Gilliat had scribbled out as a story line. I honestly can't remember that at all.

RF: It sounds like a duck to water, you took to it instantly, writing 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, a shadow.

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 the question is how did it develop?

VG: During those days Edward Black who was our producer and one of the brilliant men in this industry, and there's a man who has just disappeared, 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 [The] Crazy Gang or Will Hay, he could think in terms of Tudor Rose or the Carol Reed thing, Hitchcock, every mind he had 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.

RF: We are running out of tape = oh, we are not running out, we will continue. Can you talk some more about the Palladium shows. They were reviews were they or book shows?

VG: The shows were reviews, I did one book show, George Black said I want you to come and have lunch with a fellow who's quite a good writer in his style and he took me to lunch with James Hadley Chase. That was the beginning of quite a thing with James and myself. Between us we wrote a musical…

[Tape ends]

VAL GUEST Tape 1 of 8 SIDE 2, TAPE 1

RF: -with Julie Andrews. We’d better cover that in case we missed it.

VG: Yes. Get a Load of this. 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 as 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 was this, [19]40s?

VG: Something like that.

RF: Did you find much of a difference as a writer working for the stage.

VG: Not really. And I then dramatised No Orchids [for Miss Blandish] with James,  and George put it on at the Prince of Wales theatre.

RF: Yes it was a great succès de scandale as it was.

VG: But the Palladium shows. I did a whole gang of those. I did the Bebe Daniels and Ben and Vic Oliver.

RF: Is that where you first began to write for them or that you written to them in films.

VG: No, 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 one day saying 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 another man called [?] Shepherd, I was doing the score with Manning Sherwin, we used to right all the musical scores together, he wrote A Nightingale Sang in Berkely Square 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 didn'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 which 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 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 see 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 then two of us, 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 effort. 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 and 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. Some people might find it very difficult [to believe], 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 at the Palladium called OK 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, let’s get the gang in, have a day with them and kick it around.” It was a complete and utter waste of time. Because what they could do was “Remember what we did up in Wigan when we opened the case and the geese flew-“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 think what the secret of their success was, because much of their [act] seems very basic.

VG: They were warm hearted clowns, there was a thing in America called Hellzapoppin’ which was a very big thing which really this stemmed from. But they were all very warm comics and they had an enormous cohesion together and they bounced off each other, it was quite fantastic.

RF: Were they perceived as it was called then 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 six of them, because you had Ches {Chesney Allen] then too. And you'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 would tick them off so we could see that they were reasonably - we knew Ches was alright, he was the straight man he could have less. But we kept them level.

RF: Was it verbal humour or sight humour?

[c10.00 mins].

VG: Verbal more than sight. Sight obviously came into it because of the movies, but it was mostly verbal, and character, Teddy 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 and music hall stereotypes?

VG: Yes. There were 3 separate acts which the brilliance of George Black said let’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 thy musket” 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 pantomime, 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 it 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 {Launder & Gilliat] 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 availabilities 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 polishing 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 whatever we'd been doing.

RF: So it was the writer’s 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 restraint?

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 signal 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 [first] 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.

[20.00 mins]

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 whoever it was, probably Frank, and it was a complete waste of time. They didn't gell. Will 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 [a fictitious school], 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 Christmas, 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 a 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 Mappin and Webb. I said simple, go to Mappin and Webb, say Will Hay gave me this, I don't smoke, can I change it for something else. What a good idea. So Bill Kellina went down to Mappin and Webb in Regent Street. And said his little piece and the assistant looked at it and said “I’ll 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 Will's meanness, he'd gone into all his old things and he'd found this thing. But we all got silver pencisl. 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’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. Would he say I can’t do that?

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 Will 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 Street.

VG: Yes.

RF: Did you have any dealings with the Bush.

VG: No. At Poole Street 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 Will 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 where 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” [minimal cost films made to comply with the 1927 Cinematograph Films 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 was he at some time who had picked on the Crazy Gang and Will 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 George. Because Ted sent me to George. And George would say why don't you do [it]. 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-pictures were they? They were regarded as quite important at the time.

[30 mins]

VG: 5 or 6 weeks. Unless, I did a thing  - in America it was called To the Victor, over here it was called Owd Bob, about a sheep dog, Will Fyffe 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 Hay’s 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.

RF: 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'll 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? [Alfie Roome]

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 air-raid, 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 bet £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 then, do you remember, 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. [Second World War].

RF: Was that a general wage for contract writers?

VG: I wish I could tell you I knew.  I was never curious what Frank got, what Sidney got. I really never knew. I got that every week.

RF: Did you do freelance in addition? Not for films, but other material.

VG: Yes, because I was allowed to go and do the Palladium shows. Stage.

RF: That wasn’t moonlighting?

VG: No.

RF: How about other things, were you still doing journalism?

VG: No.

[Side 2, 40 mins]

RF: Were you writing books of any kind?

VG: No. A couple of plays.

RF: Well I wonder if there’s more to be said about the Crazy Gang films or about Will Hay or that particular era of Gainsborough. It was very much a family atmosphere you say, in the studio. Regulars going from picture to picture.

VG: I don’t know what else can be said about that. I’m trying to think of any side issues that used to come up.

RF: Or hilarious incidents. Were there any anecdotes worth preserving?

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 a lot 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[DS1] ”, 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?”, she 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, [pre-decimal, the smallest coin of legal tender] 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'll 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 [5 shillings = 25p] 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 handcuffed and then take a laxative and was handcuffed overnight.

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”. Had you heard this?

RF: No.

VG: 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 in his scripts and he never looks at anything until finally they have arrived at Harrods, or just beyond 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, went up to see Hitch 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 that we- “. And Hitch says “Did you get the bus alright?” He says “yes, it was fine, now what I've done here-” And Hitch never mentioned it but he told us all afterwards, “He never fucking well realised it, I spent all that money!” That wasn't sadistic, it was a fun thing, but he would go to those lengths. Extraordinary man. He was a child too but a sadistic child.

RF: A very insecure man it would seem, because there are all these elements in his films which are now constantly analysed, which seem to betray enormous great anxieties.

[Crashing sounds]


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 preparing 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 [is] 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 to the Bush as far as I was concerned, Hey! Hey! USA in 1938, Old Bones of the River 39, all those were Gainsborough Islington. Bandwaggon and Gas Bags, Bandwaggon was 1938 and that was at the Bush. At that time I was in the fire brigade.

RF: The studio fire brigade?

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 Bandwaggon 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 Street go dark?

VG: I don't remember. We all tried to settle in. It was nowhere 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 fire-watching 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”, [Ted:] “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 shillings [50 pence] it isn't.” I said “alright fine.” It went through, and the press show, the trade show was the first thing, [it] 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 shillings there in the darkness of the cinema. That was Ted, he'd come prepared with the 10 shillings ready. He didn't have to find it, it was in his jacket pocket just in case.

[Side 3, c10.00 mins]

RF: Am I right in thinking there's a spectacular train wreck in Oh, Mr Porter!

[They discuss this, and Roy concedes he must be thinking of a different film]

VG: No not a wreck. It runs into the buffers in the station, it came to a stop. And we played The Last Post.

RF: One question. There is at least one 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 concluded it came from Ted. The old Edgar Wallace book.

RF: And the Korda film. I wondered if that was an inside joke, an industry joke making a burlesque, a parody of Sanders of the River.

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 memory 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 choose to remember from that particular period when you're still writing.


VG: I have to correct myself Gainsborough was still going in 1942.

RF: At Islington.

VG: Because I did a picture there called Back Room Boy there for Arthur Askey. So I'm not sure when they closed.

RF: Well it may be – I’m guessing now – that they closed in the late 1930s because there was the slump.

VG: It could be.1943 I did my first full directing job Miss London Ltd. and that was at Gainsborough.

RF: I think the studio maybe closed temporarily during the war.

VG: Bandwaggon 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, sophisticated 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. I had him singing and dancing and everything in that.

RF: Bandwaggon was based on the radio show.

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’s Band,

RF: Dickie Murdoch?

VG: Yes Dickie.

RF: Well I really have no idea what to say about Arther Askey.

VG: There’s really nothing much to say about him. He was pleasant enough uou know, but I never really found him very funny.

RF: Well they are I think essentially ephemeral because one can see a Will Hay picture nowadays and stay with it…but to watch an Arthur Askey film is duty rather than pleasure.

VG: Yes, yes. I have practically all the films I ever made on tape downstairs in my garage, the only ones I haven't really searched out are the Arthur Askeys. I’ve got a couple of them.

RF: Well I suppose they are quite amusing to bring back with time.

[They stop]

[Second session] ACTT, Wardour St, 23rd August 1988.

RF: Well Val welcome back to the recording session… and where we left off previously, we were discussing your writing credits during the ‘30s and writing for Arthur Askey. We touched on Bandwaggon and the next one you wrote for him I think was Charlie’s Big Hearted Aunt. Is that right?

VG: Walter Forde directed that one, yes Charley's (Big-Hearted) Aunt, I remember very little about that, what date was that?

RF: [19]39

VG: I was spending a lot of time [with the] fire brigade. I wrote it, I think with George Marriott Edgar again have very little memories of that at all, I saw very little of 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 two 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: Askey? Not in films he wasn't, he had a reasonably short career in films, because I think they eventually just didn't take up his contract.

[Side 3, 20 mins]

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 on that, but I think that was what they went for.

RF: Two questions. What was the real man, who was the real man?

VG: Arthur: Very, very, mean. That was why he was nick-named big hearted. He was always very effusive and pleasant. I can't say he wasn't pleasant. 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: Second question, which follows: to what extent was his partner essential to what he did.

VG: Dickie, we had him in Ghost Train and Band Waggon. 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, [in] London Town, it was essential, he was the side kick, the stooge, like Martin and Lewis. Very essential. But as Arthur moved on, Dickie moved out.

RF: OK well, I suspect we are at the end of the ‘30s. Would Where's that Fire? Be the last Will Hay film that you wrote?

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 Gainsborough 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 Harbottle, Moore Marriott, and lose Graham Moffatt and bring in Edgar Kennedy from the States.

RF: That must have been a very dangerous move audience-wise.

VG: It was, because Hey! Hey! USA was not a success. And they said either we go back to a threesome 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: Yes, I think it was. 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, us writers were all pulled in to see if we could goose up the script. And we went to their offices at Soho Square and sat for days in there, kicking the script around, and I think Where's that Fire?, [and, no] Ask a Policeman we did with MGM.

RF: Now I've got a gap between the Rachel Low list of credits 1939 and those based on your directing career in 1942.

VG: I could tell you if I had my list but I can’t tell you off hand.

RF: Can you tell us about your transition into directing.

VG: That was in the early 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 diseases, sneezes and diseases.

RF: Is that your line. sneezes spreads diseases. I remember again from the time coughs and sneezes spread diseases.

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 eight other writers had been asked before me so I put 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 so I directed it. I was very lucky it went into the Leicester Square Theatre with a Victor Mature, Rita Hayworth film called My Gal Sal, and the critics 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 sheer luck. So I went into Maurice Ostrer and said “look, how about me writing and directing now?”, and so I got my contract.

RF: Is it fair to assume you had a desire to direct before this?

VG: Yes, because going through with Marcel [Varnel] 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 virtually blackmailing the Ministry of Information I 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 Ltd. that they talked him into letting them do, I think it was Two Thousand 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.

[Side 3, 30 mins]

RF: Why was that. Was there a tendency to compartmentalise?

VG: I think if you had shown no, I'm going to put so much 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 screenplay, “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 [as] 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 Ltd. 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 imaginary 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 Street, Islington, the kids were real horrors, not horrors, they were earning their pennies, “look after your car for a bob” [a shilling+ 5pence], 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 sometime 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 know she lived in Dolphin Square. She married Rupert Leon. We used to go and play poker there at night. And Rupert was always saying “When we say what games will we play tonight, Margaret will choose, 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 there, and he used to say “How many times does he come and tap on [the door?]”, and all this, and did he wear long johns, it was a hideous thing, anyway she got rid of him. That was Jack Cox, he had a very dry sense of humour, nothing phased him.

[Side 3, 40 mins]

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 Dolphin Square 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. I introduced David Lean to Kay Walsh his first wife there, because I think David lived there for a while. And Billy Wilder's brother, Bob Wilder. Bud Flanagan. Marcus Sief, Lord Marks and Spencers.

RF: Were 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 [C.B.] 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 air force, 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 [Entertainments National Service Association] 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, my 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.  

VG: 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, Two Thousand 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.

[Side Four]

VG: I was very lucky because as [opposed to] an outsider who might come in and make  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 used on 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.

VG: It was very much easier for me too, being an actor, I knew what their problems where, and I knew if I saw a guy hesitating because I said “Do this and this and this”, I'd think what's the problem with him, oh yes, I 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 an hour and fifty minutes, and you say “how can that be?” and they'd read it to me and I'd hear 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 pre-war 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 may be 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 where 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.

[Side 4, 10 mins]

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.

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 gnarled 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 [Roome], 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’s 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 imbalances.

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 three lines where two 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 day, 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 ‘West 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.

[Side 4, 20 mins]

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, great 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 you respected them.

VG: Because I respected them and I thought they were excellent and i would never have anyone in 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 camaraderie 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? [German rockets]

 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 V1s 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 De La Rue 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 where we were based, and we wanted to find out what these notes were worth. We all had visions of retiring after the war. Someone was brave enough to go. At Charing Cross there was one of those cash bureaus where 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 terrifying thing was working on the docks when they bombed the docks and the whole [of] 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 copped it, I do remember standing among all this in the middle of the night, on the side of the Thames with the hose, three of us on a hose with everything coming down still, because they just followed 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 it’s 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 think 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 your 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?”

[Side 4, 30 mins]

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. I’d previously done Where’s that Fire? never thinking, never thinking…[laughs]

RF: There seems to be a gap of a year in ‘46, were you still under contract to Gainsborough?

VG: No, I’ll Be Your Sweetheart was the last film I did under my contract and I think in ‘46, that was after I'll 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 [Launder & Gilliat] left. I don't think there were any of the originals left because Sidney [Box] 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 munitions 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'll Be Your Sweetheart 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 air-raid 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 endeavouring to 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 mean 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 funfair, 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 stall holders started to create like mad, because when we were there people couldn't get to their stalls, and they realised there was a camera inside and we were filming and they got very uppity about this. And they used to go to George Fowler my assistant director and say “Who's the boss?”, they'd seen that the 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 anything 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 down let's talk about this.” And what had happened is that I had given the story to read, to another writer who is 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 slippery.

[Side 4, 40 mins]

VG: That's quite possible but in all honesty, I can't say because I never had any other dealings with him. He was very generous he knew he hadn't go a leg to stand on so he had to be. The Rank Organisation at that time I wasn't particularly interested in [me] because I had severed my ties with them, and I didn't particularly [like the] 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 big 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 Will Hay saying “I think 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 the actual canvas 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 Baalbek, the ruins, we were filming over there in the Lebanon in the middle of the desert.

RF: Well, if you don’t send it to Sothebys [auctioneers] I think that’s a candidate for the Bradford Museum or the Museum of the Moving Image.

VG: Oh I’m not selling that chair to anybody.

[They talk about a museum exhibit]

RF: I have next Murder at the Windmill.

VG: Murder at the Windmill. Yes, that was very interesting because I knew Vivian Van Damm 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 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 Daniel Angel, whose wife Betty Angel was one of the original nudes in the Windmill, under 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 knew him and 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 OK’d by Van Damm, it was OK’d, 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: That’s a very good question but I would imagine Nettlefold, Walton on Thames.


[Muttered conversation]

 RF: I think we got it all on that one, you were saying probably at Walton.

VG: I think Murder at the Windmill was at Walton, but we’d have to check.

RF: Well it would be in Kine Weekly or-

VG: Yes, sure. On the other hand, I can remember doing a picture but I don't know what it was but I was at Merton [Park] 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 prodigiously prolific list of titles. This time you met your wife around this time, did you not, Miss Pilgrim's Progress ?

VG: I met her when I was making William Comes to Town. She was staring in Born Yesterday at the Garrick which was Laurence Olivier’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 Englefield 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 Garry Marsh, no …Jon Pertwee, because I started Jon off, his very first thing (I think) 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 fabulous 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[landa Donlan] 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 in London who had central heating, it was that very cold winter. This is where we got together and this was through Michael Balfour that I went.

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 really were married and I kept saying “Let’s 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 [pause] a thing for Hammer in Hamburg, Breaking the Circle, 1955.

RF: She was in Miss Pilgrim's Progress.

VG: 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 said 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 the youngest contract dancer, they had danced and learnt with Micky Rooney and Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, 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 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? Robert Angel…

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 understand 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 forgotten he'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 [Garson Kanin, who wrote Born Yesterday] 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, Gar always wanted to make it with Judy if it was made into a film. Because she'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’ve got 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’ll go back a little bit to I’ll be Your Sweetheart: when we were getting ready to make I'll be your 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.

[Side 5, 10 mins]

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, no I’m not really.” I said “Stand up” and he stood up and I knew he was much taller than that, and at that time we hadn't got a leading man for Maggie Lockwood, we’d decided on Maggie,  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 anyway 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 somebody 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, I sent him down to 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 [Miss] Pilgrim’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’d got international distribution had they?

VG: Yes. Through Eros Films who either went through Universal or RKO, I’m not sure. 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 anything 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 bemusement or puzzlement but was always fabulous. There was one time when I had planned a thing called 

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 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 tipple of course, he would lie 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,

[Side 5, 20 mins]

“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 knock on the door 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: I’ve heard that story, it actually happened.

VG: Yes it did. Matty told me himself. What an impertinence to assume that I am dead.

RF: We are still on that period - What about Mr Drake's Duck.

VG: I heard a very short sketch on the radio by a writer called Ian Messiter which was called The Atomic Egg or something…and I thought it was a very cute 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 Doug 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 jnr 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 or Vienna with Glynis Johns, it was a spy thing. Apart from the fact that in 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 all had a lot of laughs.

RF: Is he easy to work with.

VG: An absolute pro to his fingertips. He was very much emersed at the time with Buck House [Buckingham Palace], 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 real-life millionairess, her first husband was Hartford Davis, who was, Garfield who was head of Weston 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 up to 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 third 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 came from the hotel, we all stood and saluted. He absolutely pissed himself [He laughed heartily], 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 production manager even 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 asked him and he said “I don’t care, you can call me Douglas or “Hey you in the blue suit!”  “What do we put on the call sheet? Douglas Fairbanks?” So I said “Yes, sure, he’s said he doesn’t care what it is, you don’t put Sir down.” And then he came to me later, George, and said “What are we putting on the back of his chair?” I said “Oh George, come on we’ve got enough problems without this.” He said “Well, do we put Douglas Fairbanks, or do we put Sir Douglas Fairbanks on the chair”” And I said “No, I think we should put Douglas Fairbanks and if he objects, he’ll say so.” And Yo heard all this going on and said “Oh I never heard such nonsense in my life.” So we were going to dinner with Doug and she said “Look, I want to say one thing, if you’re going to have Sir Douglas on your chair, I’m going to have Dame Donlan on mine.” And he collapsed, and that became a thing and she was always Dame Donlan after that. He took all that and was great to work with.

RF: H is still working is he not? He’s still writing anyway.

VG: Oh yes, he’d like to work, he’d like another film. In America he’s been taking around My Fair Lady. He’s been doing that.

RF: He’s been appearing in it you mean?

VG: Yes, yes.

RF: Is there more to be said about that film?

VG: About Drake’s Duck. Yes, I tell you what might be interesting… I think it was Drake’s Duck that Danny Angel said to me “Look, there’s a fellow we might be able to talk into putting some money into it. Sells cars, he has a car business and he took me around to meet Nat Cohen, and Nat had never been involved in films.

[Roy queries this] and Danny made me tell Nat the story of Drakes Duck and Nat put some money in.

RF: And that was the beginning.

VG: That was the beginning. If it wasn’t that it Pilgrim’s Progress or Body Said No it was one of the Danny Angel ones but I’m pretty sure it was Drake’s Duck.

RF: And you say he was in the motor business. … Were films still that quixotically financed?

VG: Oh yes. Danny was a great wheeler-dealer, and the more money he could get together, the less he had to give the distributor, that’s the way he worked a picture.

RF: Was he straight in his dealings? I presume you had points in his pictures.

VG: No I never did, no.

[Side 5, 30 mins]

He was tardy shall we say. Finally it would come through. He’d get the interest as long as he could.

RF: Yes. The cheques in the mail. Right.

VG: Yes. Or Betty forgot to sign it, that was his usual one.

RF: That was extremely interesting about Nat Cohen. That he came in that way. He really took to it, like a duck to water.

VG: Yes he did, but it took him a while to get going on his own, because he put money in a couple of other things too. Very pleasant, business-like, but a bit gruff.

RF: Did you work with him later?

VG: No, I didn’t. I once went to him when I was trying to get a film, Expresso Bongo off the ground. I went to Nat with it and he said “Oh, I don’t wanna know about this, you know…all this rock and roll stuff and he turned it down. And later when it was a big success, not only a big success, but we got awards for it here and in America, and I met Nat one day and he said shake hands with the **** who turned down Bongo. I’ll never forget that. But I never worked with him…he was great chums with Jimmy Carreras of course, so I met him with Jimmy…. because I did an awful lot for Jimmy.

RF: Well then moving on 1952, we have you down for Penny Princess.

VG: Penny Princess, that was [for] Rank. That was the first time I moved to Rank. I set up this deal through Earl St. John and he said “okay” and then it had to go to the Board – and, oh, that Rank Board. I had to sit with that Board-

RF: John Davis – this is the Chairman of the Board, now.

VG: Yes, he never did anything, he was the business man. If he didn’t like someone he’d say “No”. But the general Board there was a series of people who were accountants, and you had to pass those, they had to read the script. Finally, we got it off the ground, but we only got it off the ground provided I deferred Christ knows what, which I did, and we got Dirk, who was under contract – Bogarde – under contract to Rank, and they wanted to turn Dirk – in fact Earl said “Do you think you could make a comedian out of him – a light comedy?” … Strangely enough, I went to Mongomery Clift first about playing the lead in it, and Monty Clift said “I’d love to do it, but I’m afraid I’m tied up” then after that we went to Michael Wilding. Michael turned it down, he said he wanted to get out of that vein of thing. And then we went to Muriel Dyer [?] about this – Frank Sinatra – through to the coast – and Sinatra was having a very tough time, this was before From Here to Eternity, and he was opening at The Coconut Grove to try and do a comeback singing act. So we were invited to have ringside tables he wanted us to be friendly faces there, [Dean] Martin and [Jerry] Lewis [were there as] friendly faces… and he did this act, very, very, good act… and at the time he said “I would give anything to do a movie, I’d love to go to England and do a movie,” and he would come over and make Penny Princess. Came back, and Earl St John said “Frank Sinatra. Oh, come on, he’s nothing, he’s nothing!” Turned down…. And Robert Cummings was the other one we wanted. Bob Cummings, who we knew and Yo had been friends with him. Yo had been one of the youngest Earl Carroll girls, his wife, Mary, had been an Earl Carroll Girl with her so they were chums…but he was so tied up we couldn’t get him, he was doing a TV series of his own, so we had Dirk.

…And I tested him in one scene and it was not very good and he knew it too, which we finally cut from the film. He couldn’t really handle that, but he was very good in the other stuff, and after that of course he did all the Doctor series. But in one of his books he says “Poor Val he wanted Cary Grant, and he had to take me.” I didn’t want Cary Grant, but I did want several of the other people. To make it more international.

VG: Oh he did – as a person. But he’d never shown that – he had that camp humour. He never showed that in anything he played… but he had a waspish sense of fun. And was a very funny guy, an amusing person to have around.

RF: Would he have played that do you think?

VG: Yes, I think he would. It was so different from anything he’d played and he was always dying to show he could do something else. Like Antony Perkins suddenly had to be Psycho for the rest of his life. He would love to show he could do something else. They get into a rut…

RF: Any other memories of the Earl[DS2] ?

VG: Yes, it was a bit disturbing at first, when you went to see Earl he was always in his office in full make-up. He used to wear pancake all the time. I don’t know what else. I got on very well with Earl. I was told when I went to Pinewood, “Always remember that Mrs St. John likes to go shopping” That was one of the first things that was said to me, and I thought “Oh god, how do I handle this? Blot my copybook by not – or – I can blot it even more by suggesting it, you know. [laughs] That was the sort of thing, Pinewood was very much a closed shop, abide by the rules.

RF: How did you handle that particular [advice]?

VG: I decided to ignore it and presume it wasn’t true. I never knew if I did the right thing or not. I gave Earl some cigars…strangely enough way back I had met Triss [Beatrice] St John who was one of a singing trio, a very well-known trio-

RF: Had he met her here or brought her over?

VG: Oh, he’d met her here. I think, because they were an English group. They sang – and I think we had them in Okay for Sound.

RF: Was it in your experience a very corrupt business?

VG: Yes. There was quite a lot of dropsy, one way and another, yes.

RF: It’s a bit forbidding when the head of the studio –

VG: Well I’m only telling you what was said and the fact I only gave Earl one box of cigars and I worked with him a very long time doesn’t really bear that out. I’m not saying they were against anything but it didn’t hold [you] back if you didn’t…

[Side 5, 40 mins]

RF: No I wouldn’t take that as corruption but there are other people we’ve interviewed. Sidney Box arranged thigs for the benefit of the family; there were ramifications there. Del Giudice was notorious, he was charged for corruption.

VG: So was Alex. Korda.

RF: Yes.

VG: There was quite a bit going on in various departments; to have somebody pass your budget or bond of completion, or something like that. Luckily, I was never drawn into it, I was warned many times. I did nothing about it. Quite honestly, it was too uncomfortable about it to accept the fact that it even existed.

RF: Yes, as you say, it was a difficult one to handle. Right, so how did the picture do?

VG: It did very nicely. Didn’t make a fortune or anything…

RF: Were you sorry that you had Bogarde?

VG: No, no, he was no problem. I would have liked an international star and he certainly wasn’t then; that’s the only reason, because it was the first of our productions – and I produced it as well, and we formed our own production company, while Yo was in To Dorothy a Son, with Dickie Attenborough, they had a twosome [two-hander] which ran for I don’t know how many years. Yo left the picture, er, the play,  to do this which I directed as well…it was successful but it didn’t make a fortune. It just about covered itself.

Then they kept saying to me “We need another vehicle for Yo, dream up another vehicle. And then Yo got herself very busy and had to go back to California for something or other, so we let that go at that time. And I think the next thing we got back to was Runaway Bus.

RF: Life with the Lyons is listed for [19]53. I have a question, prior to that, you say Penny Princess was your first as a producer?

RF: Yes, we formed Conquest Productions. Myself, Yo and an actor called Reginald Beckwith. Tony Beckwith, who was also one of my rep company and a close friend. This was the first time I had set myself up as a producer.

RF: Did Rank finance it wholly, or did you have to find some of the money?

VG: No, Rank financed the whole thing, provided I deferred [my payment]

RF: Did you get that eventually?

VG: Oh yes.

RF: How did you enjoy taking on this now triple role?

VG: I loved it, because you were your own boss and you could take decisions and it didn’t depend on that office saying “yes” or “no” or consulting…you could make on the spot decisions. We had terrible troubles on that at the beginning because first of all we were only given a little bit of money to pay units and things over there to last us a couple of weeks, they didn’t want us to travel with too much cash, and as we were up in the mountains and it was a two hour drive to Barcelona to get to the bank, and all our equipment was held up at the border, the French-Spanish border, and we couldn’t get it in at all and the entire unit was sitting up in this little village we had taken over, and we were there a week. We had torrential rain, we had no cameras; and Rank sent someone to see us – getting through on the telephone was almost impossible, like trying to phone the moon. I finally got through to Earl, I said “Look we’re in trouble… and I don’t have enough money to pay after this week is finished, so they sent a fellow from Barcelona, up – a very smart sort of What Makes Sammy Run character who was obviously finagling things for Rank and he came up with what was obviously a bag of “hot” money, because it couldn’t be taken out of Spain because of currency [regulations], and we had to say “You take a chance if you want to take any of this money back [home] or exchange it.” We were there for well over a week without being able to shoot at all.

RF: As an independent, once Rank had given you the OK, did you get any interference?

VG: No interference at all; I must say in all fairness once the script was agreed – they knew I had a reputation that once a script had been agreed we didn’t change. Except on location if it said “goes through the gate” and there’s no gate, then she climbs over the wall…

RF: So the next thing, you delivered a picture to them.

VG: Delivered the picture, yes. We had to come back and finish it at Pinewood of course.

[End of Side 5]

[Side 6]

VG: [helpfully] Penny Princess.

RF: We were talking about how the Rank organisation worked-

VG: Oh yes, our problems in Spain. We finished the picture, and then we went over to New York for the American premiere, with Yo. We got very good reviews.

RF: Where did you do the interiors? Denham? Pinewood?

VG: Pinewood.

RF: Of course, Denham would be closed by then

VG: I don’t know, I think it was closed by then. It was a shame. I never worked at Denham. Ever. I spent a lot of time there with Korda and all the gang. I did a lot of re-recording, dubbing, music sessions.

RF: One regrets it going… There was a great sense of loss. Life with the Lyons, was that something to talk about?

VG: Life with the Lyons was a very big radio programme – and, so casual the way some things happen because I met Ben Lyon in the streen one day and Ben said “Hey, what are you doing at the moment?”, and I don’t know what I was doing, I can’t remember now, “Why?” and he said “Hammer want to do a picture of Life with the Lyons. Would you like to do it with us, we’d love you to do it.” I said “Fine.” They hadn’t thought of me at all, but having passed me in the street – and I worked with them of course on Hi Gang!  Not Hi Gang, on some of their sketches, one of the George Black shows. Stage show, a review which I wrote for Bebe… [Daniels]

RF: Oh, I tell you what, that does remind me, you mentioned - we’ll come back to Life with the Lyons, if we may, you said that you worked with Sid Field on London Town. Is there anything to be said about London Town and Sid Field?

VG: Yes. It was a question of – I didn’t do the script of London Town, but I did do a script of all Sid’s stuff, because we’d worked together on his very first show on his introduction to London called New Faces, at the Prince of Wales Theatre. So I knew Sid, I wrote some of his sketches, and material for him, and I was down there – it was the start of Kay Kendall – she was a little girl in that. She was the kid.

RF: Was it she, or was it Petula Clark?

VG: No, Kay was in that. On London Town.

RF: Well, so was Petula Clark.

VG: Well maybe that was the kid, and the young teenager was Kay…it was his first venture into films, Sid. He was a bit worried about it all, it was not a good script, and they got two top songsmiths over from, Broadway I think they came from, to write the score and it wasn’t a very good score either. Wes Ruggles, great director, had some fabulous credits – he directed it, it just didn’t go at all. Big flop it cost a lot of money for those days. And they had everybody in it, the band, “Toots” Camarata [Salvador “Tutti” Camarata] came over, who later did Sinatra’s arrangements, he’s one of the top American arrangers, they had Ted Heath – they had everybody in that whole thing.

RF: Do you know what went wrong with it? Because it was one of the great Rank disasters was it not?

VG: It was just a very bad script.

RF: But it was in production for so long – it wasn’t as if they just shot a script and that was that.

VG: The thing is Wes Ruggles needed somebody firm on top of him and he didn’t have anybody. I think they were overawed by his “weight” [gravitas] because his biography read like movie history. It just didn’t hang together, it was a very bad script. The interesting thing that happened is that after it folded in America, they took all Sid’s routines out of the picture and joined them all together and issued it. As a sort of comedy half-hour. And that became the rage in Hollywood, everybody had it at their parties because they thought he was quite fabulous. And Sinatra had special showings, it went around all the people there, it became a cult thing.

RF: It’s the only watchable part of the film. One sees it now, the sketches, they are stage bits but they are shot as stage bits.

VG: Anyway, I spent quite a lot of time down there trying to hot things up, it was heart-breaking. Sid was also doing a show at the same time, and was having slight drinking problems – not a lot.

RF: Was Ruggles also sober?

VG: Wes was sober during shooting yes, absolutely paralytic at night. I know – he used to spend a lot of time with us. We became chums, and we went to the south of France on holiday – the most terrifying, nerve-wracking drive I’ve ever had in my life, was when we staying at the Hotel du Cap, Cap d’Antibes and we’d been to dinner in Cannes. He was great going, but he’d had so much at dinner [and] in this car on that coast road, most terrifying drive I’ve ever had in my life. I kept saying “Wes let me drive.” “No, what do you mean, I’m not capable of driving?” He was a great guy, I must say I liked him enormously. Great sense of humour too.

RF: How did he take the total failure of London Town. Do you remember?

VG: By the time it was a total failure, Wes had gone back so I don’t know, but what I was going to do, we were going to follow London Town – Wes was going to do an undertaking of mine, which my agent then, Chris Mann, we’d had all the business talks about it, it was something strangely enough that Eddie Dryhouse years later became interested in, it was the story of Rolls Royce, and I had done two years research, I’d met all the Royce family, I had all their permissions, I had everything there was to have, and Wes was mad about it and couldn’t wait to follow London Town but – they didn’t want any follow [up] to London Town. I think Wes was very self-indilgent on that, there was nobody at the top saying “Come on, and get on with it!”

RF: I think this destroyed his career, did it not…?

VG: Yes, I think so.

RF: For some reason it was the time when some directors just got out of hand…

VG: Yes. I don’t know that it destroyed his career because what happened in England really doesn’t mean anything in America, because all you do, you go back and they say “Oh, fucking awful picture, but Jesus you should see the units – they’ve got a million alibis even if the people over there know about it.

RF: Well that’s true, and maybe his career ended because something in him felt, rather than what happened here-

VG: Yes, I’m not sure how long after that he died. I can’t believe he didn’t go back and do more movies.

RF: Well, I’ll check on that, but I remember a friend of mine round about that time, coming back and I said “How was it?” – this was in California – and he said “Well he said, here it’s a rat race, there it’s a mouse race”. There was this rather parochial attitude.

VG: But you see what I’m trying to say is that the fact that a guy made a flop over here wouldn’t mean an iota of anything in America.

RF: I think you are right.

VG: If he’d made a flop there, that makes sense. I can’t remember what he did before London Town, but what he does outside the country nobody gives a shit about. So it couldn’t have finished his career. Might have done here. Must be something else that finished it over there.

[Side 6, 10 mins]

[Ruggles did some writing and TV work, but no major films. DS]

RF: While we are talking about Sid Field did you do any other work with him other than Cardboard Cavalier?

VG: No, I didn’t; I worked with him at the Prince of Wales Theatre. Did odd bits, wrote for him there.

RF: Did you contribute to any of the classic sketches, The Photographer and the golfing sketch?

VG: Yes I did, odd bits and pieces. I didn’t write them, but odd bits and pieces. I didn’t write them. I must remember to Breathe – I don’t know if you remember that. He would start a speech and never stop, go right through, and [imitates breathlessness] “I must remember to breathe” That was one. And his ‘slow trip’. He used to walk and catch his heel behind his foot and do a slow trip. Those two bits of business, but odd lines, odd things in The Photographers, yes.

RF: The Spiv. Do you remember The Spiv?

VG: Yes, I do and The Golfing.

RF: Glorious those. Right, now we are back off our side track, to Life with the Lyons and how he accosted you one day.

VG: Oh yes, so I met all the Hammer boys – that was the first time I’d met all the Hammer boys – first time I’d met Jimmy [Carreras]. Mike was not really – he was there but he wasn’t doing much at that time. He had a back office. I met Jimmy, first time and we struck up a friendship which went on through a long time. For a lot of films: fourteen, I think. Thirteen or Fourteen.

RF: Would you like to look back or forward on the Carreras family?

VG: Oh, the Carreras family: James was an incredible salesman. James one day called me into an office and showed me a poster that he’d got up- I’ve forgotten what it was called, I think it was, I’m not sure, perhaps a dinosaur picture or one of those creatures time forgot or whatever, wonderful poster, thing with a girl in its mouth – I said “Oh Christ!” He said “You interested?” I said “Oh yes, that’d be a lot of fun.” He said “Well write it. We’ve got the go-ahead” “How’ve you got the go-ahead?” He said “On the poster. I always sell on the poster.” And that’s exactly what he used to do. He used to have these fabulous posters [made], send them to America, they’d come back and say “Yes.” Incredible salesman. No, he was a great guy. He said to me “I don’t know anything about comedy. I’m no good with comedy so I’ll leave it to you.”

I said “Well you don’t have to leave it to me, the three people you’ve got, Bebe [Daniels], Ben [Lyons] and Vic Oliver know more about comedy than I’ll ever know.” So that’s why they lurched into comedy. They’d never done anything that wasn’t – that was – comedy.

RF: What had they been doing up to that point: policier, murder things, detectives?

VG: They had been doing – they’d get an odd star, Bob Lippert they used to work with, was there American outlet, they used to get the odd stars, the Dane Clarks, Paulette Godards. One for each ‘B’ picture they made. They used to get them over and make them at Bray [studios]. They were then Exclusive Films. I never worked for Exclusive Films, but when they became Hammer, first time I joined them, up to then they had done a lot of these things, sold in America, they were programme pictures [i.e. part of a double bill cinema programme. DS]. They hadn’t really got into their horror stuff.

RF: That’s shortly to happen though.

VG: Yes.

RF: So, both Bebe and Ben ‘went back’ in terms of the motion picture business. What do you remember of Bebe Daniels?

VG: Bebe was the driving force of that team. She was a very clever business woman, she drove that whole family, she drove the machine, she wrote the scripts – I’m talking about the radio thing, the TV things. She had files and files she’d brought from Hollywood, of old programmes she’d bought the scripts from – I’d never seen such a file of gags and routines.

[Side 6, 15 mins]

So, she devised all these things from that plus what they put in themselves. She was the driving force, very stimulating lady. Eventually I think she drove so much it eventually gave her the heart attack – she had a stroke. Because she was always very tense. Great sense of fun, very professional.

RF: With all that drive, a pleasant women.

VG: Oh yes. I used to go over there every Sunday and they used to have canasta parties. And everybody you could meet at those parties, from the Spanish ambassador to Jeanette MacDonald, Gene Raymond , everybody who came to town came to a canasta party, we used to have a Hollywood commissary plus the St James’s court. They used to have so many people there and a running buffet.

RF: Was there – this is a bit of a side-line – was there a sizeable American colony in England in the fifties? There was, I suppose, to be very shortly, due to the McCarthyite refugees.

VG: I don’t think there was, no. I mean Ben and Bebe were the two who were famous for staying here, they were here during the blitz, they stayed through all that. I don’t think there was a colony, no.

RF: The big one came later in the sixties.

VG: Yes, it did.

Ben had a terrifying temper. He had the shortest fuse of anybody I knew.

RF: He always played ‘laid back’.

VG: Yes.

RF: Was he working at Fox?

VG: No, no he was working over here, he and Bebe they had a show.

RF: But didn’t he have a job at Fox over here, before he went back to the coast?

VG: Yes, but that was after all this. Because he’s originally been with Fox, when Zanuck was there. In the earlier period – the Marilyn Monroe period. He was casting at Fox. Bebe: what can we say about Bebe, that was that. I know when we made Life with the Lyons, we had a lot of fun. There were no problems except if Ben lost his temper about something. We had a producer, Bob Dunbar-

RF: Oh yes, I know Bob.

VG: -and I don’t know what happened between them but Ben really let fly, crikey, we had to hold him back. Ben didn’t take to him at all, there was bad feeling and I don’t know what it was about. Something was done, or it wasn’t done, I don’t know, but I kept out of this. We would try and simmer him down, but he had a big temper. On the second one, The Lyons in Paris, we all went to Paris and did our stint over there; we were not allowed to take any lamps at all. We had to shoot the whole thing without lamps, night as well. We’d get every car we had in the unit and turn the headlights on, and that was our lighting.

RF: Yes. Do you remember your budget?

VG: [chuckles] No I don’t, it was very, very, tiny, and I mean it was literally a fourteen-day shoot or something like that, two weeks or three weeks at the most.

RF: Including the locations?

VG: Including the locations, yes.

RF: Well they were very popular at least with the British public.

VG: Yes, they were. I shouldn’t have thought they did much [business] abroad. They were curiosity pieces, very cheap to make and quick to make and we had a lot of fun making them.

RF: Films of that type certainly were not made to survive…

VG: Right! I wouldn’t be surprised if one turned up on television if anyone could find a print. I go through the TV Times and Radio Times – they came today – the film things in them, and I say to Yo “No, we’re all right this week, no problems; some weeks you feel “Christ, I’d better put a yashmak [veil] on and leave the country for a week.”

[Side 6, 20 mins]

RF: Do you get embarrassed?

VG: Yes, I do sometimes. Some you think “Oh God, why haven’t they lost the negative of that?” But a lot of stuff I would like to see again they haven’t put on. They probably don’t have any records of them. It was an awful long time to find Penny Princess, ‘cos that went out of circulation and I wanted to get a cassette of that from Rank, and all Rank had was our original three-strip Technicolor negative. It was on three-strip. And to make a print of that would have cost about sixty thousand pounds, because we’d have had to make a combined [print] and then a matrix, and it wasn’t worth it, and the Rank boys said “Look when we do a whole lot together, eventually we’ll get that done”; then I found that a distribution firm in America, called, erm, Jarvis, Jam, well anyway they were showing it – it had a lot of showings over there in black and white, on late shows, and I wrote to them – Janus – to see if I could get a black and white copy, to buy one, and they said “Ask Rank, they have to write to us and ask us.” And by the time I’d done it all it’s out of their catalogue and nobody knows where its gone. And then one day, everybody I knew I asked, the…labs, people all over the world looking at film to see if we could find it.

 One day Leslie Halliwell called me and said “I have a feeling that Grampian [Television] are going to do it, going to show it because they’ve got a colour print, because Rank has now done a proper print with a lot of other things, so I got onto Grampian, and they said “Yes we are going to show it.” And I said “Please can I have a copy of it when you have shown it, I wrote and directed it and I own all the copyrights, so I have really a reason for wanting it, and they said “Well we’ve got to show it first.” They did the screening and they had so much reaction from it they called me up and they said “It went down so well that we are going to give you a copy.” So, very nice, we got our Penny Princess after, I’d been trying about twelve years.

RF: Very nice. So this was a mint print off the original negative.

VG: Not a print, no, a tape, but from the best Rank print there was. They had a new one. And a little later its going to be shown in London, too.

RF: Where can one have an [?] print made from the old three-strip neg?

VG: You can’t, it’s too costly.

RF: But is there a plant even? I know there is in China because Hollywood…

VG: Ah, well I don’t know. All Rank said was this is what it was going to cost, they didn’t say where it was going to be done. I would imagine, don’t you think Technicolor could do it? Maybe not.

RF: I don’t think so because its an entirely different process now – they were the inhibition [?] prints built up from the matrices. I must ask someone. Anyway, glad there was a happy ending with Penny Princess.

How about The Runaway Bus, 1954? You’ve got three for ’54: Runaway Bus. Men of Sherwood Forest and Dance Little Lady.

VG: Well, I have Life with the Lyons there after Runaway Bus. 52, Penny Princess.

RF: Yes.

VG: ’54 Runaway Bus, Life with the Lyons, Men of Sherwood Forest, Dance Little Lady. This is the French printed one, [?] but it may have been a year earlier, you know, I really don’t know because I can’t believe I did nothing in 1953.

RF: Katz gives it as 1953. [The Film Encyclopaedia, editor Ephraim Katz. DS]

VG: Which?

RF: Life with the Lyons.

VG: Could be, could be.

RF: It’s an awful lot for one year. It could be the release date.

VG: Yes, a late date, true. Anyway…

RF: Well, since we’ve talked about Life with the Lyons, what about the next three? Was Runaway Bus the next in order?

VG: Yes, it was. That was back with Danny Angel.

[Side 6, 25 mins]

RF: He was very active.

VG: Yes, he was. He didn’t make anything that I didn’t do for him. Having pulled him into it he sort of clung to my coat tails – not because he particularly wanted me but because he just didn’t dare – because I remember when – going back a little bit to Drakes Duck, Yo and I were in the south of France having a holiday and Danny called us up at the hotel – I’d written Drakes’s Duck then, and we were trying for various leading men and everything and I’d gone away on holiday, and we were at Du Cap and Danny called up and said “Look we can get Fairbanks, junior.” I said “Oh that’s terrific, that’s great.” And he said “But I’ve said yes.” I said “Yes that’s fine.” “But he’s flying over this coming week and I don’t want to meet him on my own, I don’t know what to say to him, I need you back here – get the next plane back.” So I hung up and we talked this over and we both decided “Oh to hell with this, this is absolute nonsense to spoil our holiday, he can handle it, he’s the producer let him talk to Fairbanks.” So I sent a telegram to Danny saying ‘Can’t get flight back, all flights booked until so and so’ and next thing I know I get Danny on the phone who says “I’m sending Zita [?] down for you now.” Now Zita was the woman who flew Vivian Van Damm’s plane, they had a little plane, a tiny little Moth – it was a de Havilland Moth and she used to be a bomber pilot during the war, a ferry pilot, she was a good thing. “I’m sending the plane it’ll be there tomorrow to bring you back.” So, we’d done ourselves in the eye, we weren’t going back by regular airliner, we’d go in this tiny little plane with canvas wings. And it landed at Cannes Airport, and who was having a holiday with us was Peter Butterworth, another of our chums that I had started off out of the Air Force; he came back ex-prisoner-of-war, … anyway, Peter was with us on holiday, so I said “Well, we’ve got to go, nothing we can do,” so [we] pack our bags and Peter drove us to the airport, an airport, a little tiny one, and we saw this plane we were going to take off in and this was the airport where Merle Oberon’s husband had been killed on take-off…and we saw this plane and “Oh God, this tiny little thing to go back to England in” and we met Zita and Zita was in high heels, summer dress, this was how she was flying so it was all very worrying and we got in this plane and she said “Stand at the back and hang on to the seats for take-off.” No sorry, we’d put ourselves in the back and she said “Come forward and hang on to the seats for take-off, ‘cos I don’t want the tail too heavy.” And at Cannes airport there you have the Esterel Mountains, that you have to get over, and down below Peter with a broad smile on his face was doing this [?] and waving. That was a hair-raising trip back one way and another because we had to stop and fill up petrol at some little local airport where they were having a flying gala on a Sunday, and we had to get down, and the control tower [staff] were pissed as a newt, because they came through on the intercom. They were singing!

RF: Very French!

VG: Yes! And when we came down there, they knew Zita, and when we landed – Toussus-Le-Noble it was called – they came along with a big bouquet of flowers for Zita. But that was neither here nor there, that was just a case of Danny not being able to face a star. He’d never come face to face with a star before. Anyway, where were we?

RF: I guess we’re at the stage of The Runaway Bus.

VG: Yes, Runaway Bus.

[Side 6, 30 mins]

Strangely enough it was Peter Noble, who has been a chum of ours for God knows how long, Peter and Mary Noble, it was Peter who said to me “What about doing a film with Frankie Howerd?”, who was playing at the Palladium at that time, “Very funny man.” And I said “Yes he is funny”, so what about a film?” “He’s refused to do films, why don’t you have a word with him?” So, I spoke to Danny to try and get Frankie to make a film. I’d never met him in my life. He said “Yes that’s a very good idea, see if you can.” I went to see Frankie, introduced myself…and he didn’t want to know about doing a film, he said “I’ve seen too many of them. They’ve come from stage or radio and suddenly you’re up there and it’s a flop. I don’t want to know about it.” So I said “Look if I write something especially for you, and you have the okay on it, would you feel-?” He said “Yes, if it’s a comedy thriller, and the thriller is more important than the comedy, I will do it. Then the thriller carries the story.” He said “Also another thing is, I will not take star billing – that’s one of my contractual things is you don’t give me star billing, because I don’t want to take the can for anything that might go wrong.” And he said “I would like to do a picture with Margaret Rutherford”, who he was a great fan of. And apparently Maggie Rutherford was a great fan of Frankie’s. So I then chased up Maggie Rutherford, and [said] “I’m going to write a story for Frankie, can I write you in? Are you interested?” “Oh yes, love to do a picture with him.” And Danny talked to the distributors and “All right, go ahead.” That was the Hyams Brothers who were distributing it. I then wrote Runaway Bus, we started to make the picture, we made it at Southall Studios, and the entire picture takes place in a fog, the whole thing is an airport bus gets lost in the fog and ends up in an army live ammunition training camp. And it was a thriller, because there were bodies and somebody gets murdered on the way in the fog. And after the second day’s shooting, we had been to the rushes, and Maggie Rutherford hadn’t come to the first day’s rushes for some reason, she came to the second day’s rushes and after… she came up to me and she said “I’d like a word Val.” And I thought “Oh Christ now what, she’s worried about what she’s done or hasn’t done”, and she said “Look, on no condition can I star above that man, because he is very, very, funny and he is the star of this picture.” I said “Look Maggie this is my contract and you have first billing.” “I don’t care about your contract I am not going to allow my name to go above his.” So, here we had an unheard of thing with the star who didn’t want to be on top, and the one on top wanted to be under the star. So, we did finally work it out and I convinced Frankie, having got a rough-cut together that he was alright to take star billing on it. It was a strange situation.

RF: What had he done at that stage. Had he been on radio?

VG: Oh yes, he was a big radio name.

RF: So he was worried his popularity [would drop]

VG: Also he was in a very successful Palladium show at that time. A review.

RF: He also was one of those who’d really got his experience through the war in service concert parties, that sort of thing. Almost a self-taught village genius.

VG: That’s right, yes. Anyway, that started a friendship, from that day on he’s been one of our closest friends, Frankie, and has been through his ups and his downs, his depressions. He’s our absolutely closest friend, in fact on Saturday he called up and said “Why don’t we go to Wimbledon Dogs, so we went. He’s been one of our closest friends all these years.

RF: Marvellously funny man.

VG: So that was Runaway Bus and another thing of course we had Pet Clark [Petula Clark] and it was the first time Pet had not played a little girl. She played an air hostess in it and she was worried, she said “I want to grow up.”

[Side 6, 35 mins]

And I said “We’ll do that. First thing if you want to grow up, we have to bar daddy from the set and she didn’t seem to mind that, she didn’t say yes or no or anything, so we barred him from the studio, we didn’t let him in, because he’d always been her dominating factor, so we grew her up in that, she was very good in it. Attractive. Even had boobs. [chuckles] So that was her start on that too, as a grown-up.

RF: Did the picture do well?

VG: Yes, oh enormously. Everybody made an enormous amount of money out of that.

RF: Including you, you, had a percentage?

VG: Yes, and it comes back time and time again you know it was re-released in movies, in cinemas again and was a very big hit.

RF: I’ve not seen it I hope it will come on television.

VG: It used to come up every Christmas. On BBC. It didn’t come last Christmas, but it did the Christmas before.

RF: [inaudible] Men of Sherwood Forest I have [next]

VG: Men of Sherwood Forest that was a romp. I can’t remember who produced that, I think it was Tony Hyams.

RF: Was it at Bray?

VG: It was very much so. Bray and Bodmin. Bodmin Castle. But that was a merry romp, it was a send-up of all the Robin Hood things.

RF: Was the television series on concurrently? It wasn’t the reason that you made it.

VG: No, no that came later. No the only one that had been done, was Todd’s Richard Todd’s, which was Robin Hood, the Disney one. It was where they first called him Disney’s eighth dwarf. That had been done, but nothing else. Just a romp on that, a send up of all the Robin Hood pictures. It was fun.

RF: It was a time of historical pageants. MGM made a lot, too I remember, Ivanhoe.

VG: Who’d I have I had Don Taylor who has since become a big director – Don was Robin Hood.

RF: [slightly incredulously] Oh was he?

VG: Who did we have – a lot of people – Leslie Linder, who went on to be a big promoter and put money into and started The White Elephant and numerous films. He became a packager, later.

RF: He was in it you say?

VG: He was in it he played, not Little John, Friar Tuck. Tony Beckwith of course, and another guy who became the Head of Columbia afterwards, very dapper Englishman, who became head here, then went to New York and then Hollywood – I cannot remember what his name was, isn’t that awful? I don’t think they put it down here [consults list and reads names] anyway it was a fun picture, but nothing really riveting or historical.

RF: That was for Hammer?

VG: That was for Hammer yes.

RF: Dance Little Lady?

VG: That was for George Minto who was-

[End of Side 6]

[Side 7]

RF: This is the Val Guest interview resumed on the 30th August 1988 at ACTT. Val we broke off last time in 1954, but you wanted to go back briefly to Give us the Moon.

VG: Yes, Give us the Moon for two things, most importantly when we were casting…I was trying to find someone to play Maggie Lockwood’s daughter, who had to be an angelic looking girl but a real tearaway. We had tested an awful lot of people, we had tested about twenty girls, and Maurice Ostrer said to me “Look you can’t do any more, go back and see all the tests again, and choose one of them.”, because I wasn’t really happy with any of them, and on the way back to see the tests I passed Weston Drury’s office, he was the casting director at Gainsborough and sitting in the office was a young angelic looking girl with her mother, and I stepped in and I said “Have you come about this film, this Give us The Moon?”  and the mother said “No, no, no, we’ve come to see Mr Drury and he’s not here and we’re waiting for him.” And she introduced me to the daughter, and I said “Have you done anything before?” and the mother said “Oh yes, she’s done a little bit here, and she’s danced a little piece- ” and gave me about three or four things little tiny bits she’d done in movies. So I grabbed the girl by the hand and I took her down to Maurice Ostrer’s office and said “This girl I want – she’s absolutely right, she’s done two or three little things and she sounds intelligent and everything.” And Bill [?] Ostrer said “Look you’re not testing any more – if you take her, you take her on your own risk. So I said “OK I’ll take it.” That was Jean Simmons.

And after the first day’s shooting, Jean’s mother came to me and said “Are you happy with what Jean has done?” and I said “ Yes, very happy.” And she said “When will the other people see it?” and I said “Well, they’ll see it at lunchtime.” And she asked “Well can I come and see you after lunch?” I said “Yes, of course.” So afterwards I forgot all about it, and we got on and we had lunch and during the afternoon Mrs Simmons came to me and said “Did the other people like it?” and I said “Yes, they were fine.” And she said “Well I’ve got to tell you, I’ve got to confess, I lied, Jean has never done anything in her life before, and I lied. I hope you forgive me.” I said “Of course I forgive you.”

And another rather nice story about that – I used to sit, we had a staircase on one of the sets and I used to sit on the staircase with the young Jean, and we used to talk about acting, about filming, about this that and the other, and I said “One day you are going to be a star, I’m sure of that.” Because I was terribly impressed with what she did, and she said “Well, I’ll make a deal with you if I’m ever a star I will always work for you for half.” And I said “Oh that’s a great thing.” And I shook hands with this little teenager, and that was that. Many, many, years later we were taking on a picture over here and we couldn’t think who to cast and somebody said “What about Jean Simmons?” and I said “My God, what a wonderful idea”, and although I’d seen Jean just in passing, we hadn’t spoken for all those many years, and she was now at the top in Hollywood, so we cabled her agent saying ‘what price Jean Simmons and availability?’ And a cable came back saying ‘available so-and-so, price whatever it was’ and she was at that time pregnant but doing the dates seemed to be alright. Less than 48 hours later I got another cable saying ‘correction, price so-and-so and it was exactly half’ … so they had gone and spoken to Jean…

RF: That’s very heart-warming.

VG: After all those years. That’s quite a thing for someone to do. As it happened, we didn’t make the movie because her pregnancy got in the way.

Now Give us the Moon also was Maggie Lockwood’s first attempt at comedy and the powers that be were very worried that she couldn’t carry comedy,

[Side 7, 5 mins]

so having brought Peter Graves in again as her leading man who was a wonderful light comedian with a great sense of fun, I knew that he would jolly her along and help her through and everything and Maggie was very good in this.

I don’t know what ever happened to that movie – I must have lost the print or something. It never has come up again, but it had her, it had Vic Oliver and Roland Culver and it had a very good cast of solid English character actors who were well known in those times. It was also the first appearance in films of a rather strange young lady who later became very famous and that was Irene Handl. She appeared as a school mistress in it, who was trying to take this tearaway girl in. Very strange lady, even in those days she was a very strange character, and she had never done a film ever, and she had a tiny little part, a day at the most, half a day’s work. So that was her too, and that’s Give us the Moon anyway.

RF: Question about Simmons. Two actually: the relationship that her mother had with her, was mum a stage mother? No she wasn’t actually. Jean Kent’s mother was a stage mother, my god yes, but Jean’s: no. She only came with Jean the very first day of shooting just I suppose to see her alright and also her big confession, but in no other way. I never saw her I did take her home sometimes, and I took her to her first theatre, we went to her first theatre show during the blitz this was and I took her back during an air-raid to Golders Green where they lived and met mum, but mum never had anything to do with the movie at all.

RF: So it was Jean Simmons ambition, rather than her mothers.

VG: Well it may have been mum’s ambition but mum certainly helped her into that first thing. She was a tower of strength than, but then she retired. Once Jean had got launched, she retired.

RF: The other’s a slightly nebulous question, but let’s see what one can get out of it and that’s what does one perceive in a very young inexperienced girl? Or boy. Obviously, she has a quality.

VG: Well first of all she had an enormous quality. Secondly, she took every bit of direction I gave her as if she’d done it all her life. There was a scene where she had to cry and I said “Don’t worry, because we’ll put tears” and she said “Oh I can cry if you want me to.” And she did. There was a most moving scene just out of the blue like that. There were so many things and she had a quality that came across, too. you knew this girl was going somewhere if she didn’t foul it up herself. A lot of them foul it up. But she had that quality where you knew she was going to be a star.

RF: And it was apparent on the film right from the start was it?

VG: Absolutely, because she looked absolutely angelic and as she was playing a part where she was areal tomboy tearaway who smoked and drank and swore when she wasn’t with her mother,  there was a bit of acting to do there too. So she was excellent.

RF: It would be very interesting to see that film.

VG: It would be fun to see it again. It wasn’t a very good film. It was a palatable film, it wasn’t all that bad. It was Caryl Brahms and S.J.Simons book, and I don’t know if it  was a little bit too sophisticated, I think it could be. Perhaps a little not fantasy but somehow or other it was little too way out for those days.

RF: I don’t think there was ever a really successful hit movie made from any of their novels, I can’t recall any.

VG: I can’t remember. There was one book Bullet in the Ballet which was a murder story which I tried for a long time to make but nobody wanted to know. The other one hadn’t been a success and instead of blaming me, they blamed the book.

[Side 7, 10 mins]

RF: Is there anything more to be said about Jean Kent?

VG: Jean Kent, yes when I was doing my Askey penance that first one was my very first film, Miss London Ltd., when we were casting that, Walter Forde was making, a couple of stages down from my office was making ITMA with Tommy Handley, and they had some singing sisters in it, I think they were called The Green Sisters, I’m not sure, who were not photogenic, let’s put that mildly, so they had cast three girls to mime it – who stood behind a piano and mimed – and Walter Forde came into the office , he popped into the office and said “Have a look at this girl on the set. She’s miming. One of the mimers of the song. Seems to have an awful lot of life.” So, I went on the set and I watched, and it was Jean who was miming with two other characters, and she had an enormous amount of life. And I met her afterwards and talked to her afterwards and she was so full of ambition; she made herself disliked in the studio later because she was so ambitious, she said “Why don’t they put the Lockwoods and Calverts and people out to grass and give us newcomers a break?” And that sort of talk gets around. I was impressed with Jean and I wrote a special part for her in Miss London Ltd. As a girl who sells encyclopaedias to people – it was a comedy part, and she was absolutely excellent, and I went to Bill Ostrer afterwards and said “I think you ought to grab this girl, I think you’ve got something here.” And finally as he had slipped up on another thing I’d talked to him about, he signed her and they gave her a contract. So I wrote her then as a leading lady in Bees in Paradise with Askey, and that was Jean. I think Jean is rather inclined to say that she started in dancing things and this that and the other, but this was actually her beginning. I know I did a very long test of her singing and dancing before we gave her the main part for the Askey thing. Later, getting to Give us the Moon again, after, I begged Bill Ostrer to sign up Simmons. And he said “What are we going to do with a kid?” and I said “She’s not always going to be a kid, she’s growing now.” He said “Yes, she’s good but we’ll never be able to use a kid.”, so we never signed Jean Simmons. And I think a little after that she did the Gabby Pascal thing, the Cleopatra,[Caesar and Cleopatra] from which she got another contract from somebody else.

RF: I think she made her greatest impact as a youngster in Way to the Stars. Am I right?

VG: That’s right.

RF: Singing Let him Go, Let Him Go.

VG: That I think covers those pictures.

RF: Right, OK. We move forward and we are in 1955 and what I’ve got for that is They Can’t Hang Me. I’ll cross-check that.

VG: In 1955, They Can’t Hang Me, yes?

RF: Hm, hm. Terence Morgan, Andre Morrell, Anthony Oliver and Yolande Donlan.

VG: That’s right. They Can’t Hang Me was a book by Leonard Mosley, I think it was. And the Proudlock Brothers had bought the book, Roger Proudlock and his brother, and had got themselves into terrible trouble one way or another, financially or the director they had had pulled out of they’d fired [them], something had gone wrong, and I know they called me in a panic and said “Will you take this over?” So I looked at it and I didn’t like the script so they let me redo the script, and we took over at very short notice. It was not one of those that I had sat down and said I must make. I can’t think of anything else to say about that.

[Side 7, 15 mins]

RF: Okay. An actor I enjoyed very much I worked with a couple of times, Andre Morrell.

VG: Yes, Andre he was great to work with. He was in that one [and] later I used him in Camp on Blood Island. And Terence Morgan of course I had used in Dance Little Lady.

RF: Yes, he was a jeune pommier  [little apple] Never really went anywhere.

VG: No, he started big guns with the Oliviers you know Vivien and he played everything with them in the Royal Shakespeare Company, or the Old Vic or whatever it was then, no he didn’t he was just too, too – I used him again in It’s a Great Life. I had him in that as the juvenile. Terry was a very good actor but somehow you could never ruffle him, he was always immaculate, and I used to say to him “Roll your sleeves up.” Very difficult to not ruffle him, but ‘casual’ him. He was always immaculate, every hair was immaculate, and for such a good looking guy who could have got away with any dress, any kind – it was difficult to break him down, if you know what I mean.

RF: Was that part of being actorish in those days, of being an actor?

VG: I don’t know. He’s now a very wealthy property owner, lives in Brighton I think, has property all over the place.

RF: Am I right in thinking he went into antiques? He had an antique shop.

VG: It could be, could be.

RF: It’s just a vague thought. Right we are back then after that to Ben and Bebe. The Lyons in Paris.

VG: The Lyons in Paris. Yes, well we’ve said a lot about them….I think I mentioned that we had to go over without lights…

RF: Break in the Circle with-

VG: [interrupts] Now, Break in the Circle was the first time I had worked with Michael Carreras, and it was the very first – he’d done a few jazz shorts and things, he was mad about jazz… for Hammer, and I think the old man had let him do them to keep him quiet, and this was his first feature and I remember Michael saying to me “Val, I look to you to help me make my first feature, what makes a feature hum?” “Well the first thing you don’t do is you don’t put picture postcards, we were going to Hamburg, you don’t put beautiful views of this that and the other because if this is a thriller, and that’s not a way to make a big picture.”… But we had a lot of fun on that, it was hard work. We had Eva Bartok, who I was very fond of, who wasn’t very bright, I don’t know is she still alive?

RF: I don’t know, I have no idea.

VG: She was a big femme fatale then, with the Marquis of Milford Haven, she was quite the thing then, not a very bright girl but she got by all right; we had Forrest Tucker who was a wonderful character, very professional and also a lot of fun to work with.

RF: He spent a lot of time here didn’t he?

VG: I did two [films] with him here, I did that, and I did The Abominable Snowman. He – ‘Tuck’ we called him – had never grown up, a schoolboy, and I remember one day in a café by the docks in Hamburg in between changing set-ups and things, we had a wonderful old middle-eastern actor [corrects himself] middle-European actor called Arnold Marlé, wonderful old professor-type and I remember sitting in the café and Tuck was telling him about the girl who went for him, and what he didn’t like, and this and that

[Side 7, 20mins]

and about his daughter, and how she was now wearing a bra, and you should see her, and all this was going on, and we all just sat there, and he suddenly turned to Arnold and “You’re very quiet. Haven’t you anything to say about this subject?” and Arnold said “It is difficult to speak to you, you are, you are a child.” And this became the gag on the set, and every time Tuck would say “Alright, I’m a child but answer me,” in childish language. But that’s all I can remember about that and we did a lot of hard work and we did a lot of location stuff all around Hamburg on that.

RF: Now’s there’s another-

VG: [interrupting] Oh yes I can remember something about that, we had terrible trouble with our unit, because in Hamburg, the famous Reeperbahn, with all the clubs and whore houses and things and we used to have to get our Second Assistant to go and winkle out the unit from the Reeperbahn and in the early hours there was a ‘find-the-unit posse that used to go out because otherwise we would never have got them because they were all over that Reeperbahn all night…

RF: This was British crew?

VG: This was a British crew: the Hammer lot, who worked on all of the pictures with us. The same boys. Wonderful crew, wonderful.

RF: Was there just the one crew at Hammer, at Bray?

VG: Yes, well there were two Production Managers, two first assistants, two or three editors under the main editor, like Bob Dearing had all the others under him. There was a double-up part of the way, but most of them just work right through and if somebody, most of those were used for second unit stuff if it had to be done.

RF: Was there a house cinematographer then?

VG: Yes, Jimmy Harvey, Lilian Harvey’s brother, who was the original photographer, and then after that, he left, and then we had somebody else, now who in the world did we have – oh Arthur Grant. Who was fast and great; and Moray Grant who was one of the operators and was no relation… and then we had two other operators who alternated on movies.

RF: Budgets at Hammer were presumably very stringent.

VG: Oh yes everything was done on a wing and a prayer and you just had to have your imagination shot in the morning and just sort of pull it out of the bag somehow, but it was a wonderful place to work.

RF: Was it unusual to have a foreign location, because I’m sure Hamburg would have counted as foreign.

VG: Yes, it was unusual to have a foreign [location] because they’d never done that with a big picture. I mean they sent us over – I don’t know how many days, we were about three or four days on The Lyons in Paris, that’s all. Only because there was no way we could get away with this anywhere else. And I think Mike banged the drum to get our Hamburg location because we were making our first big picture, it’s got to be bigger than Hammer so he got away with that. But otherwise no, I can’t remember when we went away.

RF: ’55 Val when this was made did you shoot interiors there?

VG: We did shoot a few interiors yes. But only interiors that needed the docks behind, then we did the rest of the stuff at Bray.

RF: The tendency then was to build the stuff in the studio.

VG: Oh yes.

[Side 7, 25 mins]

The building next door to Bray, it’s now a hotel Oakley Court, we used to be moved into there all sorts of times. All the spooky stuff. But working in the house was before they had built that second stage, they only had one little stage there, and working in the house was really something because you shot back-to-back. I mean that end of the room was a set, this end of the room was a set, so that you just turned your cameras round, and time and time again the poor operator had his arse in the fireplace to get a long shot, but certainly you learned about movie making and what practically can be done.

RF: Can you remember anything about the equipment that was in use, thirty plus years ago? What would you have taken on location, a B&C[?]

VG: Yes

RF: Or a ‘blimped’ Arri [Arriflex] might have been-

VG: Oh no. No, not then. A B&C or a Mitchell, the Mitchell.

RF: You mean a ‘blimped’ Mitchell.

VG: I think it was a ‘blimped’ Mitchell. In those days, it was cumbersome yes. Was it magnetic sound by this time or was it still optical?

VG: I should think it was optical… in ’55.

RF: Well I was using tape in the States in the early 50s, ’52, ’53, but I’m not sure when-

VG: I couldn’t swear to this at all but I can very easily find out because my editor Bill Lenny who is still around and with me, in fact I spoke to him the other day, he’ll know.

RF: Yes. It has a bearing, what was going through my mind was how difficult it was to shoot, on location. These days its easy with miniaturised equipment.

VG: Oh, sure, sure. No it was quite a thing. Also the lamps in those days were big – they were great big arcs. You didn’t have any North lights or any of the smaller lights. We had these great big things which we got from Hamburg Studios, great big things that took about eight men to carry.

RF: Was that in colour?

VG: Yes it was.

RF: Eastman I would imagine.

VG: Yes it was, they were using Eastmancolor because we’d had Men of Sherwood Forest was Eastmancolor.

RF: Interesting to reflect how techniques have changed because of the equipment.

VG: Oh very much so.

Now the other thing I remember Breaking the Circle for is that we had very secretly, Yo and I, got married just before that movie, and we’d been living together so long that everyone thought we were married so we did it terribly quietly, and we were married at Marylebone Registry Office and everybody was hushed to secrecy and we left for Hamburg on the day of the marriage – we had a car, there were no photographers, nothing, because Yo was a big name then and we got ourselves to Hamburg and we were in the Vier Jahreszeiten hotel [?] and we signed ourselves in, and I think it was something like three or four o’clock in the morning, the telephone went, and it was the Daily Express from Bonn: “Could they send a photographer down?” because it [ the news] had broken, and it had broken because Eve Perrick who used to be the big columnist on the Express had gone to our flat in Montague Square and had seen a whole lot of telegrams lying on the mat and had sussed it out and had broken the story. This blew our cover and that was the end of that…it was my honeymoon trip.

RF: So had the thing been frowned upon?

VG: Very much so, because it wasn’t too long before that Ingrid Bergman had got into all her troubles with Rosselini so she had been black-balled , so she couldn’t work again. She had to leave America as you know. It was quite a thing then. It wasn’t illegal, but it could have affected her career – not mine but Yo’s certainly.

[Side 7, 30 mins]

RF: Well, if that concludes Breaking the Circle, it brings us to a very famous title, The Quatermass Experiment, also 1955.

VG: Yes. I remember Yo and I were going to Tangiers for a holiday, we used to go there at the drop of a hat it was one of our favourite places and Tony Hinds called me, and said “Val, did you see The Quatermass Experiment on television?”, which had run for about nine or ten weeks. I said “No” and he said “Right, we’d like you to do it for us, adapt all these 19 episode or whatever it was and make film of it.” So I said, “Yes all right, fine.” So he arrived – we went from Northolt [Aerodrome], they used to use that in those days for trips like that, and Tony arrived with an enormous bundle of all these TV scripts, so I took ‘em on the plane and we took ‘em to Tangiers. bAnd on the top of the bundle was a precis, a treatment, of what the story was about, and I glanced through it one day and put it down by the side of the bed, and that was that, and about half way through our holiday, Yo said “What about that Quatermass Experiment?” and I said “Oh I don’t want to do that.” She said “Why not?” and I said “Oh it’s a science fiction thing, I’m not mad about it.” She said to me “Since when have you been so grand you don’t want to do [it]?” So she read it and she said “Well I think you should do it.”, so I ploughed through and did it. I would never have done it if she hadn’t said that.

RF: You regarded yourself in what light in those days, that you were a genre director?

VG: No, I didn’t have any genre at all, because I was desperately keen to do what Noel Coward once said to me: “Never come out of the same trap twice.” Unfortunately he didn’t follow his own advice, but it was the thing that stuck in my mind, you’ve got to switch around otherwise you get pigeon-holed and many times I had got pigeon-holed and I had a hell of a job to get out of it. Terrible job, because people would say “Oh why don’t you do comedy, you do comedy so well.” I’ve done comedy and I want to do some drama. Anyway, I didn’t figure this as drama, it was a fun and games thing, you know, not mad about it, and turning into a cactus, but then afterward yo told me to read it and I got immersed in it, and I thought “Well yes she’s right.”

RF: It had been a very famous television series.

VG: Very famous, yes.

RF: So you had a large potential audience already.

VG: It was a big audience yes, but… I’ve never made pictures because I thought there was a big audience. I’ve always done it because I’ve liked it – and many times I’ve been wrong, but many times I haven’t been wrong, but I’ve never done something and said “This ought to be box-office.”

RF: Did you do the adaptation?

VG: Oh yes I did.

RF: Did you make many changes?

VG: Oh yes, condensed it enormously; there were odd things you change yes, you open it up for screening a little bit.

RF: It’s a by way of a cult film.

VG: Yes it is.

RG: What sort of success did it have at the time?

VG: Very big.

RF: And then it led to a sequel.

VG: Yes, I did one, Quatermass II.

RF: Right. Is there more to be said about it as a film?

VG: About Quatermass?

RF: The people in it.

VG: What can I say about the people in it? Brian Donleavy, who’d been a big, big heart-throb star in Hollywood. Brian was no trouble except he could never remember what the story was about and after lunch he could barely remember anything else, but he was perfectly pliable and he used to say “Now what’s the gimmick here, what have I just done?” I’d say “Well just press the bell Brian it doesn’t matter, just press it and that’s all you need know about it.” “Okay, okay.”

RF: Why was he over here? It was on the skids, his career in Hollywood?

[Side 7, 35 mins]

VG: I don’t know – I think at that time Hammer had a deal with Lippert – Bob Lippert [Robert L Lippert] and the idea was that in everything they did they should have one American ‘name’ that was known. So they brought him over for that, I think he was part of that deal. I don’t know quite why. It was called The Creeping Unknown in America.

[Telephone rings, break]

RF: Yes, we were talking about the American actors. Some were brought over, others were here of course because they couldn’t work in the States.

VG: Brian was brought over, definitely. I don’t know who was over here who couldn’t work in the States, who were those actors?

RF: Forrest Tucker maybe?

VG: No. Tuck was brought over.

RF: Well, I see George Coulouris you had earlier.

VG: George was one yes.

RF: More directors than performers.

VG: Directors, yes, and writers. Eddie Dmytryk came over too. Dalton Trumbo

RF: Carl Foreman

VG: They were all over here, writing under assumed names.

RF: That’s something that if you had connections with it would be interesting to pick up under a separate-

VG: No, that I never had dealings with. Carl I knew very well, Carl was a chum, in fact he wanted me to make films with him under his umbrella, when he started his own thing, but no, I had no dealings with them as such.

RF: Well, we’ll come back to that rather than break into the chronological sequence. Quatermass I see had Jack Warner, sort of a boring actor, with respect. What I do notice is in [19]54 and [1955] you are credited with, well five productions in ’54 and four in ’55, they are all script and direction and in some cases production. That’s really quite some going. How did you sustain that?

VG: I don’t know, …I never stopped to think about it.

RF: Do you remember the kind of schedule that you were on?

VG: Oh they were very short schedules, it’s not like today when you say oh we’ll take eight, ten weeks – how can you do five pictures that take that plus the preparation. But invariably we were preparing the next one while we were still doing the one we were on.

RF: I didn’t mean the shooting schedule, so much as your own personal life.

VG: My own personal life schedule? I used to do a lot of work, that’s all. I didn’t think there was anything astounding in it. I was a reasonably quick writer, so it didn’t take that long. I think when you enjoy your work you can do a hell of a lot more than if its ‘pulling teeth.’

RF: How did you write Val? On an original subject for example, did you have a long gestation period or did it come and you sat down and dashed out the script?

VG: No, if I had to write something most of the times they would give me a book or like Quatermass, Life with the Lyons, they just took one radio scripts… and all you had to do was find a storyline that could encompass a lot of these things. But for original stories, you have an idea comes to you and you jot it down – “one day I’m going to do a story about that” – there comes a time when somebody says “Have you got a thriller, …?” and you dig back and you say “Yes I have an idea.” And then sit down and rough it out and get to work on it. Things like Murder at the Windmill, you just sit down and concoct it overnight. Which I think we mentioned. And various other things like that, of thinking fast.

RF: It might be interesting to compare then and now in the sense that people sat down and wrote a script that with very minor emendations became a shooting script

[Side 7, 40 mins]

whereas now there’s so much agonising over a script, it goes back and forth –

VG: Yes, I know.

RF: And you have to change it for whatever circumstances is there anything to enlarge upon there?

VG: Well I have been very lucky because I have never ever shot a script that wasn’t final, and wasn’t all on paper. That doesn’t mean to say that when you come to shoot it you cannot possibly do it as its written because the distance from A to B or it’s indoors instead of outdoors the scene or where the location is, things like that, yes of course you change. But basically the script is there I used to put a flyleaf on the front of my own scripts for my own productions on which I said “It is not a waste of time to learn these words. They will be shot” So that actors were inclined – I don’t know if they still are – to think “Oh yes we’ll kick this around.” They are not really learning them. But we used to put that at the beginning of the scripts so that people did realise that we meant what we said. And of course odd changes came but not major changes, only very minor changes. Or you needed extra dialogue because you couldn’t travel oh from A to B with that few lines. Or there were too many lines, or an actor said “I can’t say it that way, can I say it this way?” Those are normal changes, yes. Basically the script was there.

RF: Just for the record, can you say how long a script would take you.

VG: To write? It really does, on average you have to burn all the oil you’ve got and get it out in a week. A full shooting script from scratch.

RF: And that you could do?

VG: That you could do but that’s really working. That would be the first draft, then you’d maybe take another week working, slogging at it but not, normally- depends, I’ve just done a script last year of a film we are going to do a little later of a Dennis Wheatley book, called The Haunting of Toby Jugg. Two other companies took an option on the book and couldn’t get a script out of it – the most difficult thing I have ever had to write in my life to get a script out of this book. [The] storey’s there but it happens inside the guy’s mind, and as the guy’s in a wheelchair you can’t tell any story that he doesn’t see. It took me nine months before I licked that, so that’s some things take longer, but normally I would say in the old days we used to do a script in four to five weeks at the most; later you got perhaps six to eight weeks. To do a script, and I would say an average, if I sat down, I mean Boys in Blue I think I did in five weeks.

RF: How long then ideally would you like to prep [inaudible]

VG: Three months. Now let me preface that by saying that’s if there’s locations abroad. But a couple of months should be okay unless they are very difficult locations.

Rf: And then thereafter you were prepared and shooting was almost like Hitchcock. All a formality.

VG: Yes, except that I loved to do it and Hitch didn’t. Yes, it was a formality, it was a challenge-

RF: Even on that sort of schedule which is quite tight even by present standards, getting the thing off the ground, five pictures in a year is I would have thought immensely pressurising. It proved that you were in demand.

VG: Yes I was, I’m glad to say. The thing is that when you see five listed there, the last one may have been started there and not ended until the following year. Or the first one may have been the tail end of the previous.

RF: Even so it’s a lot.

Vg: Oh yes I did a lot of movies. I counted up actually, the number of movies I’ve done that I’ve either written or written and directed and produced, the Dennis Wheatley one will be 95. These are features, I’m not counting any other things.

[Side 7, 45 mins]

And that’s without the Formbys which were done under cover. And various odd things like that.

RF: So it could be over a hundred.

VG: No, not over a hundred but getting on for a hundred…

RF: What from ’34?

VG: You have the list of my first writing there.

RF: ’32. Maid of the Mountains. So that’s fifty-six years. Averaging – well not far off – two a year.

VG: Yes.

RF: Thereafter you seem to let up a little in pace. ’56 It’s a Wonderful World.

VG: Yes, where George Cole first learned, had to learn to dance. [chuckles]. That’s with Ted Heath and his band. Very interesting, it’s the only film he ever made playing himself in it, with his entire band and I did the score with Ted, and his wife Moira. That was quite an experience. It featured the band and the people in it. That was a musical, I wrote the numbers, Ted Heath wrote some, I wrote some of the point numbers. We did it between us. Can’t say a lot about that I don’t think. [Interrupts] That was originally, by the way, called It’s a Great Life. I happened to mention it a little while ago.

[End of Side 7]

[Side 8]

RF: Just to make sure we’ve got that, you say It’s a Wonderful Life was called-

VG: It’s a Wonderful World was called It’s a Great Life but then we found there’s an American film called that so I changed it to It’s a Wonderful World.

RF: And I was going to say that the next year, ’57, Carry on Admiral is the title that [inspired the Carry on series?]

VG: Yes, Carry on Admiral was a play [called Off the Record] by a very famous playwright called Ian Hay who always had hits on in the West End, in fact it’s the first time I met a young girl called Joan Hickson. And Joan was playing then the same age she is playing now. She was always the elderly lady and was very funny in a sort of Margaret Dupont, from the Marx Brothers – she was that type of a foil in all those Ian Hay farces. This one was called Off the Record, and George Minter approached me to see if we could make a film of it, and we knew we couldn’t use the title Off the Record because it was a terrible title and it was all about the navy, and I came up with a series of titles of which we agreed we all liked Carry on Admiral and there it became, Carry on Admiral. And George Minter, unfortunately, didn’t register it, it was never registered and I don’t know why he didn’t, and it was just pilfered, willy-nilly, by the boys when they made the Carry on series.

RF: What was the gap between ’57 and – any idea when the first Carry on was made.

VG: No idea.

RF: I haven’t either. Easily checked. [Carry on Sergeant, 1958. DS]

VG: Carry on Admiral, I had a wonderful old guy in that who I always used when I could, well we’ve talked about him before, Matty – A.E Matthews. Matty played an admiral in that and I remember we were shooting down in Portsmouth, on the docks and Matty used to go to lunch in his admiral’s uniform and everybody was standing to attention and saluting all over the place and I said to Matty “You mustn’t do that you know.” “Why, why?” I said “Well this is a naval centre and everybody is saluting you and everything.” And he was terribly upset, “I can’t take my uniform off just to go to lunch!” I was terrified we were going to get into trouble with the authorities on that.

RF: How old was he at that stage, at that point?

VG: I don’t know, I really don’t.

RF: Well in his eighties I would imagine.

VG: Oh, he wasn’t as old as that then. I don’t think so, no. I don’t know, maybe you’re right. I really don’t know.

RF: He must have died what in the ‘60s, in the 70s?

VG: I don’t even know that.

RF: Well again these things can be checked. [He died in 1960. DS] So in effect that was…

VG: Oh, that was just a romp, with David Tomlinson and Peggy Cummins. There was a well-known comedian then, Brian Reece, but he sadly died of bone cancer, an up-and-coming love interest comedian. I don’t know what’s next on your list – Quatermass II

RF: I’m working from the same French list.

VG: Oh you are; well it’s just another Quatermass. I’ll tell you somebody else I used to always give small parts to, to help him along, was Bryan Forbes [chuckling], and Bryan always a little bit – I know we made Yesterday’s Enemies “I don’t know why you are casting me, why do you keep putting me in these things?” but he became sort of like the rep company.

RF: Hm. What did he play in that, do you recall?

VG: In the-?

RF: Quatermass II.

VG: Quatermass II – what did he play? Ah, I think he played a security guard that had been taken over by the others, space people and had that mark on his face, but I honestly can’t remember.

RF: My memory - the reason I ask is that my memory of Bryan Forbes is that at that time he was either white flannels and “Tennis anyone?” or the cockney barrow boy type.

[Side 8, 5 mins]

VG: Well he played in Yesterday’s Enemies he played the sergeant of course – he played a sergeant, oh no a soldier he played. I’m pretty sure he played a security guard who had been taken over…Quatermass II, we had terrible trouble on that because we were supposed to have a whirwind. We were shooting it up on some hill somewhere or other and we had every known aeroplane engine there to give us the whirlwind and I had to very carefully plot every scene so that Brian Donleavy was facing the machine, otherwise his toupe would have blown off, so he always had to face it and this made quite a lot of shooting difficulties one way and another. Because it did, it took off once and they were trying to catch it like a bat, throwing forks [?] and things at it. He was never worried about it, he wasn’t at all worried that he wore one, he wasn’t embarrassed or self-conscious about it.

RF: Well a lot of them did didn’t they. Had a hairpiece.

VG: But a lot of them were terribly self-conscious about it.

RF: One question about Bryan Forbes – when he was part of your rep company in those days, was he also manifesting desires to move on?

VG: No, no he was a writer, he used to write. He used to do odd screenplays here and there; he wasn’t the well-known screenplay writer that he was before he became a director. No, he was an actor who was trying to make some extra pennies writing. He was a very good actor, Bryan, first rate actor. I have seen him in so many different kinds of parts excellent [inaudible].

RF: John Longden is an interesting name on the list, because he goes back to so many of the ‘30s films. Any memories of John Longden?

VG: Not a lot. I remember him because he was a big, big, star,  heartthrob at one time. Very nice guy but I can’t remember much about him.

RF: Is it not he in Blackmail?

VG: Yes, it is. I think if I remember rightly that John was having quite a tough time at that time, and our casting department – and I cannot remember who it was – tall, said “if you can use him it would help.” There was another one I used quite a bit, in fact I used him in many shows, John Stuart. John Stuart was the heartthrob of all times in silent movies. With Betty Balfour and everything a big, big, heartthrob and I used him in a small bit. Again, one of the old-timers. Strangely enough, just remarking on that, Moore Marriott who played the Harbottle, who was a bloody good character actor because I used him in I’ll be your Sweetheart as well, playing a straight part. He was … a matinee idol in silent and the early talkies, which is hard to put with Harbottle.

RF: Well he made up considerably as Harbottle did he?

VG: Yes, oh yes. Well he took his teeth out, so he had his own one-tooth thing, plate made. But I remember Moore Marriott and John Stuart on cigarette cards, when they used to have cigarette cards. They were on the film star set, I remember that from my youth. Right.

RF: So, not a lot to be said about Quatermass II.

VG: Again one of my rep, Sidney James, who was not the Sid James that he became; he was then a very good character actor that I wrote into practically everything.

RF: Yes, one sees him popping up in all these films as a jobbing actor.

VG: Yes he was very good and I think he played a press man in that, I’m not sure.

RF: The Abominable Snowman, following?

VG: Abominable Snowman. Yes, there again Hammer went abroad.

[Side 8, 10mins]

We went abroad for one week. One week only into the French Pyrenees, to a place called Le Mongie to do our thing with doubles, we never had any of our characters there and as half the characters had not been cast at that time we had to do some quick thinking and take an average height. That again was ‘Tuck’, Forrest Tucker and Peter Cushing who, I adore Peter Cushing it’s the only film I ever made with him and I only wish I’d made a hundred more. He was more fun to work with because he had an enormous sense of the ridiculous and fun, and after we’d done some very dramatic scene he’d suddenly do Knees up Mother Brown, [a popular pub song] which you don’t expect from Peter Cushing at all. Wonderful character who always has a million props that he’s worked out. And we used to call him ‘Prop’ Cushing. Always had thought out so much business to do in a scene which when you said “Action” would suddenly happen during the scene. Didn’t change the scene but it gave him things to do.

RF: Kept him fresh?

VG: Yes, brilliant at that.

RF: He wasn’t trying to throw other people?

VG: Oh, no, no, no, not one of those things. Only when he was talking, he’d only do them in his scene because I remember we had a scene in a monastery up in Tibet and we had what was supposed to be a yeti’s tooth which the Grand Lama of the monastery had brought out from the sacred shrine and Peter played a natural history guy who’d come out with the Americans to search for the yeti, and he’s given the tooth to look at and he takes it and then he has to do a lot of talking while he’s inspecting it and he’s saying “Well it happens to be such and such a time and it’s-” and when we got to do the take, once he’d got this in his hand he brought out a magnifying glass which he looked at the end, and he put that down and he brought out a nail file and just scratched one little bit of it he’d worked this out, and he had a tape measure to measure it; now that was not in the script, that was Peter who had worked it out to make it more interesting. After I said “Cut.” We all went into hysterics, because we all knew Peter, but we weren’t expecting the tape measure.

RF: I’m a bit vague on chronology now: had the horror films started at Hammer? Was the Snowman part of that series?

VG: Yes, the horror films, yes they had started, oh yes.

RF: This was part of that series.

VG: I suppose it was, but as I was not connected with any horror films, strangely enough people say “You’ve worked for Hammer, you’ve done all these horror films.”, I’ve never done a horror film actually, I suppose the nearest you could get to the horror film was, I suppose, the Abominable Snowman. Written again by Nigel Kneale who wrote Quatermass.

RF: Was he one of their regular writers?

VG: No.

RF: And someone like Peter Cushing, was he under contract to Hammer…?

VG: I don’t think he was under contract. I wouldn’t swear to that, I really don’t know, same as I wouldn’t know if Chris Lee was under contract to them, or whether they just called him every now and then when a thing came up. Or whether when they signed for one Dracula, they signed for two. I really don’t know.

RF: Soi the pictures coming out of Hammer in those days were a mixture of stock company, and freelance [inaudible in background] and crew.

VG: Yes.

RF: How did the picture do?

VG: I believe it did very well.

RF: Did they ever give percentages?

VG: No, no. Nobody got that. First time I ever got a percentage was Up the Creek.

RF: Well, next one-

VG: From Hammer I mean. The earlier ones I got percentages on, like Mr Drake’s Duck things like that, but not under Hammer.

[Side 8, 15 mins]

RF: Right. Does that bring us to The Camp on Blood Island?

VG: The Camp on Blood Island, yes.

RF: Strong cast.

VG: Very strong cast, yes. When I read the original story – the reason this came to be by the way was that somebody had met the manager of the Lyric Theatre, who had been a prisoner-of-war and who had some odd pages of a diary he had written on odd bits of bumph and toilet paper and everything he could find, and they had one or two things in them, they weren’t a publishable diary and I think it was Mike Carreras who said, no it was Tony Hinds who said “What a terrific idea, to take a Jap prisoner-of-war camp.”, so from the odd notes of this thing, we wrote - I think Jimmy Carreras got a poster up, to sell the whole thing, and we had to write to the poster and it started from that.

RF: It’s rather nice that: the film of the poster!

VG: [chuckles] Yes. But I thought, my God, we’ve got to go to Burma or somewhere to do something – no. Sandpits!

RF: On the banks of the Thames?

VG: Maidenhead, yeah. Anyway, we did all that, we built the camp on the Bray lot. Palm trees and things.

RF: Was it by their standards a high budget film?

VG: Yes, it was.

RF: Incidentally, were you producer on that?

VG: No.

RF: Did you always have a Hammer producer assigned to you?

VG: Yes, always. That was Tony Hinds.

RF: Yes – I was wondering if you’d like to tell us about the people who were producing then.

VG: Well Tony Hinds was a producer- Tony used to do a lot of writing under a strange name. A lot of these Draculas and Hammers you’ll see strange names up there which is really Tony Hinds. Tony was very quiet, quietly adamant about things. Very difficult to talk Tony round to something. He was always there…I never felt he was on my side, I felt he was on his side. It was very difficult to find a meeting ground. I remember, going back to Quatermass, in the very last scene in Westminster Abbey where the monster is in the rafters and its being televised and Jack Warner, who has followed the case all through, he was in charge of the terrifying case, I remember being told when I saw the call sheet for the following Westminster Abbey day, Jack Warner wasn’t on it, and I said to the assistant who was then Jimmy Sangster, who writes now and he’s just been to Hollywood doing horror things there, “I said where’s Jack Warner, you haven’t got Jack Warner down.” “No Tony Hinds won’t have him.” I said “Why?” “Because he’s gone over and its too much money.” I said “But you can’t – this is the last scene in the picture, the guy’s been following the monster all through, we’ve seen him go in to Westminster Abbey now we’ve got to finish with him.” “Well, I’m sorry guv, he’s £200 a day and he’s gone over, and the budget’ll go over.” I said “Absolute nonsense. Go now on my authority and call Jack Warner to be here tomorrow morning and I will personally pay the £200. Now if anybody says anything tell Tony Hinds that I’m paying for Jack Warner to be there.” And I’m in the middle of shooting, so I haven’t time to go and talk to Tony and I know once Tony has made his mind up, he’s made his mind up. But you could not do the end of that picture without the guy who’d gone right through it. For £200. Mind you that was quite a good day’s salary then.

[Side 8, 20 mins]

So, Jack Warner was called and I said to Jimmy Sangster to give me his slip and I’ll send a cheque to his agent. Nothing ever arrived and sometime later – it wasn’t the last shooting in the film I said “You didn’t give me that chit” “No, Tony’s paid it.” And Tony didn’t talk to me for must be nearly two months, and I didn’t want to broach it myself I thought let it all wear off, and eventually one day I was going on location for some other picture and I was in the same car and Tony said “I’ll give you a lift.” And on the way there he said “I’ve enjoyed working with you Val but you’re a stubborn bastard.” And I said “Tony, you’re a stubborn bastard, and I’m not being stubborn, I’m just trying to do the best.” Anyway we made it all up, and we were chums ever after.

RF: It makes one ask why would he do that. Was he scared for his job – first duty towards-

VG: No you have to realise that Hammer Films were a religion: you made them in so many weeks, you did not go over, you made them for so much money you did not go over. That was your catechism, those were the commandments. And yes, Warner had gone over and I think we had gone over by a day or something, so one way and another, Tony was trying to keep to the catechism…

RF: So this extraordinary decision to not work with the principal at the climax of the picture-

VG: Yes, that’s true in one way but in the other way I can see tony not going into it very closely, I don’t think he did in those days, I can see him not really going into the fact of “well does it matter, the big thing is the monster and the monster being burned, it doesn’t matter if you don’t see one of the actors”. I would imagine that.

RF: They were a serious bunch, were they not? I mean they took film making seriously or were they playing at it?

VG: Jimmy Carreras didn’t – it was a big business to him he was a great salesman. Mike took it terribly, terribly seriously, and so did Tony Hinds, yes.

RF: They were what one would call pros.

VG: Oh absolutely. Now Mike Carreras again could be tough as hell. But Mike is one of the best producers I have ever worked for. You always knew – I think I said this before – that the backing was there. You knew he was on your side; yes, he was on the company’s side, but he knew that you also were trying to be on the company’s side and he would help you to do that.

RF: It seems as if in some way you were on a good Hammer wavelength, because you speak of Michael Carreras in such good terms whereas Frankie [Francis] Searle in discussing his experiences there is quite the opposite. He couldn’t stand the man and disliked him as a producer. Two utterly dissimilar viewpoints.

VG: Well I can only say that I have never met a producer in my career who had sat down and marked out on paper every single move that I would be likely to make and have his entire cast down, even to the bit players, down, so that he could work out a schedule of the days when we could call them or not call them or save money by not having them here or not calling them on that day and then coming to me as a director saying “Is this going to work?”

RF: Impressive logistically.

VG: Impressive logistically, yes. I mean in Hell is a City and our logistics being up in Manchester, working with the police and all the things on the moors and everything. Terrifyingly difficult things where we had to work in with the police on days when we couldn’t have the cast, on days whenw e couldn’t have the hundred police that we needed for the raids…and I never had one worry about that Mike would have every single morning would have it all on paper for you.

RF: Did he also have a creative input?

VG: Yes, yes. Yes he did.

RF: What were his strengths? On scripts, construction?

VG: No, on scripts I’d say that Mike was very good at saying “Is that as strong as you think it is?” and you’d look at it and say “No, You’re right.”

[Side 8, 25 mins]

It either needs boosting up or taking out.

RF: Did the Director stay with the picture for post-production?

VG: I did yes, I’ve always done that, I’ve always delivered my own cut and then gone to the producer to see what other ideas he had or whether he agreed or didn’t.

RF: Would your cut substantially be the final version, do you think?

VG: Yes…I cut very much as I shoot, I don’t mean in the cutting room, I mean my angles, I know what I’m doing in that scene, I know what I want that scene to be. And I know where I want to use my close-ups, and my overs and I don’t cover a lot of stuff that I’m not going to use. I always give myself enough cover. A lot of people just have three cameras going or they do it eighteen times with different lenses, and then throw it at the editor and say “It’s all yours!” and if it doesn’t turn out right, it’s the editor’s fault.

RF: What would you regard as your cover? How did you shoot a scene – did you shoot a master?

VG: I would shoot a master, but not necessarily the whole scene, because I ‘d know I could never use the rest of that; I would do a major portion as a master and then do ‘over the shoulders’ and then pick out the odd spots that dramatically needed close-ups.

RF: And you confined it to that?

VG: Yes…I mean you had to do it on that sort of a shooting ratio.

RF: So it wasn’t just time, you added stock [?] did you?

VG: Oh no they were very good about that – I’d always come in under my allowance because of my allowance because of that. But I never worry about my allowance – if I need more [film stock] then I need more, it’s too bad. Over the years, the Gainsborough years of working, and seeing how Marcel never over-covered at all, and learning from that basically what was needed, I planned my things out – as we said, I had my blackboard – so I know where I’m going to use and I’ve drawn my ‘over shoulders’ in there and I know what lines I’m going to use these for.

RF: On any occasion when you might have got a little behind was that [a] cause [of] pressure on you from anyone on the set, the Assistant Director or the Production Manager?

VG: The Production Manager would have been told by the Producer, “Come on, egg him on, see what’s the problem.” But I can’t ever remember – I know I was sometimes in a position to say “I know we’ve gone over but I can pick it up on this thing here so don’t worry, I’ll pick it up, because you’ve given me a day on that and I only need half a day.”

RF: So what you call the catechism was inviolable.

VG: Yes.

RF: Very good business sense.

VG: Yes. I mean I’m not saying Hammer pictures never went over budget, but they went over in as much as every Hammer picture was budgeted for less than they expected the actual budget to be; so they always had something in hand.

RF: Right, that was a little inbuilt pressure.

VG: Yes. It was a contingency as such, but it was never put down as a contingency.

RF: You were aware that it exists in someone’s mind.

VG: Yes, well you had an idea, you weren’t ever told that. Disaster that would be for Hammer.

RF: So I suppose this is the way television films are made nowadays.

VG: I suppose so. I’ve never worked, I mean I’ve done films for television but I’ve never worked for television so I don’t know.

RF: Camp on Blood Island was quite a considerable success, I believe.

VG: Enormous success. It was very funny because I found myself playing against myself with two enormous successes, because at the time, Camp on Blood Island was playing at The London Pavilion, I had Up the Creek playing at the Warner’s. And that was an absolute smash, Up the Creek, and we were playing against each other and I thought ‘Christ of all times to have two pictures on…I’d give anything for one to be on only so that you’re not pulling each other’s crowds.’

RF: This was a time when you could walk down from Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square and see quite a lot of British films on the marquees, was it?

[Side 8, 30 mins]

VG: [reflects] I suppose so. There was only the Rialto between – and The Prince of Wales was a cinema sometimes.

Rf: I meant there was a considerable presence of British films.

VG: Yes, in Leicester Square itself. Yes there was.

RF: Right. We then come to Up the Creek.

VG: Up the Creek, yes. Now Up the Creek, was originally written by two guys who’d done a lot of television stuff – I wish I could remember their names – one’s name is Warren – [Len Heath and John Warren. DS] I can’t remember off-hand, and they came to me with an idea of a movie and I liked it enormously, so I sat down and I wrote ‘on spec’ a script…oh I ‘ll tell you about writing the script. I had seen a comedian on television, Peter Sellers who was doing a thing called Son of Fred series on television, thought he was a terribly, terribly funny guy. At the time my mother-in-law had a flat in Montague Square and she was just going back to California, and she came to me one day and said “There’s an actor called Peter Sellers wants to rent the flat – is he all right?” “Yes, let him have it.” So we knew Peter, not well but vaguely…so I wrote this thing for Peter Sellers and David Tomlinson, which I thought would be a great combination…Peter Sellers who had done a bit – he’d never played one character throughout a whole [film], never, I wasn’t sure he was capable of doing it, he wasn’t sure himself. Anyway, with the script I went to George Minter first; didn’t want to know. Unknown actor…and I hawked Peter all round Wardour Street [where most film company offices were. DS] I went to British Lion at that time, nobody wanted to know, so I went to Jimmy Carreras and Jimmy said “Look we’re not very good on comedy, but I will” – which is what he’d said with Life with the Lyons, but there he’d had a known thing to sell – Jimmy said “Well alright if you think so, but Peter Sellers, you’ve got to get another name”… so we packed him round with Tomlinson and all the old standbys, A.E. Matthews and all those, and so we made the picture and it was an absolute bombshell of a success. And I remember before we started it Peter said “What sort of a character shall I play, I don’t know how to hold a character.” And so we drove round London, we went to, we stopped behind the Shaftesbury Theatre it’s now a fire [station] now, there was Peabody Buildings where the big garages are now and the Palace Theatre on the opposite corner, and there were tenements and there was a guy who ran it, the carpark, called Paddy who had an Irish accent, always very gruff and rude, always said “No, no room, no room, contract, contract!” and I said to Peter “Try this”…so we drove there to the barrier…and I kept him arguing for quite a long time, and I said “All right” and we drove away and I said to Peter “Is that a character for you?” and he said “Yes.”

RF: Is that what Sellers always needed?

VG: Yes, he needed to have seen somebody or heard somebody and he wasn’t sure if he could keep this accent up for the whole of the film, this character, he was so used to doing odd characters and throwing them away, and then another and another.

RF: So presumably Fred Kite [Seller’s character in I’m All Right Jack. DS] had some genesis in this way.

[Side 8, 35 mins]

VG: I’m sure. I’m sure. Charlie Wheeler or someone. [laughs]

RF: Peter at that point was somewhat uncomplicated I would imagine.

VG: No, he was complicated then but he hadn’t got quite as complicated, now Peter cries his eyes out; his wife then Anne, was a real dolly girl, wonderful person, sweet, looked after him, put up with it all, she went through a lot of problems there, no he was still very high, very low, he was a manic depressive then, and you had to hold his hand every now and then. We wre very sad when that all broke up.

RF: You had to keep an eye, or an ear on the accent presumably.

VG: Yes, but we had a lot of laughs on the picture and it all went through all right.

RF: Well it was from what you say a ‘sleeper’ really…when did you have an idea of what you had?

VG: Well I always thought it was a very funny picture when we’d done it. I thought everybody in it was funny, and I thought the situation was terribly funny. I had great hopes for it but I never expected it to take off like it took off. I thought it would be a success but not a box office ‘wham-bang’ thing.

RF: How did Carreras handle a film like that? As a salesman he must have got behind it.

VG: Yes, he did; when he saw the film he got his advertising people – not before, he didn’t no. He thought it was a funny film, so they went out and sold it, but the main advertising came after the critics and the first week at the Warner Brothers. When he saw the receipts after the first week…he doubled his advertising.

RF: Well, David Tomlinson and Wilfred Hyde-White were in that…I don’t know what you have to say about either of them. Tomlinson you’d worked with before.

VG: In Carry on Admiral, yes. Everybody told me what a difficult character Tomlinson was, and I remember going back a bit to Up the Creek, he would be wonderful as the young idiot who was given a destroyer to take over without realising that it was mothballed. I thought he’d be terrific in it and I called him up one day and I said “David” – you know the other difficult person to work with is Nigel Patrick. You know who I mean, ‘Paddy’ Patrick, everybody said “oh no” and everybody said “Don’t have Tomlinson” – so I rang him up and said “David I have a fabulous part for you in this” and he said “Yes darling when are you going to send for me?” and I said “Wait a minute, it’s a great part and I’m sure it’s going to be a great picture, but I’m terrified to send it to you” and he said “Why, why?” and I said “I’ve been told it was a toss-up whether you or Paddy Patrick are the biggest shit in the business. There was a terrible silence at the other end, and he said “They don’t say that?” I said “Well they do David.” “Well” he said, I can only tell you I’m professional, I always know my lines, I’m there on time, the only thing I cannot stand is intolerance.” I said “Are people intolerant of you?” He said “No, no, no, I mean I’m intolerant of people who don’t know their job. And don’t know their lines.” I said “Well alright David, I’ll send it to you.”

No problems on that picture at all, he was wonderful all through and on one of the last days of shooting in Weymouth the ship we were working on had to be in Suez, had to leave for Suez by the afternoon or the following morning and we only had this one day and the sun was going down and I had two more shots to get on it before it got dark and we lost the ship forever, and I said “David, come up out of there, go and stand on there, we’ll give you your mark there and he’ll come out there and you play the scene across there

[Side 8, 40 mins]

and he said “Oh now dear boy, you want me to go there because I thought it would be better if I went there.” And I said “What did you say Paddy?” and he said “You bastard. Alright. Let’s do it.” And we did it. And that was that, and he was one of my close chums, David, adored him, never had any problems at all throughout probably because we got off on the right footing.

RF: Yes, again, wavelength. Well before we leave that film, anything else you want to say?

VG: On Up the Creek? Can’t think of anything. I had my ‘gang’ with me, my old rep. company.

RF: Was this the first time you’d had Wilfred Hyde-White?

VG: Oh no, Mr Drake’s Duck…. Oh no, Willy had been in everything I’d written. I always tried to write something in for Willy, like A. E Matthews.

RF: Do you see him these days?

VG: Willy – last time in California, time before, about two years ago, we met in Los Angeles and he took us out to lunch, and he was staying - his son had also gone into the business as an actor and he was staying at his son’s place and he was about to do another movie. But now he lives in the Motion Picture Relief Home.

RF: Oh, is he in good shape would you know?

VG: He’s in fairly good shape, and odd friends call him up and put bets on for him still in London. He’s in pretty good shape.

RF: Right. 1959, and the first one for that is Life is a Circus. Back several years to Bud Flanagan and Jimmy Nervo.

VG: The whole gang. The whole gang, The Crazy Gang were in it. Now that’s British Lion and a fellow called [E.M.] Smedley-Aston called me up and said “We want to make another picture with The Crazy Gang, are you interested?” and I said “Yes.” Because he said that they’d mentioned me or something…so the whole idea was to write a picture for The Crazy Gang. There we were writing for the Crazy Gang again, and all the boys got together again; we made this circus film for which we put up a big tent in Windsor, near the castle and shot it. They were all exactly the same, they hadn’t changed.

RF: I’ve never seen it, was there a sense of deja vue?

VG: Life is a Circus was a musical too; I think so yes. We had Shirley Eaton in it…Michael Holliday who was then a top singer, sounded exactly like [Bing] Crosby; I played him in there as a juvenile [lead] and we had Eddie Gray and all the old gang, I wrote sketches for them – the usual old things. Also, I think that is the only thing in existence of Bud [Flanagan] and Chesney Allen singing Underneath the Arches,

Rf: [interjects] oh really.

VG: [continues] because I wrote a sequence in where Bud with his rag and bone cart, because the circus has all folded, or whatever, going down by the arches and seeing Ches down there and they meet and they say “How’s things? Haven’t seen you for so long, and how’s it all been going?” “Fine.” And they go off in the cart singing Underneath the Arches.

RF: I’ve seen that excerpt on, probably, something dealing with them.

VG: Maybe, yes. It was a very moving little piece that, actually.

RF: Did the film work, do you think, from your point of view and [inaudible]

VG: It worked, but I think the humour became dated.

RF: Yes, because it’s going back almost thirty years.

VG: I think and however much you tried to update it a bit was difficult. It wasn’t a success. I mean I don’t think it lost money, but it certainly didn’t make anything.

RF: Was that the last time they were together?

VG: I don’t know if they did a show after that.

[Side 8, 45 mins]

VG: At the Victoria Palace or not, I’m not sure. I think they probably did. [Yes: Young in Heart, 1960. DS] Certainly their last time on film. In fact they started to drop off after that, they were all falling off their perches, one after the other.

RF: I notice in this French listing it has no title, indicating it probably didn’t get to France.

VG: Yes, probably. That’s right.

RF: I don’t know what there is to say about the Crazy Gang, I think we touched on them-

VG: I think we did that yes; they were still laughing, still practical joking. There was one very funny thing I remember, my assistant came to me and said…Bud’s not going to work on Wednesday because its Yom Kippur – no I’ll do it the other way round: we wanted to do a chase out of the circus with the red Indian Buffalo Bill Cody’ coaches running amok and going right through Windsor Great Park and we couldn’t get permission from Windsor Park at all, so I said to Bud “Look, you know Philip, you’re old buddies, can’t you pull a few strings?” so Bud called up, and got Philip who pulled the strings his end and we were allowed to shoot. Very impressed by this, by Bud. Then when the guy came and said “Bud’s not going to work because it’s Yom Kippur, he doesn’t work on Jewish holidays.” “Since when?” Anyway he’s not going to work and I spoke to Bud who said “No, no, no. Any other day, I’ll work extra, but I’ve decided, I’m not going to work on Yom Kippur.”

So there was a big production meeting, what are we going to do, he’s in it the whole day, we’ve got to call a day off, have we got enough to shoot-

[End of Side 8]

[Side 9]

VG: [recaps] Bud says no, this is something I’ve decided in my later years, do the right thing, I’m not going to work on Yom Kippur…had I got enough shots to shoot around him? Well I don’t know, going through them very carefully, and somebody said – I think it was my Assistant – “Why doesn’t somebody ring Philip and ask him to ask Bud to do it?” [chuckling] I said “I don’t know who we can get to do that.” I went to Bud the following day before Yom Kippur and I said “ Did you get a call from the castle?” “No, why? Which castle?” “Windsor Castle.” “No.” “Oh, never mind, you’ll be getting it. Probably.” He said, Come on, what’s this, a gag?” I said “No, Prince Philip was going to call you.” He said “Come on, what about?” “About you working on Yom Kippur. He gave you Windsor Park to get all that stuff going through, now will you give him Yom Kippur?” He laughed so much that he actually gave us Yom Kippur.

RF: Do you know why he wouldn’t work. I mean was he that serious?

VG: No he wasn’t. I don’t know what he was going through then, whether he’d decided in later years he was going to become religious.

RF: It sounds unusual.

VG: It’s very unlike Bud, because Bud was a dear friend of mine and I think I told you, he was my son’s godfather. I don’t know what came over him, but he was quite adamant about it. Whether at some later date he’d have said “I’m kidding!” that’s always a possibility because they were terrible practical jokers. I think that’s it on Life’s a Circus.

RF: We fade into a bit of history after that. Yesterday’s Enemy with a very strong cast.

VG: It was a strong cast, yes. That was from a play, a television play, a very strong play. Which I scripted, opened it up, made it into a film – again in the Burma jungle, the entire thing took place in the Burma jungle, fighting and everything.

Rf: Are you being type-cast now because of Camp on Blood Island?

VG: Could be, except I really did want to make this picture, it’s one of my favourite pictures.

RF: Who did you do it for?

VG: Hammer. In fact it was Mike had seen the television play, I hadn’t seen it. Mike was Producer, he said “Will you do it with me?” I said “Yes, fine”. It was a very, very strong story and we never got away anywhere for that either. I said “Can’t you talk the old man to let us go even for a week, somewhere tropical?” No. So, we built it all in a sandpit, the river was built inside Shepperton studios, no … inside Bray studios, the swamp, river they all went through and the jungle was brilliant piece of work by Bernard Robinson, who was the resident Art Director at Hammer; he built us a jungle in the big stage at Shepperton, which was all on revolves so you could change your settings by just swinging this piece and that piece. Brilliant. So there was a village which just swung around and became jungle. A terrific piece of work and we shot that entire thing – we had a little bit that we went out to do in a sandpit, sand quarry, somewhere near Bray, planted a million trees, palm trees and things. We’d shot that entire thing and I know that on the- again Bryan Forbes was in it playing one of the soldiers.

We had a big premiere for the Burma Star Association at the Empire, and Mountbatten was guest of honour of course and I sat next to him…during the screening.

[Side 9, 5 mins]

And he kept saying to me “I know that bit; I know that piece of jungle. Now that was North of Penang or was it South?” I’d say [whispers] “Tell you afterwards.” He kept saying that, and after the film he said “I must know where you shot that because it I know that whole locale; I know I have been there and I cannot think where in the world it was. And I broke it to him very gently that it was Shepperton Studios. He was astounded, absolutely astounded. He felt he’d made a fool of himself and I said “No…it’s a great compliment to us that we’ve made it real.”

RF: On the other hand maybe he was trying to be a ‘know-it-all’ before [his friends].

VG: Well, you don’t know.

RF: [referring to ‘noises off’] Is that voice disturbing?

VG: No, not at all.

RF: Sounds like an official.

VG: We got all sorts of awards for that too. I don’t know what else I can say about Yesterday’s Enemy. Again, Mike Carreras at his absolute best with his charts and logarithms of that jungle set, and what we could need each day and which soldiers we would need…unbelievably worked out. Wonderfully worked out. He would say if we needed a sergeant and three soldiers, non-speaking parts, he would say “Now let’s either number them or name them.”, which we did and he put them down on his list so that you didn’t have three soldiers, you knew the three soldiers. Which saved an awful lot of time with casting “Everybody here today, come tomorrow.”

RF: Meticulous.

VG: Very meticulous.

RF: Question I never asked before, did he ever pull rank, not as a producer but as the son of the family.

VG: Never, never. Because the relationship between the two of them was non-existent.

RF: Really?

VG: With Jimmy and Michael: utter hatred, I’m afraid.

RF: Well that’s an extraordinary revelation.

VG: Yes it was very, very sad that: when Michael finally broke away from Jimmy, Michael swears that Jimmy pulled [out] every stop to stop him getting his pictures off the ground. I don’t know, Jimmy may have another story. Jimmy on his hand says “Well Michael fucked up the whole thing, …Hammer Films…it’s a two [sided] thing but they never were ever in cahoots. Very sad.

RF: Yes, and surprising.

VG: Yes, well now the old man is getting on, Jimmy, and when he goes – he’s been in hospital having two kneecaps put in and Mike and Jo, his wife, go and stay in Henley in the house and they go over occasionally, and they are there but there’s no [inaudible] and I’m sure when Jimmy goes there won’t be anything. It’s sad it was a very well-known thing in Hammer that there was always friction between the two.

RF: Not a creative friction?

VG: No, not at all. It was a lack of respect I think.

RF: What, father to son?

VG: Hm. Which made Mike even more want to show his father that he could really do it and I think that’s why he put so much work into it. I’m surprised that he didn’t get on with Freddie, or that Freddie didn’t get on with him. Was Mike his producer, Freddie Francis’s producer?

RF: No, it wasn’t Freddie Francis, it was Frankie Searle.

VG: Oh, Francis Searle.

RF: Yes I think so-

VG: [interrupts] Why was it they didn’t get on, did you get any intimation?

RF: Well, I think as I recall, on the one hand a lack of respect for Mike Carreras as a producer – he apparently didn’t know what he was doing-

VG: Yes.

[Side 9, 10 mins]

RF: And the other that he was devious and exploitive.

VG: Really.

RF: But that might well be reflections of certain attitudes which Francis takes to life with him now, of having been exploited. By any producing entity. …we’d have to go into it a lot more fully to say, but as I say it’s quite the opposite of your feeling about him.

That then brings us to another-

VG: Bongo.

RF: Another very famous film. I have in brackets after Expresso Bongo, Id. I’m not sure what that means.

VG: On the French one? I don’t know either.

RF: Well, I’ll enquire.

VG: Because it was called Expresso Bongo all over Europe. I remember seeing it in Venice one time on a billboard as we went over a bridge and I said to Yo “We’ve got to look in on this.” And everybody speaking Italian, it had all been dubbed. Quite extraordinary, but it was still Expresso Bongo. Well, Bongo, what can we say about Bongo?  Bongo was written by Wolf Mankowitz for the stage musical and nobody had ever done anything about making a film of it and I had never thought about it, I’d gone to see it and I thought this is fun, [an] interesting thing, but I didn’t immediately say “My God, what a film!” I just went to see it and that was that.

RF: It was a sort of cult musical of the fifties. I remember taking Noel Peaback [?] with me- I don’t know that I ever saw the show.

VG: Yes, Johnny [sic] Scofield [Paul Scofield], Millicent Martin. And Susan Hampshire was playing a little bit in it. There was one night we were at a party at Peter Noble’s house, and Wolf was there, and I’d known Wolf for years but we were chatting away and Wolf said “Can’t you make a film of Bongo? And I said “I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it” “Well think about it, for Christ’s sake, make a film of it.” Everybody started to join in and Peter Noble said “It’s a bloody good idea, hasn’t anybody come for the film rights?” and Wolf said “No, they haven’t. Don’t understand why. And it was about to come off, because it hadn’t been that much of a success, so they were taking it off, so I said “Well I’ll come and see it again.” So, we went to see it again on the last night and…I thought “Yes it’s an idea, it’s contemporary, we don’t want to go to the south of France, the last act went to the south of France and that suddenly becomes old musical comedy, we must keep it all in Soho.

So anyway, I remember we went backstage afterwards, and I thought Hampshire was terrific in it, she was just a little bit in it, she was nobody, and I went and saw them at the back and I said “Would you like to do a film if we do a film of this?” and she said “Oh my god yes.” She’d never done a film and I said “Well, if this come off you can have your original part in it.” And so that’s what happened. Anyway, Wolf and I did the script and oh, we went ahead: ‘Larry’ Harvey. Again we had an accent trouble. Larry said “Well, how do you see this guy?” “Well he’s probably part-American. His accent is part-American, part-Jewish, part-Soho, part-cockney. It’s a mixture. And he said “Do you mean like Wolf?” and I said “Absolutely right, like Wolf. So, we had meals together and Larry listened to Wolf, and Wolf never knew this. To this day he doesn’t know this. There we go, off to make the movie and Larry said “Watch me for God’s sake, don’t let me lose it. Couple of times I said to Larry “You’ve lost it, cut!” And we would call up Wolf wherever he was and Larry would talk to him about some entirely fictitious thing about making a date or something and then he’d come back and say “Alright, I’ve got it” and we’d go on with the shooting.

RF: You were producer?

VG: Yes.

RF: How did you set up the production. How did you finance it?

[Side 9, 15 mins]

VG: I went to Stephen Paulos [?] who I had worked with; and, um, Mickey Balcon was part of it too.

RF: No problem in getting the money?

VG: No, and British Lion came in. No there was none at all.

RF: These are still buoyant days for the British film industry.

VG: Yes. We did that and we had Larry and Yo and Cliff Richard. I must have seen every rock singer there was, trying to cast [Expresso] Bongo, Bongo Herbert, I‘d seen Marty Wilde and Billy Fury … and some body called me up one day and said “Do you know the Two I’s Bar [a coffee bar] in Soho?” I said “No I don't”. “Well go to the Two I’s Bar and down in the basement is a young guy singing there and the guy who runs the place is Tom Littlewood”, so I called up Tom Littlewood and said “Is he on? He said “Yes he's on this week”.

So I went down there, this tiny cellar, not much bigger than this [presumably gestures] and there was Cliff and the Shadows who were then called the Drifters, tattily dressed in jeans, and we went and listened to him and I thought this is our guy. So, we got Cliff, Harry, Webb with his mother, he was under age 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 had plenty of confidence and we signed him up and I think we paid him £2,000.

RF: Really. As much as that?

VG: Well, he had to do all the singing, he had a lot of numbers, it was a musical and prices are up on that. So this was the start of Cliff. Cliff said to me “Could my mates be in it too?”. I said “Oh we'll find something for them”, so I wrote them into one of the coffee bar numbers playing behind him. As there was a thing [an American group] called the Drifters they had to rename themselves the Shadows. Cliff was wonderful because he was only a kid then 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. Goody Two Shoes?

VG: Yes. Absolutely 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 with Liz Taylor. And when he finished, on the last day shooting of Bongo he was flying off to do the western he did in the desert, The Alamo. John Wayne directed that. Bongo became a cult thing in Hollywood and Frank Sinatra had a copy and showed it at a party for Larry's arrival. It became quite a cult film there.

RF: On release you mean?

VG: Yes.

RF: Is there anything more that you want to say about Larry Harvey? He was quite kind to you.

VG: Well, I never had any problems with Larry Harvey at all. None at all. He was always very co-operative.

[Side 9, 20 mins]

Do you know, I think an awful lot of things 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 how 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 when we made …The Weapon, Liz Scott, Lizabeth Scott was a great problem but I didn't have any problems 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: Yes, if I could make a couple of guesses, one, you understood actors because you'd been an actor yourself, secondly, it sounds as if you had very congenial sets, people enjoyed themselves.

VG: We always have done mainly 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: Probably wears [rubs] off onto the actors. 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 a Sammy Glick character

VG: Yes, … the wide boy. He certainly was. His whole relationship with Jimmy Woolf, it was good for him.

RF: He knew what he wanted.

VG: Yes. I never forget on the last day of Larry’s shooting on Bongo, we were in the bedroom scene, and there was a venetian blind, it was Maisie's bedroom [Sylvia Sims], they shared, a filing cabinet and on the cabinet was a vase with some fake flowers, and I took his last shot, by the filing cabinet and the window 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'll call you at Grosvenor House”, where he lived, and he said “you bastard, you won't call me”, I said “If we have the time we'll do it, don't worry.” Off he goes. The picture is finished. When he went to The Alamo, when he got there in the desert 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 telegram ‘Up Jimmy Woolf's’. [They laugh].

[Side 9, 25 mins]

RF: Well that certainly got him just rewards, not necessarily just reward but a horrible death, bad death.

VG: That was the first 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 tassels, thistle tassels on the nudes which made them far more indecent than nudes. We had those then …the girls thought it was quite indecent to have to wear these tassels.

RF: Who was the censor in 1959? Was it Trevelyan?

VG: John Trevelyan… I used to invite him down to look at it, “This is not bad is it?”

RF: That was a very effective way of nobbling him was it not.

VG: Yes. It’s very funny about censors, while I remember, I had a shot of two people nude in bed and 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 “I don't mind it at all Val, but you've got to cut before it reaches the pubics,” and I said “John, you've got a thing about pubics”, he said “We don't have a thing about them but we don't like them 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 liberate, if slowly.

VG: The great thing about John is that he used to love to be called down to watch a scene which might be dicey, he used to get a great kick out of this.

RF: It was their way of subverting, which he must have been aware of. We must talk about censorship as a subject at some stage. I don’t know if you’ve had much trouble with people here.

VG: Not a lot here, but we had a very funny letter from the American censor, on … one with Diane Cilento, …The Full Treatment. [Some discussion about it’s apparent omission from their listings and it being listed under Stop Me before I Kill abroad]. With Claude Dauphin, Francoise Rosay, Diane Cilento.

[Side 9, 30 mins]

In that Diane Cilento swam nude at Teaume[?] down in the south of France, because she had a very traumatic experience and …she wanted to swim to cleanse herself, we got a letter from Breen which said the scene where Denise goes swimming is completely unacceptable, she must of course be fully clothed. So we had visions of her and her hand and long white gloves. And she'd just taken her sweater off and jeans off, that's all. We ignored it.

RF: He did that from the script.

VG: Yes, we always had to submit the script in advance. Otherwise not much trouble with censors. Oh, I must say because Bongo which went through with all these bits of nudity, the tableaux were all nude, the dancing girls had to wear nipple covers 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 through, it had to be done, and Larry was furious, he kept citing Expresso Bongo, “Why do you allow Expresso Bongo and not me?” “Well because it’s a strip show, and yours is a variety show”, and there was a big hoo-hah.

RF: Did it affect the certificate.

VG: “A” certificate we were. We didn't get an X. We got an A which was an adult subject in those days, I didn'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 no, there’s one more, Jigsaw are 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 the next one, Further Up the Creek?

VG: We couldn't get Sellers 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 at all. 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 had Shirley again, Shirley Eaton, Who else do we have here? [they check cast list]…went down to Weymouth and did the bits with the boats. It was a try-on, Hammer were having a trying-on.

RF: What, exploring different types of film you mean?

VG: No they were having another go at capitalising on Up the Creek.

RF: I see, right. That seems to have settled down into the water more or less.

 VG: Yes. 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,

[Side 9, 35 mins]

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 of that was on location, very difficult filming too.

RF: What is the genesis of the film?

VG: It was about the Manchester police force.

RF: An original?

VG: No, it was a book by … Harry [the credit is Maurice. DS] Procter, who wrote a lot about a fellow called Detective Inspector Martineau, a wonderful character, and I would have loved to have made more pictures on that character... And I think that Associated British at that time had the rights to it, and Hammer bought it; Mike Carreras fell for the book, he liked it very much and gave to me to read, then he bought the rights from ABP ‘cos they were never going to make it, and we made it on location, and the whole thing was this Detective Inspector Martineau … and this very human detective, tough, rough, but 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 in that particular genre, [it] predates Z-Cars for example on television. Something of a tradition going on here.

VG: Yes. I think it was a good picture, and I’ve seen it several times, it’s been on I went once, they asked me to go to the National Film Theatre to see it, it does stand up and Stanley is very good in it, Stanley Baker. First rate.  They're all good, it's a very good times cast. Who’ve they got here, Billie Whitelaw, Donald Pleasence, Maxine Audley. Yes there’s more than that, too, that really should be listed. It’s quite a picture.

RF: Who was your cameraman on that?

VG: Arthur Grant.

RF: He was used to working on location by this time.

VG: Oh yes, and used to getting it done in no time at all too. Very fast he was.

RF: Sounds like a very efficient crew.

VG: So then I weaned him away from Hammer, I put him under contract when I made my own films, he and Moray Grant, both of them, infallible team.

RF: He was the operator. Did you have any other people on camera? Who went on to lighting [?]

VG: Yes Jimmy Deevers [?], Wally. Quite a few of them went on, yes.

RF: Might be a good idea to ask you who was your favourite cameraman.

VG: Very difficult that.

RF: Horses for courses?

VG: Certainly. I would think that Arthur Grant has to be my old-time favourite, he's dead now, because 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, out here, he would find some way.

RF: Was he an old timer.

VG: Yes, he'd been with Hammer a long time, and he was very very good, another fellow was Ted Moore who went on to do the Bond pictures, a difficult character; Harry Waxman was another one, another difficult character but a good cameraman. Harry did The Day the Earth caught fire for me. Is he still with us?

RF: No he died, about two or three years ago.

VG: Because Harry was not the pleasantest of persons to work with.

RF: But he could be.

VG: He could be but he'd get himself in a tizzy.

[Side 9, 40 mins]

He'd wind himself up about something that wasn’t going right. And instead of saying “Alright see what we can do” he would get himself in a big tizzy.

RF: He was perpetually disgruntled.

VG: Yes. That's right. Oh, I got on with him alright, but I wouldn't say “Oh Christ I must get Harry again”.

RF: But delving beneath that he was a very decent man and by god he knew his craft.

VG: Oh sure. He joined up with some of my regulars when I did The Day the Earth Caught Fire so that he was working with my gang so I don't know if that helped or didn't help.

Hell is a City: I don’t know what else to say about that. I must say that… 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, and the Chief Constable 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 [he is corrected] 1960, 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 circulated what about so and so?

Later on, 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 can only say it was for filming purposes, whether you've blotted your copybook filming, that's all it was. Should we be given facilities, will 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 gets around because of the chaos, liberties. And I think the police obviously 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, “Here it is Guest”, and he had the thing.

RF: And the next one, we have three titles.

VG: Stop me before I kill

RF: Which is The Full Treatment.

VG: That was from a book by Ronald Scott Thorn, who strangely enough was our insurance doctor and put us all through the mill before, when we got our film insurances, 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 Françoise Rosay and Claude Dauphin and shot it in the South of France. Not all of it, but a lot of it.

[Side 9, 45 mins]

RF: Madame Rosay would be quite interesting to hear about.

VG: Françoise again a real, pro and no problems.

RF: Marvellous actress.

VG: Mucked in with everybody, fabulous actress. There were no special facilities granted. I said when we were down there “Have you got everything you want?” “Oh yes, yes.”

RF: Was she still married to Jacques Feyder?

VG: I don’t think so.

RF: I’d wondered if you’d met him.

VG: No I don’t think so. Claude Dauphin of course, a great character, a great ladies man, very suave and smooth.

 RF: Were you shooting just locations?

VG: All locations; we were based in Theoule [-Sur-Mer], in Cannes, Nice, all round there, and Tony Master was my art director on that, he was on several-

[Tape ends]

[Side 10]

RF: There’s one more listed here before The Day the Earth Caught Fire and that’ s The Weapon. With your favourite actor Steve Cochran.

VG: The Weapon, yes. That was the one I worked with him on and we had all the problems.  And Liz Scott, who was no problem at all. Also, another actress who did a picture with Crosby. French actress I can't remember her name, she was one of the star names, did Little Boy Lost with Crosby. [Nicole Maurey. DS] She was the co-star in it, came over here and did a television play with Yo.

The Weapon. This 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, … still was and he really knew very little about everything, anyway I did that for him, I believe it was for Eros. I'm not sure about that…. we shot all around the bomb sites around St Paul's Cathedral, an awful lot on location and some of it on Waterloo Bridge and Lambeth, it wasn't a very startling film, it was a good thriller. Who did we have on that? Liz Scott. George Cole, second time I’d worked with him, he played the villain in it, oh 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 wooden leg, as you know -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 him sleeping with his wife. And there was holy hell, he was not only barred from Warner’s 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, the big busted act; [Arthur] Askey used to have her on the show, great big boobs and no talent; he was having a thing with her, Steve Cochran. He was always surly, ended up not talking at all to his producer, Hal Chester, they used to pass notes to people to tell each other [to] fuck off.

RF: Did he not drink, or was he on drugs? I think there was some [story]

VG: I don’t know I never had any, I was never aware of his being drunk or anything. I know he died very strangely in a boat full of women that came in and he was dead in it or something. I remember vaguely that.

[Side 10, 5 mins]

He wasn't the easiest person, no.

RF: What was Chester's role in the thing, he just set it up?

VG: Yes. He wheeler-dealered his way into being a producer.

RF: During this period …I think he made quite a few films in Britain during this period. He made one with Frank Schnaffner.

VG: He did. He went on to make more films, and I think this was the first one.

RF: Oh was it.

VG: I think so, but you’d have to check. I understood that he had been a production manager and odd things, over there, but not that he had produced at all.

RF: I saw him referred to recently that he lived in Brighton, so he’s still around.

VG: Well he lived in Cannes for a long time. And he’s in Brighton is he? Isn’t that extraordinary I didn’t know he was still with us.

Our cameraman was a wonderful cameraman called Ernie, oh I had his name a moment ago, white-haired old man [imitates] with a very high-pitched voice.

[Possibly he means Reg Wyer. DS]

 Hal used to be around you like a bothersome gnat, “Get him away, get him out of our hair.” I tell you who my third assistant on that was: Johnnie Goodman. Do you know who I mean? He got in his hair too.

RF: I do… I remember a couple of films made at EMI: Frank Schaffner directed The Double Man and Yul [Brynner] was in it and I knew them both from the States, I went down there one day for lunch and you wouldn’t have him on the set even. Violent temper.

VG: Well, we got rid of him as much as we could. I remember our poor cameraman, we were shooting in a bombsite just by St Pauls and Hal came on and when 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 “Hal 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 know 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 site and the cameraman tapped him on the arm and said “Hally - do you believe in Christmas?” and Hal said “Of course I do”, “Well fuck off and have a merry one”. And Hal never came near us again while we were on that location. He was a pest.

RF: He seems to have survived. 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 had turned it down, Minter, Rank, Columbia.

RF: What would they say.

VG: Nobody wants to know about the bombs. Who's going to go and see a picture about the bombs. Anyway, every time some producer said to me is there something 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 want to see it.”

RF: It existed in what, full script form?

[Side 10, 10 mins]

VG: No, story form. I had about a 20-page treatment. Then I went to Steven Pallos, 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 Balcon, Steven Pallos, and another guy, Max Setton, they started a production company 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 in those days was desperately cheap, even in those days.

RF: Which studio?

VG: We made it at Shepperton. Again, Tony Masters was my art director. That was a very difficult picture to make because it was about 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, plaster up their 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. We did it on midweek and we were allowed to clear Fleet St for two minutes at a time. A whistle would blow and we could have two minutes.

RF: And the police would cooperate with that.

VG: They had a stop up 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 dirt 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, kicking these signs down, and the moment it got to the Law Courts the whistle went and I had two minutes of no traffic to do my scene, and then another whistle would go and all the traffic would come again.

RF: That was astonishing cooperation from the authorities. Do you 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… they had less to worry about than the Metropolitan Police was what the Met said.

RF: And they are accountable to a much more confined group of people, the Corporation.

VG: Yes. But that is just one of the things we had to do on that picture. 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, just over Chelsea Bridge.

[Side 10, 15 mins]

We'd shut 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 “Stop. This must stop absolutely 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 these out at once. And we did. The whole of that picture was fraught with those kinds of difficulties.

RF: How many times did you have to close Fleet Street?

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: They were realised. I think it’s a very favourite film for a lot of people. [Arthur] Christiansen stood out. [He was the actual editor of the Daily Express newspaper, though his ‘character’ has a different name in the film. DS]

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 an 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’d 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 Street, I didn't know that much about it, and being Chris'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 [more than he could chew], then it was too late. And I couldn't really recast by that time.

RF: Other than those predictable production problems, was it a relatively trouble-free film?

VG: …It wasn't worry free, and I don't think it was trouble free because 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, Renée 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 he did it, that finished Eddie, I never had any problems with him.

[Side 10, 20 mins]

RF: What more can be said about the film?

VG: I don’t know what more can be said about that. Leo was wonderful in it, again, part of my rep company, Leo McKern.

RF: He was what relatively new in this country?

VG: Yes, he hadn’t done an awful lot, but he was one of my favourites. I used him whenever I could, Leo. Again, a man with a photographic memory, he said his script through once when he got it and knew what it was, when we came to shooting 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, an incredibly memory, I've never seen that on anybody else.

RF: Completion. Was there any trick work in it?

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.

RF: As I remember there were composites, and quite a lot of model work.

VG: There was trick stuff like fog coming down the Thames, the Thames dried up, the police boat going down the trickle; Trafalgar Square 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.

…About finishing. What was I going to tell you? Oh yes, that year, later that year, I had been nominated, The Day the Earth Caught Fire had been nominated by BAFTA, it was then the British Film Academy, it was one of the nominations for the best screenplay, 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.

[Side 10, 25mins]

…Suddenly the nominations come up and I'm announced. We've won, 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, I think, John got it too, and he said he nearly didn't go. And it was only because Theo had very carefully shamed us into going that we were there at all, very cleverly shamed into it. I could very easily have said “No, sorry chum.”

RF: Going back to the special effects, Val,  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 [special effects] they were rudimentary to that extent. But I had some pretty good 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 it’s up today's standards, except a couple.

RF: Well, Les Bowie was one of the founding fathers-

VG: Oh, Les Bowie was wonderful. He worked with Hammer too, in fact he did our 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. [videocassette sales] It's funny the things which keep coming in still, in residuals. You think ‘Christ, I thought everyone 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 content or 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, was 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 [atomic] bombs. 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 eight 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? Forgive me I thought you’d left it with a happy ending.

[Side 10, 30mins]

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 to 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 on St Paul's. But you didn’t know.

RF: Interesting how one misremembers. I could have sworn…

VG: Yes… Jigsaw, you want to go into Jigsaw. Jigsaw was, again, from a book by Hilary Waugh, a Canadian writer, set in a small town in Canada and I thought I would make it in Brighton, and this is when I went down for all the usual permissions, and this is when I had my meeting with the police, 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, detective, 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.

RF: Had you been influenced by anyone?

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 Cutty 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: Now 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 status at this stage: you’re independent. Who was that made for?

VG: Pallos, Britannia, his own company, but I produced it…. Britannia was his own production company and he used to make his deal with whoever…. I think Jigsaw was not British Lion. I think Jigsaw if I remember rightly was Columbia…

RF: He seems to have been a very active producer.

VG: Yes he was.  

RF: What sort of man?

VG: He was a wonderful character; he's now retired to Spain.

RF: Was he British by origin?

VG: No, he was Hungarian and he used to work with Korda and he was one of Alex Korda's third right hand man, you know they used to have two or three of them.  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, Steven said to Alex, “Sometimes when I'm with you I feel inferior”, and Alex said “You know why Steven, because you are inferior.” That was a classic story.

[Side 10, 35 minutes]

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 “Don’t make a Chicken 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 good as, they can say it's not as big as, then go back and do a big one. He gave this advice 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 unusual, to show the police working and not getting anywhere. The awful dead ends they come up against which is what that picture shows. Steven didn't want me to do that, but I did.

RF: It’s good pacing I think, too, for the individual.

VG: Yes. You always try and outdo what you’ve just done. You’ve won an award for something and you say “Christ, now what do I do?”

RF: Yes, outdo or repeat. One’s overwhelmed… Jigsaw did what sort of business?

VG: …Reasonable business. It did enormous business on the continent. It got very good reviews, in the main: what’s it called here… [checks list] Mystery of the Villa Blanche… came in several of their top lists of best crime, pictures, police pictures; it did all right, 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: Yes they were. And Yo did a small part for me in Jigsaw. One of the girls who nearly gets murdered. And again she played against [the type] she was known as, it was a very dramatic part.

RF: Well, maybe one more. We’ll finish 1963 and then we’ll break. 80,000 Suspects.

VG: That’s alright. 80,000 Suspects.

RF: A name-filled cast.

VG: That was based on Pillars of Midnight by Elleston Trevor, which was not a very good title for the screen, so I dreamt up the title 80,000 Suspects. I did it for Rank. Earl St. John. Again, we had a good cast and we literally took over the city of Bath, the main idea was a smallpox [epidemic was] going on in 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, and they were very good to us in Bath.

RF: Was it all on location?  

VG: Not all but I would say 75% of it.

[Side 10, 40 mins]

And the rest Pinewood. We hit the day, the day we started – well the night, because we started with the night shooting – it was the coldest temperature in living memory and there was snow everywhere and we had to say “Is this going to last or not?” 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 trucks our location manager wants to be able to be put our own snow down, or props want, … and salt … 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 snow ploughs to where we were shooting and Yo had to go to the Roman baths on the coldest night of the year, she had to jump in in her Dior evening dress because she was supposed to be tiddly, and 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 [Daily] Express 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 she was brought out.

RF: Poor woman. That was the winter that went on and on and on. You were lucky in that sense.

VG: That’s right. Shooting in the streets when we had tracking shots, of Yo and Richard Johnson and Claire Bloom, tracking shots of her and Richard Johnson, we had just under the camera, braziers burning all the way down that street 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.

Then the day Rod Steiger came down, because he was married to Claire [Bloom], and Claire said “Please keep him off the set!”, so we did everything to keep him off the set, took him on tours of Bath Abbey, we did everything.

RF: Why did she not want him on the set?

VG: It inhibited her.

RF: …Two other people, Kay Walsh and Cyril Cusack. You’d worked with both of them before I think.

VG: Cyril. What did I work with Cyril on? I worked with him later, in Where the Spies are. I’m sure we had Cyril in something, I can’t remember. I know I shared a dressing room with him at the Bush when we were fire watching together.

Kay Walsh had just come out of a terrible depression, break down, and I gave her this little bit to try and break her back into [work], she was terribly insecure. She had a rough ride one way or another. Kay I’d known for years, in fact I introduced her to David Lean, I felt rather guilty about all that. …We had a very good actor in that Michael Goodliffe, again an actor from my rep who I used a lot.

RF: Yes, what became of him?

VG: He committed suicide. He threw himself off a hospital balcony, he had depressions and things.

[Side 10, 45 mins]

Oh yes, I’ll tell you a little story: I’ve had one sequence where the whole town had to come and be vaccinated, 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 Moffatt had a pub just outside bath, on a hill, and I said “Well, I've got to go and see this.”  So we drove up one night to the pub and there is Graham, now losing all his hair, with just this little monk's fringe, fat, and he’s behind the bar and I went up to the bar, and he had his back to me and said “Two Tizers, please”, [Tizer is a fizzy soft drink, usually drunk by children] and this thing froze, he was at the whisky [optic] turned round, to say “Who is this twit that’s come in?” and he suddenly saw me, and it was quite a moment, I hadn't seen him for … maybe 30 years, I said “Do you want to do a bit, I’ll write something for you.” “Oh, Christ I can’t do it anymore” “Oh come on.” So, I wrote in a piece in the vaccination line.

[End of Side 10]

[Side 11]

[RF prompting]

VG: …He came and did it. The cameo was fat man in the line waiting to be vaccinated and when he got there, just the sight of the needle, he fainted. That’s all he did in that but it was probably Graham's last film appearance because shortly after that he died

RF:  Of a heart attack?

VG: Yes. He had a terrible thing a few years before that, he had hiccups which couldn't be cured and he was just hiccupping the whole time, they even took him up in a plane, finally I don't know how but he was cured of 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 thing which is rather sad about Graham, from a fat cheeky boy that everybody loved, he became a fat balding man and found it very difficult really 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. What he did he did very well, but there wasn’t much of a range.

VG: But there were all these parts he could play. He could play barge owners, a cabbie, … he could still be cheeky, but somehow it all fell away.

RF: But he was a happy person.

VG: Oh yes, very happy, full of fun, he never seemed to be worried about anything very much, but then I didn't know him when he was a grown man. I met him once, … the National Film Theatre, they did a week of 1,000 clowns, a comedy series [programme]and they had Oh, Mr Porter! on and they found Graham and they asked Graham and me if we'd go along and meet everybody and chat, and that was the first time 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 ago” so we go there, we meet Graham in the bar there and I introduce Chris my son and I say “In a minute 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 the matter?” he said “Were you a grown man when that old man was a little boy?”, … he couldn't figure this at all.

RF: Yes its interesting how children have a very limited concept of age.

VG: Exactly. He never thought of me as a little boy, he just thought of me as a grown man, so was I a grown man when he was a little boy? This puzzled him, this he couldn’t get. We laughed about that later.

RF: Shall we break there?

VG: OK. It goes on and on….

September 6, 1988

RF: We left off last week covering 80,000 Suspects and we're now onto The Beauty Jungle, 1964.

[Side 11, 5 mins]

VG: … When the press found out I was doing a film about the beauty jungle in 1964 and it was printed in odd bits of press coverage I got a letter first of all from Eric Morley who demanded to be able to see the script and to point out to me I couldn't use Miss England, I couldn't use Miss Great Britain, Miss World, Miss Universe, any of that. I didn't answer that, it didn't call for an answer; then later when we’d gone ahead 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 it was Miss Globe instead of Miss World and Miss Universe.

An enormous number of people were tested for that from Nyree Dawn Porter, Susan Hampshire, for the girl who in the story started on the beach on Weston-Super-Mare who went on to become or 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 very 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 fictitious name for a test, and I did a test with her made up really Monroe type, we did a silent test, and the test went into the rushes the next day, and Earl said “Now 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.

RF: That raises a question to what extent Earl St John and such as he could influence casting decisions and script?

VG: He could, very much so. Earl was a great power there. It was Earl as I think I told you before 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, too much or too little and our main character casting.

RF: Add he in turn was directly responsible to John Davis.

VG: Yes. Although John Davis as far as films were concerned didn't know anything about films. He was just the man.

RF: The bottom line concerned him.

VG: Yes, absolutely.

RF: On balance what do you think his decisions indicated, in ability.

VG: His decisions indicated the fact that he had once been a barker outside a circus, you know.

[Side 11, 10 mins]

He was a very good showman, Earl, and his mind worked in things which could be used in showmanship.

RF: And things essentially that the public would pay to see. Including the egrets presumably. [Topical story?]


VG: I don't think that creatively, I might be maligning a poor dead man, but I never found him creatively an executive producer who was creative.

RF: It was by rote and by predjudice…?

VG: Simply that he had been a showman and he was still a showman and his whole mind was channelled into what was showmanship, not what was good movie necessarily, but what was showmanship.

RF: Where there others at Pinewood in those days who had that kind of ability to control input?

VG: No I don’t think so. Such as?

RF: Well I was wondering because there was a time when Rank was a bit top heavy – there were a lot of people floating around and their jobs were somewhat nebulous.

VG: Well I mean they had the accounts department there, Robbie Robinson, Jack Fallon who did your budgets for you, they were all Rank people 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.

RF: In what way?

VG: Well for instance your location contingencies, it’s like the old Film Finance, whatever your budget used to be they'd say “Put a third on again.” Your location contingency fund was something which bumped your budget right up and also safeguarded them, if they were doing a bond of completion. Now Rank did very much the same thing.

RF: So they were covering their backs.

VG: They were covering their side, yes. Completely.

RF: As individuals, not the studio. In other words, if a picture’s assigned a budget and it come in on or under, then they are looking glorious [inaudible]

VG: So, you always had the battle of the budget.

RF: Did you have a studio overhead assigned to your picture? Do you recall the percentage.

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, and in Nice, we had quite a lot of expenses on that, but the cover they gave themselves on that was enormous.

RF: 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 production manager, we had a fabulous production manager that I've used all over the years called Louis Fleury who had been in the resistance during the war, and all along the south of France they knew him, and he got all sorts of incredible things done as a French executive production manager, and location manager, and he used to run his own company through which we hired, so he could say “I give you the minimum”, he'd help you, so if you went out you'd have to take a minimum which the law required whereas if you went out through the union thing there you would have to take a minimum which was more than the minimum. And that put your costs up, too.

RF: Did you find the municipalities down there corrupt in any way, were there a lot of backhanders?

VG: Yes. But not just the South of France, the backhanders in Spain were unbelievable. To the highest that you could go in Spain.

RF: In Italy as well.

VG: In Italy. I never did any- I’ve filmed in Italy but not with any pictures based there even a short time.

[Side 11, 15 mins]

I mean in The Persuaders I went to Italy, there’s quite a lot of things I’ve done over there- I never had much dealing with that. I mean there’s always dropsy when you’re shooting in the streets and things, but that’s obvious.

RF: Yes, that’s part of the scene, isn’t it?

VG: But the officialdom, I can't think of any officialdom in any part of the world where there hasn't been dropsy, wherever I've filmed.

RF: Including this country.?

VG: Yes, but strangely enough and this sounds crazy to say it, not as much as abroad.

RF: And one would be paying out for what: locations [and] permissions.

VG: For permissions, yes. I never ever found any dropsy with the police over here, never, and I've done three very solid police 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: It did alright. We got our money back but we didn't break any records. It broke even. 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 Hendry and Janette Scott and a few guest appearances like Norman Hartnell and the Duchess of Bedford and Linda Christian and people like that. Edmund Purdom. But none of those were really names that lifted it anywhere. That's one thing about Rank, they never insisted you had names.

RF: Of those how many were contract players at Rank; were any of them?

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 a tie, but when they found out it was Janette Scott, they didn't want the unknown girl tie. No, had we had some stronger names to pull them in I think it would have done a lot better.

…We had Ian Hendry who was a brilliant actor but almost impossible man to work with. He was one of the other actor people who were trouble.

RF: Yes. Again, he had a drink problem.

VG: He had a great drink problem, and he would get very obstreperous with his drink, whereas 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, for 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, the heats, go through, and both of them were falling off their chairs, and I tied, I actually tied Ronnie to the chair. We kept Ian on it, but he couldn’t hear when I say “Action and do that, speak.” But a loveable guy – he doesn’t drink now, he’s been off it for a long, long time.

RF: Well it is an affliction. I think then people were to be very impatient and get annoyed about it.

VG: Well there you had two people who it affected completely different[ly]; Ian got very obstreperous, very out of hand, very argumentative, in fact was an unpleasant drinker, whereas Ronnie was a darling and everybody adored him.

RF: More to say about that?

VG: I can’t think of anything else, no.

RF: We come on then to Where the Spies Are – we should try to be precise, we’re in the middle of …

[Side 11, 20 mins]

VG: Britain. Fifties, no Sixties yes.

RF: when I think the general ambience of London influenced the style and content of films to a very large extent.

VG: Yes, it did a lot of them, yes…indicated that period at that time; certainly Where the Spies Are did. We bought a James Leasor book, adapted it from Tehran to Beirut-

RF: But it wasn’t just the ‘Bond’ influence, which undoubtedly I imagine there was.

VG: There was a Bond influence. Incidentally its not generally known, I don’t even know if Sean [Connery] knows it, but I was responsible – partly responsible – for getting him in the cast.

RF: Well we must establish that on the record.

VG: Well that’ll be around about the time [pause] 1969. We are coming up to that

RF: As Bond. No, that would be out of sequence. Dr No I think was 1961. {Released 1962. DS]

VG: We have passed that haven’t we. Well in the sixties, Harry Salzman and Cubby Broccoli – Harry asked me to do and see him in his South Audley Street office – and he said “I’m going to give you some books.” We were off to Venice, and I think, going on holiday. “They are James Bond books and we are thinking of making a movie, I’m giving you three, Dr No, Thunderball, and one other. Take them away and see which you’d like to make.”

I went away and read them all and I came back and I said “I’d like to make Thunderball.” And Cubby said “We’ve got trouble with Thunderball because Kevin McClory is suing or says he has the rights.” So, we had a lot of litigation there and he said “Forget Thunderball, we’re thinking of making Dr No.” and I remember very distinctly saying to Harry “Harry, it’s a ‘B’ picture, it’s a piddling little story. The other one has scope and everything, but Dr No, you’re out of your mind.” And at that time, I was doing something else with Harry, or about to do something with Harry and Cubby, and they were saying “We are going to do this, and if it’s a hit we’ll do a few more.” They were then thinking about who to get and they were thinking of Tom Conway’s brother-

RF: George Sanders.

VG: No, there was another brother, [Not so. DS] a younger one. They had thought of Tom and George and then there was another one, and Harry also had someone else (who I then had to use later on in Casino Royale, can’t think of his name, he was terrible) and I said “Look , there’s a guy called Sean Connery”, who was boyfriend of Diane Cilento at the time, and he’d just made an army comedy down at Shepperton, and impressed them, I thought he was rather good. I said “Have a look at Sean Connery, don’t take any notice of me, have him up to see, don’t take any notice of the film, because it’s not all that good a film, he could certainly do it.” And that was the first time Sean had been mentioned to the two of them. So, I like to think that I sowed a seed anyway for that.

But anyway, I’m the idiot that didn’t make Dr No. And as you know when they’d made it, they didn’t know what to do with it because they’d made it seriously. And they finally got it shown, I think it was the Odeon Leicester Square-

RF: I remember the London Pavilion, but I could be wrong.

VG: Or was it the Pavilion? For Dr No, maybe it was. But I know that people started to laugh at places where they didn’t expect it, and it was only then that they decided to make them tongue-in-cheek.

[Side 11, 25 mins]

And then the reaction built and built which started them on the way they handled the Bond movies. Very interesting. But that was a ‘no’ that was wrong from me.

Now Where the Spies Are: James Leasor had written a lot of books about a Doctor Jason Love who is always getting involved because he once in the war worked in espionage, and he was now a country doctor but they kept inveigling him in things, which he didn’t want… It was a very good character and I liked the book very much, the first one I read was called Passport to Oblivion. I went to MGM with it and David was interested in it, David Niven and David and I went into a sort of partnership with it. The head of production then was ‘Red’ Silverstein and Red said “All right, we’ll do it, but you can’t possibly call it Passport to Oblivion, because nobody knows what oblivion is – they think it’s a sleeping tablet or Lawrence Oblivion [?] you don’t know find another title.”

And I came up with several other titles and MGM came up with this title, Where the Spies Are, they’d had it on their files a long time, they’d bought this a long time ago and they were dying to use it on something so that’s how we got the title.

RF: I notice on this French list they went back to the original title.

VG: Well it was … called that in France.

RF: There must be some special type of executive that worries about names!

VG: I remember we had terrible trouble in that because we went to Beirut and they’d never had an international film being made there and they turned the works on for us; this was the good old days of Beirut they gave us the army the air force the lot. The intercontinental Phoenicia Hotel, everything, Which was great, because it kept my budget way down…. There came a terrible moment when David, they found – they had a Paris Soir [actually it would be France-soir DS] [newspaper] correspondent, woman, there who had come up with a very tricky question to ask everybody about, and that was that David had made a film in Israel with Sophia Loren, and as such if the Lebanese found out he would not be allowed to work in Lebanon. Now we were in terrible trouble, so I got hold of David and I said “You have got to pull out every stop in the book, whether it’s your honour, whether you go to bed one night, two nights with the correspondent, this hasn’t got to appear, somehow.”

It never appeared. But that was a very tricky moment.

RF: Did he compromise his honour?

VG: That’s up to him. Can’t say.

RF: You’re not saying.

VG: It never appeared, she got another story, which he gave her. Before we went over I had to go to the Lebanese embassy here and see the Consul, and he said to me “Look, you will have forms to fill in about the units you are taking, when you fill the forms in, of course you have no Jewish people on your unit, have you” So I said “No.” And, we were loaded with them. He said “You will put down Christian Scientists, Third [Day] Adventists, all that, Mormon.” I said “Yes.” He was very helpful.

RF: Was he looking for baksheesh?

VG: He didn’t get it. Plenty over there [in Lebanon though]. He didn’t get it here. I was naive enough not to think that as high up as that in the embassy especially as they were desperately wanting to get us over there.

[Side 11, 30 mins]

But when we got there to the facilities that had been given to us for nothing, the army that we used, there were little hints there that the men didn’t get up early… “We can’t guarantee that they will be there at the time you want them there.” “Oh yes you can.”

RF: Was it a matter of being ripped off, or just gently?

VG: Gently.

RF: Not outrageous. … Because in some instances-

VG: No, not…

RF: It was a high budget picture presumably?

VG: Yes, it was. And we did very well with it. We had darling Françoise Dorleac in it, who was wonderful – a very, very good actress. She got burnt in a car outside Nice airport, a terrible, terrible thing. She was great fun, she was very professional. I remember in Beirut, she said to me - Catherine Deneuve was her sister, and she said “Catherine has been let down again by that bastard Vadim, she’s very depressed, can I invite her over?” “Well, of course.” So Catherine came over, to try and cheer her up at the same time as I had made a deal with David Bailey to come and do special layout for Françoise and they met that’s when it started. They got married which you know; didn’t last long, but that’s where they met, that happened on that picture. Don’t know what else I can tell you.

RF: Is this the biggest picture you’ve made so far in terms of size and budget for an American major or would there have been previous ones?

VG: I think it probably was yes.

RF: You enjoyed working with ‘Metro’ then?

VG: Yes. There were probably things that came up. They had absolute fixtures about certain things, for instance we had taken a real battered old taxi in Beirut, which was part of our plot, where this car had got to, and it was in an old garage and they flung the doors open of this garage way out near Byblos somewhere… and on the bumpers, as they all do over there, they stick ads: Camel, Lucky Strike, Maxwell House, they cover their bumpers and there was absolute chaos in Culver City when they saw this on the rushes: “Advertising, advertising, every one of those has got to come off!” I can’t go back and shoot all that again, we were now in England so we had to spend an awful lot on special effects to matte them out on every shot where they could be seen.

RF: I was going to ask if it was a joke-

VG: [Indignant] Yes we had to! That was the sort of expense they would go to. And they were so minute – well you know the size of a bumper. They were about the same size as a cigarette pack would be.

RF: Did they explain why?

VG: Yes: advertising. It was the code then that you do not advertise, you have special cigarette packs…in all their films, Metro, when they had cigarettes, they were an unknown brand. They had them all printed and made, they were in the prop room. I remember Red Silverstein said – we had a pack on the table which Nigel Davenport used I don’t know what they were but they certainly weren’t a phony pack – He said “Don’t your prop people have these specially printed packs?” I said “No.”

RF: I would have thought a meticulous director would want to cast a cigarette to a character.

VG: Anyway, things like that you went through with Metro.

RF: Where was the production controlled from? Out of Boreham Wood or did everything get referred back to Culver City.

VG: I controlled it from Boreham Wood, from MGM studios.

[Side 11, 35 mins]

RF: And did you have a lot of interference?

VG: None at all, once the budget had been okayed…Jack Smith was there taking care of the studio side for MGM. The money was paid to Jack Smith, MGM, who paid it to Val Guest productions.

When the picture finished that wonderful old MGM editor Maggie Booth, Margaret Booth she flew over and sat with me, I was really thrilled to be working with her, she’d done all the Garbo pictures, she'd done Ben Hur even, been on the original.

RF: I think she is still alive. I think so.

VG: Is she? She was a fabulous character she was Hollywood mythology at that time.

RF: She’d been with Louis Mayer right from the beginning.

VG: And we sat through it and it was incredible the suggestions she made, I learnt quite a lot from her, editing, then my editor on that was Bill Lenny [Only Bill Lenny is credited. DS] on that, too.

What else: David. I did three films with David [Niven], I found him a great character, great fun to work with, no problem, full of merry quips, all he was worried about was that “You will take care of my turkey gullet won’t you?” [a reference to an ageing neck. DS].

RF: He was self-deprecating as an actor, was he not.

VG: I think that was a front. He knew very well what he was doing, he knew very well what he shouldn’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 if ever there was one. He was a very good actor. He got saddled with the lightness, because this is what he was superb at but he could do dramatic stuff too…. He was a delight to work with, we had many laughs we were partners. I would have gone mad if he hadn't been right through Casino Royale. I wrote two of my chums into that.

RF: Are we coming on to that?

VG: Eventually. Oh it’s the next one on the list.

RF: I don’t know what more there is to say about Spies

VG: Well, I took some of my ‘rep’ company to Beirut with us. John Le Mes- no I didn’t take him to Beirut, but he was in it. Cyril Cusack, Eric Pohlmann who I always used…. Reginald Beckwith again. I had a lot of the, Basil Dignam, I had a lot of the reps in there. ‘Bumble’ [Beatrice] Dawson that wonderful dress designer we have spoken of her, haven’t we? came to Beirut she did Françoise’s clothes. …It wasn’t an easy picture but it was fun.

RF: Is it just retrospective nostalgia or were the sixties happier times for film making? I think it went hand in hand with the decade.

VG: Yes, …but I have to be honest about this, but I have seldom not had a happy time filmmaking. The thirties were every bit as happy a time filmmaking.

RF: I was wondering if it was easier to set up a picture in the sixties especially in England when there was so much American {?] money. Budgets were there.

VG: Definitely, there was a lot of money and it was much easier to set things up.

[Side 11, 40 mins]

RF: It was a decade of great optimism, I think. Which obviously failed.

VG: Yes I was going to say, I don't know what we reaped from that, whether it was over-optimism,

RF: Over- or foolish.

VG: Maybe foolish, maybe. it was a great time to be living, the sixties.

RF: The era of Carnaby Street and swinging London. Haight-Ashbury and the Flower people, and the great social protests.

VG: Sure, but I honestly can't say as far as film making was concerned it was a happier time that most of the other things, maybe I've been very lucky.

RF: I suppose what I was trying to say was that business was more active, better funded, there was continuity in production.

That probably brings us then to Casino Royale. I just turn it over to you.

VG: Well it’s very difficult, this is a film in itself, the making of that, the legendary Charlie Feldman who was the producer on that called me to go and see him, I had many long days and nights with Charlie who said we want to make, he'd bought… the only Bond book which had got out of the stable, that hasn't even one single sequence that he could use 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 other Bond films, so he really had nothing. He said “I've got a script by Ben Hecht.” I said “That should be interesting.” “It's too serious but anyway read it,” so I got another script by Terry Southern, you know.

RF: A very funny writer.

VG: That's no good either. There was a third one, I can't remember what. He gave me these three scripts to read, I read these three scripts, there were odd things in them, … finally he said “What do you think?” I said “Let me pull in Wolf Mankowitz again”, and Wolf did some sort of a treatment for it 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'll have eighteen James Bonds, everybody will be calling themselves James Bond.” which is how we launched into it.

RF: Was that a considered decision?

VG: It was a considered decision, he wanted some gimmick, he said I'm going to have eighteen James Bonds and six different directors. A hundred years ago Rene Clair did a film called If I had A Million and each had a segment and somebody had taken that theme, each had a segment and they got all the top directors each to do a segment. That’s what he said we’d do.

RF: It doesn't seem then a top of the head decision, does it now, looking back.

VG: What it seemed then was that he was going to send it all up. You couldn't make a serious James Bond picture with the success of the others all around you.

RF: And without Connery.

VG: And without Connery, 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 Woody Allen, take that and be the coordinating director as well.”

That was my deal. I then became the writer of bits and pieces which I didn't get paid for just to try and keep the thing together, 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 Niven and Ursula Andress,” because I knew with those two, I could giggle my way out of anything. 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 “Christ 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.

RF: What happened to him, this sudden megalomania?

VG: I don’t know, I think he was going to outdo every other Bond which had ever been done, that was his thing was.

[End of Side 11]

[Side 12]

[RF prompting]

VG: I think he said he was going to top every one of those Bonds that had ever been made. “And as I’m doing a Bond picture, I will do one they will never be able to top.”

I have 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 somehow or other Charlie's charm got everybody, the only person he didn't was [Jean Paul] Belmondo who said “No” flatly, so Charlie got hold of Ursula, he was her boyfriend at the time, and said “You've got to get him. It’s good for you to be in a picture together.” We got Jean.

RF: Was he paying their full rate?

VG: Yes, indeed afterwards, later, we needed some extra voice-overs or some dubbing from Ursula and he called her in Switzerland, 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”. Ursula who has a mind which ticks up dollars all the time said “no”, and finally Charlie won 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 Charlie.

RF: Whose money was it?

VG: Columbia’s. Certainly was.

RF: It was Columbia's money, what were they doing in the meantime?

VG: They were going berserk. They sent a fellow called Jerry Bresler over to hold him down, as Charlie's hatchet man, he was a complete waste of time. They were going berserk and people used to fly in and fly out. And one day when some Columbia head was coming over, they went to enormous trouble to get Hugh Heffner, because we had a whole sequence in the Playboy club which was supposed to be the underground head[quarters] of SMERSH, and the day the Columbia 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 laid on to kerfuffle a few people. It was a mad thing. Charlie would ring me up in the middle of the bloody night and say “Val, we can get Bardot next Wednesday what set are we on?”, and we were filming at MGM at Pinewood and Shepperton, we had sets on all three 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 Raft, “write something in.”

RF: Do you think Around the World in 80 Days was on his mind where Mike Todd had done roughly the same thing and got away with it?

VG: Possibly. But it was murder making it. If I didn't have some gigglers, I would have gone berserk. Because not only was I doing my last sequence, Woody Allen, who is the most morose person you could 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,

[Side 12, 5 mins]

and Woody would come in with some things, very funny things, which we would write into script form, he wasn't very sure of that at that time, and we would sit the two of us writing and Woody would say, “The executioner will take all these lines out”, and we'd go to Charlie and say “It's funny let us shoot it and show you, Charlie maimed an awful lot of the stuff, and poor Woody was in an awful state, “He's a murderer, he's a murderer.” And I had to sooth him down and a lot of the stuff we put back in when we got on the floor, which is not like me but I knew it was funny stuff.

Woody was very unhappy with Charlie. Now Charlie was a man one day you wanted to hug him, the next day you wanted to garrotte him. He really brought out the absolute extremes. He never shouted [?] but his complete befuddlement - and he befuddled you by changing his mind every hour almost on the hour about this, that and the other, so it was impossible to make anything to schedule because Charlie changed the whole schedule.

RF: In the rewrites were you able to keep any reference to what had gone before and what might come after?

VG: Yes, a little bit, but it wasn't easy. Then there came the time when John Huston said to me “This is a load of crap, isn’t it?” He said “I don’t think I can take any more of this, if I fuck off to Ireland and play some poker if there are any odd things will you pick them up for me?” I said “Sure.” Off he went. That was the way the thing went. There was, you see the directors, John Huston, there was …Richard Talmadge who had been a great star in his time in Hollywood, had all his old adventure films, westerns he came to do all our stunts, he was our stunt director…

RF: Bob Parish.

VG: Bob Parish, yes. Ken Hughs. There was someone else brought in, taken straight off again.

RF: Yes, someone I know, Joe McGrath.

VG: Yes, [Peter] Sellers wanted him in and Sellers wanted him out. Because Peter was going through one of his manic depressives, he came on the set and somebody had to be on the set that day, … he would crucify somebody, then the next day he'd be in deep depression because of what he'd done, …Orson Welles could not tolerate Peter Sellers at all. And because of Peter who had a heart thing, he used to play on this , “I've got to go by four, I can’t come in till noon”, depending on his whims, and Orson got very angry about this, and suddenly one day Charlie called me and said “Peter has gone to Marbella”, I said “Why?”, “He decided he needs the rest.” In the middle of this big casino scene. Somebody has to tell Orson this; somebody did tell him… and Orson said “Marbella, hm, okay.” So, he went to his dressing room, took all his make-up off, dressed, went to the production office and said “I'm going to Spain, my secretary will let you know where I’m going to, and when that fucking amateur is ready to come back to work, I'll come back too. My secretary will let you know where I’m going to”, so in a major casino card playing sequence we had both of them gone. Eventually Orson was talked out of that, and the whole sequence was shot with only one of them present, it was over a double’s shoulder because Orson wouldn’t work with him: those little things made life kind of difficult.

[ Side 12, 10 mins]

RF: How long did it take out of your life?

VG: A year, nine months; it would have taken more but I said to Charlie “I've given you a lot of [my] life, I've got to get on with my life”; my editor Bill Lenny he went on with it, another six months.

RF: Were you with it for any part of the cut?

VG: Oh, I did all my sequences, with Bill….

I’ll tell you another thing too that happened was, after Peter’s thing of going to Spain, Charlie Feldman called me on the set one day, “When you've finished shooting will you come and see me?” I go back to South Audley Street and Charlie says “Have we got enough of Peter Sellers for me to finish principal photography, which means we cut his contract as from now.” “Christ, I don't know.” “Go and look it through.” So, I spend the whole weekend looking at every sequence with Peter Sellers [in] making notes with Bill Lenny of what we needed still. When I went through what we needed I thought we could just about get around this except the final scene, when they’re all in heaven, all these eighteen James Bonds, we needed Peter. Charlie said “ Oh, you’ll think of something, he’s finished. Throw him off.” So, they cancelled principal photography which was one of the biggest shocks Peter ever had and I think almost gave him another heart attack, 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 parallel were there?

VG: At Shepperton, Pinewood and MGM. We were working at all those places, we had standing sets there, the Casino set was at Shepperton and stood the entire year. We did some of Woody’s stuff at MGM. And I did Ursula and David at Pinewood, we moved around and we would say “Which studio are we in tomorrow?” and they’d tell you last thing at night.

RF: Were there several units shooting?

VG: Sure…all simultaneously. Then when Huston bowed out, I had to jump around…. At the end we got away with Sellers of doing a blow-up shot, a cut out shot of Peter, at the back of these things with heavenly clouds whirling around him. They were all in the same shot so you didn't necessarily just pick out one person.

RF: Do you know what the cost was?

VG: I don’t know, but it was somewhere 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 we’ve got written, you can’t suddenly see something in the Saturday Evening Post and say I want to write something around this bidet, or whatever you’ve seen. You can’t do it, you’re mad!”

The picture opened in eighteen places at once around New York, maybe not eighteen, but an enormous [number] 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?”, “He told me all those figures. 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 its money back. That’s a long run to get its money back, but at least its back. Whether its back too late, I [don’t know]

[Side 12, 15 mins]

RF: Well, if its Columbia, it had probably been written off.

VG: After all these years with all these people on it and everything, when it was finally finished none of us were sure whether he'd say to us “No I've got another week, I've got another idea.” But anyway, it was finished, finally.

Charlie said to me “I can never thank you enough for what you've done for me on this picture, I'm going to give you not only 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 mad. I said “Don't you dare do that, I'm serious.”

RF: A wise decision.

VG: At the end of nine months the whole thing was ready and had been dubbed and music and everything and Charlie Feldman said to me “I want you come, come with me and Bill Lenny to San Francisco where we're going to sneak the preview,” I said “I cannot, I've got to get on with my life, I had another movie, so Bill went … and Bill told me afterwards Charlie made 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 two belly laughs, in the second reel there were no belly laughs in the third reel there were five belly laughs, and so on through the picture, so in the five belly laughs take two of them out and put them in the reel where there aren't any, seriously. …

RF: Poor man. Something had happened to him I reckon.

VG: Well, He died not long afterwards, he was always complaining about his pains, he had cancer.

RF: But he’d tried earlier than this to be a responsible producer in terms of his subject matter. He’d made plays, big casts.

VG: Oh sure. This guy was a myth, a living legend. Even as an agent.

RF: Oh yes, he was up there…

VG: …I'm sure this was going to be the last big splurge that he did, to outdo all the Bond pictures. Look at the money they were making… He kept saying this is a psychedelic movie, the first psychedelic movie

RF: So, it goes with the times in that sense, everyone dropping acid. What basically kept you with it for all that length of time, it must have surely have tried your patience.

VG: Yes, it did, except that you get onto a thing like that and you know there are good things in it. It wasn’t all crap. There were some fabulous sets apart from anything else. Michael Stringer the production designer did some brilliant stuff. It was a challenge and every time I would say to Charlie “Look,” he had the charm of the devil which had made him what he was, and he talked you out of it, you went on, “Come on let's lick it.”

[Side 12, 20 mins]

Another thing which kept me on it were David and Ursula. Every day they would say “What is this fucking man doing?” We could send it up, “Getting paid aren't you chum?”, David would say, “It’s money, it’s all money. Write it down as a great experience.” We went to the South of France at one time to photograph everyone coming out of the sea in snorkels, to send up the Bond one… and we had four of our stars 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 doing 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 I do”, “Well why am I not there, why are you using a bloody double?”, she clicked these things up you know, 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: Everybody made a lot of money out of it. Except Columbia, who had to wait a long time. I don’t think they care now…

RF: Did you somewhere at the back of your mind have hopes for it?

VG: Yes, I did. Several times I thought I think we've licked it and then Charlie would come up with another brain wave, and more ways of spending money.

RF: There’s one towering character you worked with in that, Orson Welles, other than his feud with Sellers, 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, crazy… and we didn't know at the beginning who he'd got. John he’d got, Huston, 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 knew 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, we didn't know. Ken Hughs wasn’t in it then. Then Ken Hughes was pulled in, and that was it. And Bob who took over from Joe. There were four of us and we were criss-crossing where characters did go from the other, none of John's sequences spilled into anything else, it was a complete sequence on its own, but the casino did because I brought [it] in as part of the link, I can't remember how we linked John's sequence with the rest. I can never forget going to the premiere, and John Huston was about 3 seats down on my right, we were in the front row of the circle, I waved to him and then he leant right out across the rail and said “Are we wise to be here?” There are many thousand of other things, but not worth talking about.

RF: Really not? Did you have a piece of it? [refers to a piece of the profits]

VG: No, I didn’t. I wondered if that’s finally how you got into the black. Nobody had anything in that.

[Side 12, 25 mins]

RF: Is it worth asking about John Huston? You were obviously a buddy of his.

VG: I'd known him before, a wonderful character, a law until himself. He took my first assistant I had, worked 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 alright?” I said “Of course.”  John was so taken with Roy that he did a lot of work for him.

RF: What fuelled what seemed to be Huston's total disdain for authority? For a Producer’s 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 them with the contempt he felt for them. It was contempt.  For John just to pack it up, “I've had enough of this.”  His idea was if a producer was not behaving professionally, why should he?

RF: I don’t know if this is too strong a statement, but there was a kind of malicious streak in John Huston wasn’t there. Not malicious but {inaudible]

VG: What, sadistic, do you mean?

RF: Yes, I think he revelled in seeing some people squirm.

VG: Could be; I didn’t know that side of it, no. I’d known John for many, many, years off and on. I mean he’s not a close buddy. Our paths had crossed and we’d spent the odd evening together. No I don’t think I can tell you much about him.

RF: And we’ve said all we need to say about Sellers have we?

VG: I think so. Sellers was in one of his worst manic depressions….

RF: Well perhaps we should move on [from those] memories.

VG: [From] Casino, yes. Assignment K – nothing much to tell you about that. That was a story we did from – I can’t remember where we got the script from - We shot it all out in Kitzbuhel Munich, [Kitzbuhel is in Austria DS] great cast:  we had my Leo McKern again, and Michael Redgrave who was a very sick man, had terrible difficulties with his lines.

RF: This was the beginning of his wasting disease, was it?

VG: Yes, and we got him through it somehow or other and he wrote me a wonderful letter which I still have, after the picture, thanking me.

RF: He was very close to Stephen Boyd wasn’t he. Was that the reason they were both in the picture?

VG: No I didn’t know he was close to Stephen. What do you mean, as sexual one? I didn’t know that. Stephen was a wonderful person, a great giggler, a great professional, very nice guy.

RF: Yes, it’s interesting that so many of them that were trained in Hollywood had that attitude towards their work. I suppose-

VG: [interrupts] Very funny because in the script…. he was supposed to be a great skier, … and Camilla Sparv, who was also dying, she was a top skier where she'd come from, Sweden, or Norway, she was skiing all the time, so Stephen went to Aspen, Colorado to take some lessons, and on his way he saw three ambulances speeding past him coming back, and another one loading up for someone who’d broken a leg 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 before we went to Kitzbuhel he said “I have a terrible confession I can't ski,”

[Side 12, 30 mins]

So, we put him through a crash course of just being able to start and stop, and used a double.

RF: Did he burn the candle at both ends, because he died so young?

VG: He did. I was never aware of that. I’d never met Stephen before – I met him a couple of times afterwards, a very gentle guy. I never was aware of that at all. Who else did we have in there? We had old Leo McKern, Redgrave, can’t remember the rest of the cast. We had a lot of German stars too,

RF: Yes, well was there German money in it?

VG: No, none at all. Hoff, Robert Hoffman we had who was a big star name over there, he was the heart-throb, he played one of our spies. We had one of the top Czechoslovakian actors, the sort of Emil Jannings of Czechoslovakia, 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.

I’m trying to think… we had Eva Renzi [ Not credited anywhere. DS] Also, the first thing of Catherine Schell, she was Catherine von Schell then.

RF: She was only starting then, was she?

VG: Mm, oh she’d done bits and pieces in German film. It was only a couple of days work. Dennis Healy. [He means David Healy. DS]  And it was also the start of John Alderton, I'd seen John on the stage and thought he was very good so I wrote him a bit in. He used to say “I don't know what to do in films so just turn me and point me in the direction you want me to walk.”

RF: Who was the production company?

VG: Columbia.

RF: They’d forgiven you for Casino Royale.                 

VG: Oh, they never blamed me for that, they were very nice about it, they said if it hadn’t been for me it would have been a lot worse.

RF: When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.

VG: That was a giggle, that was Hammer and they asked me if I’d like to do a prehistoric one, as I'd never done a prehistoric one, 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 interesting working with Jim Danforth, who had been Ray Harryhausen's sidekick and it was the first big things he was doing on his own, fabulous little man, and nominated for an Academy Award-

RF: On that picture?

VG: We were for animation, but Bedknobs and Broomsticks pipped us.

RF: Was it rigorously planned?

VG: Yes, I have the whole storybook at home, with all the animated shots, we had the storybook with us we went to an island called Fuerteventura on which the hand of white man had almost never set foot, there was one enormous German hotel and practically nothing else on the island, there was one awful road, that you went by jeep; you got there by boat, there was no airport or anything it was one of the Canary Islands.

RF: Was it a volcanic one?

VG: Yes and we stayed at this hotel and then up into the mountains and lava beds.

RF: What were the production logistics like on a picture when you were so isolated.

VG: We planned very, very, carefully.

RF: You not see rushes presumably, or [only] much delayed?

VG: No we couldn't see rushes, there was a place inland where the main telegragh and post office place [was], we couldn't phone London from the hotel, we had to go into the town.

[Side 12, 40 mins]

Aida Young was the producer on that. …It was just a romp.

RF: I never saw it. Nothing comes to my mind…

VG: Well, Robin Hawdon … played the office boy in The Day the Earth Caught Fire, the Daily Express copy boy; he was sort of a stage actor, I thought he looked pretty good and I brought him in to be the leading man opposite this strange Victoria Vetri.

RF: Not a name that rings a bell.

VG: She was a Playboy girl, centrespread. They sent over. One of Hammer’s.

RF: Patrick Allen is a funny man.

VG: Oh, Paddy Allen, yes.

RF: Toomorrow. Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow. 1970. Olivia Newton-

VG: [interrupts] I know yes. Bernie Thomas, Vic Cooper. That again was another Casino Royale. Harry Salzman. And Don Kirschner who was the top pop music man in New York.

RF: Is that the correct title with two ‘o’s?

VG: Yes.

RF: Again, I haven’t seen it.

VG: That was Harry Saltzman’s great idea. That was the first space musical. Olivia Newton John was playing in a cabaret act, with a guitar and singing and Harry had seen her and had asked me to meet her and we had a chat and I thought she's a bright  girl, a cute personality, let’s use her and Harry and Don Kirschner got a group together and put her in this group, the Toomorrow group with these other guys none of which ever did anything, … and they made records, an LP,[Long Player, a soundtrack album] I was very taken with Livy, [Olivia] I thought she had everything going for her in this fresh bubbly way; she was worried about filming, but she got into it pretty soon. [Don] Kirshner wanted Livy to have a love seen in it and Harry came to tell me about this and I spoke to Livy and she went berserk! She didn’t want a love scene, it wasn’t that sort of a picture and “No I can’t.” In fact she burst into tears about it.

RF: What sort of love scene did he want?

VG: Just a kiss and cuddle…. she was very unhappy about it and finally, we never did the love scene. But all through it was quite obvious that Livy was going places because she was bubbling, bouncy, was quite a looker, it was obvious that she [was as] cute as a button, was going places.

The young guy in it, Benny Thomas, he had a very good voice I don’t know why nothing ever happened to him, I don't know why: the last time I saw him was in an American Express ad in Rome. His girlfriend was Susan George at that time. I thought he had great talent… Livy never thought she would do anything much here except stage. And after we'd done the thing, Cliff Richard helped by putting her on his show, that took her up a little further.

But that was a madhouse.

RF: Mostly because [of] Harry Salzman.

VG: Yes.

RF: What period is this during his life, has he left the Bond series, Cubby [Broccoli] yet, have they split?  He's got all this money and doesn't know what to do with it.

VG: I don't know how much money he did have, because Harry and Cubby broke with acrimony.

RF: He was paid off I think rather well.

[Side 12, 40 mins]

VG: Yes, he was paid off but not [as] well as he would have been if he’d not done what he’d done. Because he’d done something illegal. Which he had done with me too, in fact the reason Toomorrow was not generally shown was because I stopped it because I was never paid for the last bit of the picture and I took Harry to court and I won my case and my two star witnesses were Frank Launder and Carl Foreman. Law courts, won the case and then my solicitors found out, and only then, that’s the sort of bad solicitors they were, that the company we'd signed contracts with, Sweet Music in Geneva had absolutely no money, and Harry's name was not on any of the papers, so he never paid, so I was stuck with court fees as well, although they were against him. His lawyers Harbottle and Lewis bowed out before the court case, because they said he haven't got a leg to stand on, to him, Harry, but he got away with it. Because he didn’t have any money. Not because of him, [but] his name wasn’t on any of the papers.

As I had one of the top lawyers, Peter Carter-Ruck and the office had not checked we were suing a company with no money. So, it was shown at Leicester Square and I had written to Harry before Leicester Square saying, no  at the London Pavilion, I'm allowing this to open because it’s all been publicised but I have to tell you I will injunct it after the opening if we haven’t been paid. We weren’t paid and I injuncted it.

RF: Could you attach it [to anyone]? Who owned it, do you know?

VG: Can’t no, this is the terrible thing he’d done. So, his Swiss company had borrowed I don't know how many million dollars from the Swiss Bank, Bank of Switzerland, and as collateral Harry had put up the bond. Now Harry and Cubby's joint agreement that nobody else could be partners in their deal, now Cubby suddenly 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 it was that was still owing, a lot of money in those days. And is still owing to this day.

RF: What about the legal costs?

VG: I paid. I had to pay our legal costs, yes, which had been awarded against Sweet Music. Didn’t have any [money]. Roy Dotrice was in that, too, that was hist first film part. He wrote me a very lovely letter, thanked me for all the things that he’d learned….He was very good in it too.

RF: Very good actor.

VG: Yes. I don’t think much more can be said about Toomorrow. I flew to New York I don’t know how many times to do all the re-recording. That was United Artists by the way. An awful lot of trips to not much avail.

RF: What did they feel about Salzman and his tricks?

VG: Well, they didn’t have any from him. They may have done afterwards, but while I was there. No Harry was the Bond man you know, wasn’t allowed- everybody found out why he had left the Bond thing.

RF: Did it get much of a release subsequently? You say it was restricted.

VG: [It was] Never shown. I wouldn’t let it be shown.

RF: Not ever?

VG: I think UA showed it a couple of times in America, for some reason. And they asked. No because there was an injunction, they didn’t have any rights.

RF: So who took the loss then?

VG: No because it was Sweet Music, United Artists took the loss. The Swiss bank had nothing to do with the funding of our film, it was Sweet Music and the Swiss Bank all they could do was to try and get the money back from Sweet Music. Like we did.

[Side 12, 45 mins]

RF: Was that the worst that happened to you in that respect in your career?

VG: Ah, yes. Yup it was the worst.

RF: How depressing.

VG: Yes it was.

RF: There’s a bit of tape on this side, can we do anything about Au pair Girl?

VG: Well Au pair Girl was a romp, it was my first nudie, I did it because Guido Cohen was an old chum of mine, who also used to be with Korda, down at Twickenham, called me down to lunch, and said “Would you like to do this? We're going to try and do a send up of all the nude pictures, it needs a very light touch, comedy, without any way being pornographic”, I said “Why not that's another thing I'd never done, let's try it”. We did it and we had a very good cast. What have they got here? [refers to notes] Gabrielle Drake. We had Gabby Drake, we had Richard O’Sullivan, we had John le Mesurier. We had a lot of people doing odd bits and pieces in it.

[End of Side 12 at 46 mins 28 secs]

[Side 13]

[Preliminary switch on]

VG: Au pair Girl: We also had John Standing. We had a lot of very good names in it. Upmarket names so it wouldn’t just be a skin-flick. It made an awful lot of money, it went on cassette and we're still getting cheques in from it.

RF: Excellent! The same is probably true of the next one, Confessions of a Window Cleaner.

VG: … Guido called me down again and when I got there, I found he had a young guy called Greg Smith who was trying to make his way in the film business, and Michael Klinger.  And they pounced on me, they said “Look. There is a man called Christopher Lee who has written a whole load of confession books, we've got a confession book, Confessions of a Window Cleaner and we'd like to make a film of it and Guido said as you've done Au Pair, you might want to step one up and do a comedy series.”, so we got together and chatted and I said “Fine. Yes, alright, let’s have a go.” But I made a deal with them if I wrote and directed the first one, and I had a piece of it, if it came to a series, I would also have a piece in all the other ones whether I did them or not. That was how we started, that was Columbia again, they did I think six in all, I only did the first one, I launched it off, … the cheques which come from Columbia even now are unbelievable on the series, because it was sold to Home Box Office, sold all through America.

RF: Principally what: on TV or cassette?

VG: Cassette; after it's screenings in America it went on cassette and is still doing a roaring trade, the others made money but Confessions of is the block buster, it made so much money when it came out here that Columbia for the first time anyone could remember here had to pay Corporation Tax.

RF: So it’s your pension plan by the sound of it.

VG: Yes it’s a very good residual. Again, we had some very good comedy people in it.

RF: We talked of the things that were happening in the sixties and how films seemed to reflect the flower generation and the swinging bit; these, Au Pair, Confessions, seem to reflect nudity and what?

VG: Permissiveness I suppose it was. I think what made Au Pair and Confessions was that I tried to walk a tightrope of skin flick and comedy, we kept it bubbling, we never took anything seriously, it was always sent up, … none of the affairs, the lovemaking or whatever came out that was the only way I'd do those. I said “If you let me send it up.”  We got Robin Asquith, we saw an awful lot of people for that including Dennis Waterman I remember. We needed the cheeky chappie, simply because It had to be gossamer light, walking the tightrope all the time not going over into anything “icky” you know.

RF: But satisfying a fairly wide range of audience.

VG: Obviously. Instead of being embarrassed they were laughing at the sex side of it, laughing at the nudity.

RF: Is that a problem in shooting do you think? Nudity – does it inhibit actors or actresses?

[Side 13, 5 mins]

VG: Not as much now as it did.

RF: And the crews: British crews were really rather puritanical, don’t you think?

VG: Oh I don’t know, I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t know that. But I've had an awful lot of stars which have done nudes for me, and all their reactions are different. Ursula in the bath was just a pro about the whole thing.

RF: Well I think she was known then as Ursula Undress wasn’t she.

VG: Yes, but no problems with Ursula. Claire Bloom was worried in 80,000 Suspects about stripping for the shower, I said “alright we'll use a double,” And she said “Alright as long as I can vet the double”. I got a girl down … and we got her undressed with the wardrobe mistress in the caravan and she dropped her dressing gown, to see what her figure was like, I said “OK,” as we were walking away from the caravan, Claire put her arm through mine and said “I’ve got better boobs than that”, I said “What does that mean?”, she said “I'll do it” and she did. That was her entry into that, because I think she did it later in another film. But they’re all different. I mean people like Gabrielle Drake who was a bloody good actress, and comedienne, I have enormous respect for her and she does a lot of work still – she’s an absolute pro about it, no problems. If that’s what it calls for then fine. You don’t sign for it [otherwise].

So: Confessions. Linda Hayden was another one.

Diamond Mercenaries, [aka Killer Force] In here they’ve got Jack Palance; it was going to be but we didn't use him, it was either Hugh O’Brian, or Christopher Lee, I think it was Hugh O’Brian. Yes it was OJ Simpson, Chris Lee, Maud Adams, it was quite a cast. That was a very tough picture to make.

RF: Where did you shoot it?

VG: We shot mostly in the Namibian desert, a place called Swakopmund in South West Africa and flew in every morning into the desert because I wanted to shoot, where people hadn't shot, the dunes were virgin, so … we were dropped in every morning by helicopter, they flew the food in, it was tough going, but again enjoyable. A few shilly-shallies with Peter Fonda

RF: How did he conduct himself, he’d presumably made Easy Rider by that point.

VG: Oh yes, Peter was a gentle pain in the arse, Telly [Savalas] couldn't stand him, called him the amateur. “Does the amateur know his lines?” “Yes.” “Well why doesn’t he fucking well say them instead of all these pauses. Fonda would create. He was on the health kick and he’d asked for a blender and it hadn't arrived that morning for his breakfast of three bananas and an almond thing and he refused to come on location till it arrived, and as they’d had to fly in to Windhoek to get it, and fly back, that sort of thing.

RF: Was it an original script or adaptation?

VG: It was an original script by a fellow called Michael Winder, it wasn’t very good in the state it was in and it had an awful lot of changes to be made in it, I took it over and they brought an American writer, Gerald Sanford, and we wrote it between us.

[Side 13, 10 mins]

I had written the script and he was brought in, AIP it was being done for, in America and they brought him over to make sure the script was being Americanised.

RF: It sounds an expensive picture for AIP.

VG: It was an expensive picture and produced by a villain called Nat Wachsberger, another one of filmland’s villains, a known one everywhere. You talk about £75,000 being the worst hit, I’d forgotten this one, this was well over 100,000 dollars, that I didn't get paid, I sued him in America, everyone was suing him and nobody could get any[thing], then he had a heart attack. Gerald Lipsky one of the top lawyers in America said “I’ll take it on for nothing and if I get it, we'll split”, I said “Fine”, he said “You've got a hell of a case.”, because… , it was in Variety’s top 10, it made a fortune of money and Nat just went on a round the world cruise with his wife. Spent it.

RF: Was it classed as a British picture.

VG: No it was an American picture.

RF: I was wondering about the DGA [Directors’ Guild of America]

VG: Oh, everybody got in on the act [but] he couldn’t do anything about getting it. He had companies here, here, here. He was the slipperiest character and a lot of characters he didn’t know were all having a go too.

RF: Was he blacklisted?

VG: I don’t think he works now. No, he made one after that in Italy, an intergalactic space thing. I don’t think he’s worked since then. I got paid my salary, it was my percentage he got away with. We had a terrible time on production when he wouldn’t pay ICM [International Creative Management] whose package deal it was with their actors, he would pay their actors, he was never on location with us, he was in Johannesburg or South of France where he had a house and cheques would just not arrive at ICM.

Another thing, Peter Fonda would come to me and say “I’ve got no money, I’m not playing.” Even Telly said “Look I’ll go on for another week.” The I got a call from Jack Gilardi one of the head men at ICM in Hollywood, …”Where is Nat?” “I’ve no idea Jack, I think he’s either in Cannes or-” “You mean he doesn’t contact you?” “Well he phones in occasionally.” “Next time he phones in will you tell him that if those cheques are not on my desk in LA by Wednesday morning, first post, I’ll send me men after him.” That’s all I had to tell Nat. Everything was paid suddenly, bing, bang, bong. But a lot of people in Johannesburg were not paid, for the trucks, the hires, [it was a] terrible job to get it out of him. I would say “Nat, this pictures going to come to a standstill unless you pay.

RF: Unforgiveable.

VG: And when we left the country, they held all the film, the studio that they’d used, a little studio for cutting and so on, they wouldn’t let it out of the country until they paid.

So, that was Diamond Mercenaries. Telly I found wonderful, easiest man to work with and he’d just had a hell of a lot of trouble in Berline, there’d been a very bad story about him being late on the set and not knowing his lines, and when I first met him in Johannesburg he came straight in and he said “Look, first of all I want to tell you that what you’ve read about that is balls. I always know my lines, I just want you to know that.” … anyway, he was very good, they were all great: O. J. Simpson was the first black star to stay in the Carlton Hotel at Johannesburg.

[Side 13, 15 mins]

Because we said “We are going to have no ‘blacks and whites in [this]’ he’s one of us. He gets the VIP treatment. And I’ll never forget O.J. who is one of the revered football stars in America, before he went into acting, he’s the George Best, the Kevin Keegan, he stood in the middle of the Carlton Hotel and said “I’m the first fucking black actors to be here!” [laughs]. I was saying “Ssh, quiet.” But they were all laughing behind the desk. We insisted that all our units, the black electricians and the props, the heavy gang, wherever we were filming they had to come in with us and in doing so [emphatically] we did an enormous amount of good, because everybody accepted it; because nobody had insisted before. No arguments then. When we filmed in Pretoria in the big government buildings there – we did a lot of shooting there-we said “The room that you’ve given us, your canteen down here, they all come in you know the whole lot.” “Oh?”

RF: Local black men?

VG: From Johannesburg. I said “They all come in.” “All of them?” I said “Yes, sure. The unit over there and the actors over here.” No arguments at all anywhere. So we did more good by going.

RF: Did you find the individuals themselves, the black people, would take that chance?

VG: They worried at the beginning and then they found out how we were all with them and they were being brought in as us, they gradually got used to it and were very happy about it. Telly was forever putting his arm round a couple of the black truck drivers and having his picture taken with them. We did an enormous amount of good. In Johannesburg… whenever we stopped somewhere to get some coffees or something in a restaurant or coffee bar, we’d say “… we’ll bring you the whole lot, I mean there are going to be fifty people.” And they were “Alright, fine.” We just took it for granted.

RF: Now, I’ve shot there and I believe that is the attitude the British take down with them and I wonder what happened subsequently, because I did find a reluctance, a reserve, on the part of some black people on the unit, and they were drivers…and some of them were very, very loath to eat; I wonder to what extent-

VG: [Interrupts] Well maybe it was because we were on location, we were way out in Swakopmund on the coast there is nothing. They didn’t stay in our hotel, the units, … but there was no question, we’d say “We’ve got twenty-five black units here and we want to put them up here.” “Twenty-five, all right, all right!” It was money. The fact they were going to have the whole place which was empty taken over, they didn’t give a shit. We found that the anti-black or the apartheid class, were the upper classes, not the lower classes at all. A few of the middle classes, not the middle classes in majority. But it was the upper ones who would say “Come here boy. Bring me that paper.” In Windhoek we’d see a man walking down the middle of an arcade and a little boy selling papers and instead of going over he’d stand in the middle and say “Give me a paper” and the boy would have to walk over and give it to him. That sort of attitude was not in the middle and lower classes at all.

RF: I think it varies. If you can bear a story which I wouldn’t mind having down on tape, I was shooting down there and we stayed out at Crystal Beach, outside of Cape Town, and I had a penthouse in this hotel which had kitchens, refrigerators and things and it was a time when we’d bought a lot of wine…and on the day we were leaving, a lot of it was left and we gave it to the black personnel, I mean deliberately to the black personnel which I have to say was seen as a provocation; we gave it, to be distributed, and one of the crew went back into the penthouse…had to go back for something and there was a woman who was the matron, the housekeeper at the hotel, we called her Brunhilde, she was a Boer, and she was in the process of taking it all back.

[Side 13, 20 mins]

VG: Really.

RF: Relieving them of it. So, we just piled it into the car and gave it them later.

VG: Well I must say that’s quite something. I know that at that time I was under an immense pressure from Alan Sapper, not to go. In fact, ACT were saying “We don’t like the government and you must not go.” I said “I don’t like the government here but I'm still making pictures, and      if   they   asked me to go to Russia, I would make a picture there and I don't like the government there.” So as Michael Klinger had just done his big law case with ACT about Gold,  so  we  were on firmer ground, I said “Nobody's going to stop me making this movie. We can do more  good by going than not going.” And I'm sure we     did. We weren't dealing with white authorities at all, or just getting  permission to film,  we said “This  is what we are doing and  this is how it should be handled.”

RF: Would   you go now?

VG: Depending entirely on the picture, … perhaps now I would think twice, but depending on what the picture was, I wouldn't just go to make an adventure picture like this was, but if it was a serious picture, I would. Cry Freedom, Dicky [Attenborough] couldn't shoot it there, not because he didn't want to  shoot  it  there but  because   the authorities wouldn’t have it there. Now     even the news is censored, it's an entirely different thing.

RF: The thing I found down there is meeting very pleasant people, for the most part, you wouldn't believe how isolated they were, how provincial and parochial in their outlook, how divorced in awareness they were and thought “There's no place to go but into the sea and it's bound to happen sooner or later.”

Anyway, enough on those problems: We're            onto  Space 1999, was that a  feature?

VG: Space 1999. Gerry       Anderson, that was a series, with Martin Landau, Barbara Bain.

RF: How many of those did you do?

VG: Oh an awful lot. Quite a lot. They were fun to do. Again,I had a wonderful cameraman, Frank Watts, who used do a lot of the special effects before your eyes, “why don't we do that guv?”, and even Gerry Anderson would say “How the hell did you do that, you've just saved me a lot of money,” they were doing the special  effects at Bray then, it was a crazy programme,  Johnny Goodman was our – no that was on The Persuaders, Frank Green who had been my old production manager on The Day The Earth Caught Fire and a hundred others, he was in charge.

That was a fun series to do and very successful.

RF: Still going, I think.

VG: I don’t think there’s anything else. They bought a book out on that… showing us all at work, explaining how the effects were done.

RF: An adequate budget?

VG: Never adequate on a TV series, but it was reasonable.

RF: It looked it on screen I think. My   recollection of  them is some tawdry scripts, they  seemed like – I hope I’m not saying the wrong thing – they seemed like the old puppet script now with actors.

VG: They weren't very good, I would like to have written some of those but they had such a pile already done, it wasn't worth it, they said “You can write some for the second series, forget it”.

RF: Really you seemed to move into television in a big way after Diamond Mercenaries. Is that true?

[Side 13 25 mins]

VG: That was my first launch into television was Space 1999.

RF: Were there any ostensible differences you noticed straight away other than perhaps restrictions in time  and budget?

VG: Before this I had done  The Persuaders,  that was before. That was ’70-’71, that’s been missed out.

RF: Yes, it’s down at the bottom here. [referring to a list]

VG: Left out of there, that’s why I was getting thrown going back to ’70-71.  Bob Baker who  had been a  chum for a  long, long, while, he  was doing  a new series with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis and asked  me if I’d like to come in and start them off,  I said “Yes”, I wrote them as well, we went down to the south of France… that was a great outfit. It  was   fun working with Roger. Tony  Curtis again was  a handful, but he was alright.  

RF: What was his problem? [Being] a Hollywood star?

VG: No it [that] wasn’t his problem at all. He  had suddenly manic rages,  rather  like  Peter , Sellers, rather like Pete:  he   would suddenly go off his  trolley about something,  he would pick on somebody,  like he’d pick on the boom man, “Why do you have to get as close as that, haven’t you learned?” suddenly, out of the blue. But the one thing about Tony Curtis was that he had a sense of humour, he once went into a rage, wardrobe or somebody had not done this … he was screaming at everybody and I went up to him and took him by the lapels and turned him round and said “To think those lips once kissed Piper Laurie”. And he looked at me in blank amazement and suddenly burst out into hysterics. It  was all  gone. So you could kid  him out of these things.

RF: These black rages were instantly over and forgotten, were they?

VG: No,  occasionally  I’d say “Tony go out and have a smoke and cool down.”

RF: He had a thing against the boom man.

VG: Oh, no, no. He was always better after his smoke. When you're working at that pressure and  you're  on  location and trying  to     get things moving, you can do without the little aggravations,  I'm  sure, we won the award that year for the best television series, and it could have gone on and on and on I'm sure, but Roger didn't want to  work anymore with that aggravation. Because Roger and [David]  Niven are two of the easiest guys you could ever work  with. He said it wasn't worth it. Tony was a pro, it was just these little flashes of rage, and they were never directed at me. Luckily. It never came to me but picking on odd little things , and  then it was all  gone. But it was the aggravation of that.

RF: Maybe it was his way of relieving tension.

VG: Could be, could be.

RF: And Roger Moore was the complete artist.

VG: Absolutely.

RF: Again, another self-deprecating actor.

VG: Great fun, Roger Moore was a great, quiet, professional actor.

RF:               Anything  more  to  say  about  him?

VG:             I  don’t think so, no.  Johnny Goodman was associate producer on that one with Bob Baker. The daily battle to get your expenses from Johnny Goodman, otherwise all in good humour, he was very tight on   everything.

RF: These were 50-minute episodes, what did you have to shoot them?

VG: At  the  outside  ten  days

RF: What was the aim to do a year, a series  of 13?

VG: Yes.

[Side 13, 30 mins]

RF: Did you shoot them back-to-back?

VG: Yes.

RF: Do you remember the budget?

VG: No,you sometimes tried to get more but on location it was difficult, you tried to get more, but on studio you figured on six to seven minutes  a day, so your  ten days  was    an outside figure, you usually came in on        eight.

RF: After making theatrical pictures was this  a   hardship?

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VG: No,  I’ll tell you an extraordinary thing,  Roger  and Tony,  I had said to Bob Baker “I don’t know anything about television and you can get someone who has done a lot of television.” He said “There's no difference.” I said “Well I’m a little worried about it.” So, Roger and Tony came round to see me at the house,  they    said “What are you talking about, just shoot it as you would a movie, there's  no difference never mind what they  you can and can’t do for television, shoot it as a movie” and they talked me into  it.

RF: You said before you  didn't do what many studio directors did which is to do the master, and medium shot and the close shot and the head and shoulders etc., presumably you continued that process in television.

VG: I  plotted and planned very carefully. It stood me in very good stead that I had planned  out  everything so the cameraman could look at the board, he could say “I must remember to leave some lights there because he’s going round there.” you'd be surprised the amount of time.

RF: Did you go into production with a full set of scripts?

VG: No, they came in at odd times. They were some scripts ahead but they didn't have all of them.

RF: Isn’t that a bit of a rat race?

VG: Well I’ll tell you the first one I wrote had things [sequences] in the South of France, called The  Girl Napoleon and Bob said “Well look in the first six we’ve got some more in the south of France, so why don’t we try and pick up anything we can?” although we haven’t got the actors that way we saved time and money but very often we had to go back, or Bob would have to send another unit.

They had most of them, the majority of scripts. When I had Joan Collins down there while we were shooting Joan with the guys on the movie we also picked up while we were there, the guys doing various things in another one that was going to be near the Italian border. I had the two scripts then. It's really [like] planning a battle.

RF: Did you find it a burden? You were in your prime then

VG: No, no burden at all.

RF: But working more than regular days.

VG: I loved it.

RF: You're shooting, you're cutting the episodes behind, planning the episode in front, you're working on scripts maybe two or three ahead, a lot of activity.

VG: [It’s] good for you. Keeps you young, keeps you going.

Then I get a terrible series called The Adventurer with Gene Barry.

RF: I vaguely recall it.

VG: Monty Berman   was   the     producer of that and he was a pain in the ass, and he went on to make a large fortune in Cage Aux Folles, he was the original in that, taking it around the country.

They were terrible scripts, absolutely awful. Gene Barry who had an enormous opinion of himself, a nice enough guy but an enormous opinion of himself, the only guy I know who had written into his contract that at least 85% of the time he must be photographed on his left side.

[Side 13, 35 mins]

And all doors onto sets were left to right, no right to left. And after a while we said this is too ridiculous…. He was like a fussy old woman.

So we got to Space 1999, then we got to Shillingbury Blowers, I got an enormous kick out of doing that, that was a thing I did with Trevor Howard, and a whole cast with Bernie Cribbins, it was about a brass brand, … that was courtesy of Lew Grade. It was big, big, success here and an enormous success in America.

That was Greg Smith again who I had worked with on Confessions.

[They break off to check about an actress neighbour of Roy’s whom he thought was in the cast but Val assures him that he is mistaken]

In ‘Blowers’ we thought as it was a success we would go and make some more and Francis Essex at Elstree…who was in charge of ATV, he had written these, and they were a little unwieldy and I had to go over them a bit. But they were charming stories. We took over this little village called Aldbury, down near Tring, and then we shot another 12 of them. We did an awful lot.

Greg said “Do you want to do them all or we can get someone in and you can do them back-to-back with.” I said “No Christ, I'll do them all”

RF: Over what period? In a year- it says ’81.

VG: It didn’t take that long. It took like ten days, fifteen days to do each one. We did them with a  different star in each one, Lionel Jeffries, and we had John Standing, and we had the Frenchman over. Jean-Pierre Cassel.

RF: We've skipped to the series over Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in 1979. Was that a one-off?

VG: No, that again was an awful lot of work. There was a strange character called Sheldon Reynolds, Shelly Reynolds, who called me one day, no he didn’t call me, Steve Previn, Andre's brother, called me, he used to be with Columbia and then AIP, Steve called me one day and said “Val I'm going to ask you a question, you may never talk to me again after this if you say yes, would you like to go and film in Warsaw?” I said “Yes, I'd love to. What is it?” He said “Sheldon Reynolds is making a Sherlock Holmes series, they haven't got a lot of time to shoot them, the Polish government are putting up their studios and paying all the hotel bills at that end, and Shelly is flying in units and actors all the time for each of the things. They're half hours and shot at the speed of light. I've suggested you if you want to do it.”

I said “Can't wait, sounds a terrific challenge, especially I'd never been to Warsaw.” …I realised doing half hour ones and preparing I couldn't do the bloody lot.

[Side 13, 40 mins]

I said to Shelly, “let me do them back-to-back with somebody, get one guy,” “Who?”, “ Get Roy Baker”, and Roy and I worked back-to-back. Roy came out and we made this back-to-back series. There was then terrible trouble between the Government and Shelly and they held [him], he'd done some currency fiddling of some kind, and they held his wife for a while, who finally went by the way and was the girlfriend of Claus von Bulow, the guy who was held on the murder of his wife. You know the one I mean.

RF: I know.

VG: Well she’s now with him. There was great, great, trouble and finally they were shown in Italy, a couple of bootleg copies, he had a cutting copy and he had to make it look like a final and they’d been shown throughout Italy and went extremely well and he's never been able to show them anywhere else in the world. Unless one day he coughs up so much money….But it was a great experience. We worked on the lot there, they built the most fantastic [set], an Italian art director, they built Baker St, Limehouse and the docks on the big lot of the television studios, Polish television, fabulous sets.

RF: Who was in  the series?

VG: Well, Sherlock Holmes, …. he was a very good actor, Geoffrey Whitehead, used to be Royal Shakespeare Company, Donald Pickering was Watson, Lestrade was a person who's recently died, big, fat, tubby guy who I had in Shillingbury too: Paddy Newell. We had a wonderful crew, a wonderful lighting cameraman who had just shot Shoes of the Fisherman, everybody struggling, nobody understanding what anyone was talking about, few of them spoke English. Of course we had people helping us on the set.

RF: What did Poland contribute by way of  cast?

VG: We had the prop man and the set builders, bit parts, our coach drivers we pulled in and then we had to revoice them.

RF: You got to that stage. Of revoicing. It’s a pity that they were lost.

VG: Yes, it was a good series. They were good stories too.

RF: I’m surprised that Poland or the film studios haven’t tried to get them out…

VG: I think they probably got lost in the struggles there, you know. So that was that. Dangerous Davies again teaming up with Greg Smith, I virtually launched him, with …Window Cleaner, made him enough money to make movies.

It was a Leslie Thomas book and I think a good movie, a two-parter for television: Bernie Cribbens, marvellous, one of our more underrated actors here, he would have been a big big character star in Hollywood, we had a lot of very good people in cameo parts, Maureen Lipman and people like that, Joss Ackland, that was very sad because after that we went onto Shillingbury Tales to do the rest of them and all that was Lew [Grade], and we were all set to do another Dangerous, we were going to do Dangerous at Sea.

[Side 13, 45 mins]

On a pleasure cruise where a murder takes place. Leslie Thomas had written a story and we'd kicked it around together, and there were going to be more Shillingburies, and suddenly Lew is out. And anything that Lew had said “yes” to, they scrapped automatically. They all went by the board, they've never been reshown. They’d be wonderful for reshowing.

RF: I don’t remember Dangerous Davies for instance.

VG: Dangerous Davies was a two-parter, comedy, thriller, it was really excellent. A bloody good detective story.

RF: Is this the point to talk about Lew  Grade?

VG: The first time I met Lew he was an agent, he used to play poker with Ambrose [band leader and manager DS]. Did I say all that at the beginning, Gainsborough?

RF: No we hadn’t touched on it at all.

VG: Yes, Ambrose and he and everything were the early poker parties, and Lew was always in that.

RF: Lew would come out to the studio?

VG: Yes, Lew would come out to the studio one day with Kathy [Kathleen] his wife who was a singer, and  they asked me to test her.

RF: Stop there.

[End of Side 13]

[Side 14]

VG: So, we decided to test Kathy. I can’t remember what her professional name was. Maurice Ostrer organised it because Bill Ostrer was also in the poker school, so I spent a whole day testing her. Nothing ever came of it, but that was the first time I came into contact with Lew and Lady Lew.

RF: Lew was then about how old, thirty?

VG: I don't know, age has never been a thing I've cottoned onto. I spent so much of my early life saying I was five years older than I was to get work, especially when I was acting that psychologically I grew up knowing everybody was older than I was  although they didn’t know it.  And I got conditioned with it. So today when I read things about people dying I think “My God, he was younger than me always looked upon him as older!”  It was a strange thing which happened in my youth because I was lying about my age it carried though so it’s hopeless to ask me about anybody’s age.

RF:  Did you know the other two  brothers?

VG: Leslie vaguely. Bernie yes, very well. And Bernie and Carol Lynne. I’ve worked with Carol.

RF: Were they at this time powers in the business?

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VG: Bernie wasn't. That came later. … I never had an awful lot to do with Lew, but he's always been very charming, and I've always come away with a foot long cigar, he'd come and visit us on the set when we   were doing The Persuaders, he would wander down. I used to smoke a lot of cigars then, I used to stick a cigar in the back of my hand.       He was  fun. Nice guy.

RF: Do you have any insights into the end of his regime?

VG: No, the only thing I know about it is that it buggered up a lot of plans we had well in advance, we even had a finished script, we had stories ready for the rest of Shillingbury. On the follow up to Dangerous Davies The Last Detective, we'd even been on a cruise on the Canberra so I could see what happened and try and get some ideas for the script. The Canberra paid for it all, it was agreed, they would give us facilities and then suddenly Lew gets the  chop.

RF: [chuckling] So it wasn't a total waste?

VG: No, at least we reached Madeira. [He laughs]

RF: It brings us to The Boys in Blue.

VG: Boys in Blue. Yes. Again, Greg came to me and said “There's a very hot couple called Cannon    and       Ball, very big in television, I’m sure they can be big in films too, … their Palladium shows are a sell out and everywhere they appear sells out.”  So, he took me to several of their shows being made. And I met the boys and I liked them and then we went down to Bournemouth to see their show there and the kind of reaction they got around the country and obviously they were enormously popular. And I thought yes they would be a good draw.

The boys themselves: Bobby Ball was a mad film fan, he had remembered the Will Hay pictures and that’s how we came to get  Ask a Policeman, and I   ran  Ask A Policeman  for Greg and he said  “Yes I think we can update it”. This is how we came to remake Ask a Policeman as The Boys in Blue with Cannon and Ball and I thought they were very  funny, although          they are not my cup of tea. Their shows,

I  didn’t like their shows at all, not my cup of tea.

[Side 14, 5 mins]  

Coronation Street        isn’t my cup of tea at all which isn't to say it'sno good. I thought they had potential  and I led them through their first film. We had a lot of fun making it. It was hard work to lead two newcomers. But we  made it and it had a certain amount of success, but not enough success to warrant another one.

RF: Who backed that?

VG: I’m trying to think. Columbia?

RF: It feels like Columbia.

VG: Isn’t that awful… I can’t think who else it could have been. It’s easily checkable.

RF: Then for 1983-4 there are three listed.

VG: Those were films for television in the Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense series.

RF: Designed primarily for where, here or the States?

VG: For both countries. Because each one we had to bring an American name in. We had Mary Crosby, Bing's daughter, a very good actress. We had Carol Linley, Dirk Benedict, the A-Team, the good-looking guy.

RF: I’ve not seen The A-Team.

VG: Well he was a big name over there on television, he was the looker. Classic features. They brought over Cassavetes, that  sort of thing. They were ten days [production time]. That was a full-length thing. The  slot was an hour and twenty minutes.

RF: Hm, so you’d lose about nine minutes [for commercial breaks]

VG: They were hard work: Jenny Seagrove we had. Chris Cazenove.

RF: Were they studio based or mostly location?

VG: Mostly  location, we  did an odd thing in the studio but very little. That was at Elstree, EMI, but  very few, only what you couldn’t do on location. Mostly we took over places and did it.

They were a big success.

RF: As adjacent to the studio as possible, presumably.

VG: As near the studio as possible but we went out as far as Tring. Couple of times we had to go and pick up some stuff abroad, but not with the  whole unit. It  was  90%      location work.

RF: What’s your feeling about hybrid vehicles, when the rather strange requirements of the American networks and audience have to be satisfied and they have to appeal to domestic audiences here, do you find that a difficult balance?

VG: I really don't think as far as we're concerned over here that it makes a ha'pence of difference. The only difference it makes to me is that there ‘s a whole load of people from over here I’d like to cast rather than having to take bits and pieces from America.

Because those were done  entirely for the American market and they were cast over there. We had a casting director in Los Angeles giving us lists of people over there who were available who we might want, all done for American television distribution.

RF: How were they scripted?

VG: They were scripted here by British writers and then sent there for an OK. In fact, Roy Skeggs who produced them had to send a list of his directors as well to Hollywood and they would say “yes, no, no, yes”, and you would be surprised.

[Side 14, 10 mins]

 I saw the list of names which went and you'd be surprised at the list of “no, no, no”.

RF: What  were the reasons  for the “nos”?

VG: Never  a  reason  given. But   obviously the reason was their record, or their  time  record I would think, and if they didn’t know someone they’d say “No” didn’t want to risk it.

RF: Were they for network showing, or for syndication?

VG: Network.

RF: Which one?

VG: I'm not at all  sure.

RF: Did you feel the subjects were bastardised by having to satisfy those rigorous strictures.

VG: No, I didn't. I did feel the subjects could have been better. I think that somehow the subjects, someone had taken the easy way out, instead of saying “No, let's find something, search, look”, they'd just said “That's not bad, let's make that one.”

RF: But wouldn’t you think that’s part of the problem: American television is formula, remembered rather than written and there is never a request for the good, it’s just a sausage machine.

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VG: Hmm. These by the way were made for Fox.

RF: Pre-Murdoch. It’s just a feeling I have so often, watching American television material that there is almost no characterisation, scripts are essentially formula.

VG: Yes, could be.

RF: Rigorous demands placed on the writer.

VG: Well when things are submitted,  you send  a story in maybe the producer or the script editor he has employed to think for him on this will say “I think you ought to do this or that.” , that’s changed here not in America.  Then it goes to Holloywood … and the story editor on the coast can turn them down flat.

“No think again”, or can say “Yes but I think you ought to have less of a local image, more of a wider one”, things like that can come back. But really, they don't pay enough to get the best writers who could be bothered to sit down and waste, they would feel it a waste of a story which they could make into a feature or even a television film somewhere else.

RF: Or not prepared to write down to that level.

VG: It isn't really that, for instance Roy Skeggs has got a series which is going on in the new year, they're ghost and mystery stories, he said “If you've got any ideas bung them in, we'll use them”; I've never done them because, it sounds awful, I can't be bothered to sit down and waste a good idea. … That's probably terribly high handed of me. I never got the feeling on The Persuaders because I thought this is worth digging deep for, because the pays not worth it, apart from anything else.

RF: That’s right. An idea you are fond of you don’t want to be squandered…

VG: Yes. Or even an idea you have to sit down with – because the pay is not worth it.

RF: I was going to suggest we have a break now. Would you like a glass of something? And then what I’d like to do is a resume. Especially the thirties, some of it’s a bit vague. And also some of the people that you’ve worked with; and then I imagine that will conclude it.

VG: All right.

[Side 14, 15 mins]

[They break]

RF: That concludes then the basic look back over the career…if we go back to some of the writing credits because we didn't initially have a full list to start with and now we do. 1932, Lupino Lane, Maid of the Mountains  at BIP was your first solo script, do you remember anything else?

VG: Not really except that a lot of it was shot on the silent stage which hadn’t been soundproofed and we had the sound boys with their telescopic booms having problems because there were echoes and birds and god knows what.

RF: They had a boom by this time.

VG: … It was on one of those things you pull a telephone out on, the trellis work that opens up, it wasn't a tube that went into one, it was one of those extending things.

RF: Nerve-wracking.

VG: Maid of the Mountains. I think I’ve said this. We shot a lot of it on Shenley Road which was rough country then …. and much of our rough riding was done down there, and other major part, the brigand's lair was shot in the Cheddar Gorge. [The rest was] shot on the silent stage in the studio.

RF: Do you remember what else was being  shot if anything? I gather before talkies registered, they had maybe three units working on a stage.

VG: Yes, Hitch was shooting… Nol7, if I remember rightly.  He was on the stage with his little miniature railways running around the whole thing having a ball, that  was being shot I think it was a little later that we did – no it was probably around then, [19]32 there was a director called Arthur Woods   who was to be killed in the war I honestly can't remember. 

RF: Was it to play back?

VG: Yes, it  was a  synchronisation  problem because there was a lag, it was done to records pre-recorded on disk. Enormous great things.  And  a  question of spending hours and hours in the morning making sure it was up to speed. And  many  times the cutting rooms had to do a lot of pulling … because there had been a fade down or up, fluctuation on the electricity or something….Funny too, it's gone all the way through my film life I always remember card playing on the set. …The actors used to get together behind a flat and play cards until they were called. I don't mean the extras, they were always doing it of course, but the actors themselves, there were card schools  going on everywhere, that's one of my vivid memories of film studios….

RF: Any memories of the principles in that?

VG: Yes Harry Welchman, doing very well in that. I think I’ve covered this – Renee Gadd who went to Hollywood.          Pat Patterson who married Charles Boyer, Betty Stockfeld who was a big name in those days; Wally Lupino who was a brother, one of the comics in it. …Tho se are the people that I was connected with.

[Side 14, 20 mins]

Garry Marsh – do you remember Garry Marsh? Well Garry was one of the brigands.

RF: In terms of the studio, I wonder if you have any memories of Joe Grossman…

VG: I’ve given you that. In terms of “this will all be Greek to you” and all that.

RF: Ah, indeed. Forgive me…. Well in that same year, The Innocents of Chicago. Was that one on which you had a credit.

VG: Nipper Lane, no I was in it. I was in both those.

RF: I don’t think we talked about that at all.

VG: Yes, we did. Because in it we had Michael Carr who became one of the top British songwriters, South of the Border, and all those things. Who always claimed he’d been ‘Legs’ Diamond’s bodyguard. [Legendary gangster] Nip {Lupino Lane] gave him a loaded gun and he nearly fainted. Yes, Innocents of Chicago, and Margot Grahame, who Nip had a big thing about, used to pass me notes to give her. I remember on location, on the Shenley Road…all in Nip’s car and Nip handed me a note and said “Would you get this at the chemist’s for me?” and I said “Yes, of course” and when we got out and I looked at it, it said “Tell Margot”: a date being made, you know. He used to make clandestine dates with Margot Grahame, I remember that, because she was playing the Gangster’s moll in it. Bernard Nedell was in it, who went to Hollywood later. Henry Kendall; and Betty Norton who was one of BIP’s contract girls.

RF: I think the chances are we did go through the list. I remember asking you off camera as it were about No Monkey Business, …  the story  is   credited to   Joe  May     and Karl – with a ‘k’ -Nott, [actually Karoly Noti] and I wondered if that was a Joe May from Germany who went on to Hollywood?

VG: I    don't  know, I  never  had  much  to  do  with  him: of course I  met  Joe May… he was a little guy with a mid-European accent who was a friend of Hermann Fellner who was a Producer who had even a worse accent, but whether that was the same Joe May…I think it very probably was.

RF: I think it must have been.

VG: That was not my script, [not] completely my script, I    wrote it with a fellow called Roger Burford, and   that  was  in fact my first screen credit as screenplay writer.

RF: I think I asked you about Julius Haimann who is down as the producer, Radius at  B & D.

VG: I don’t remember an awful lot about him. I  remember far more about Hermann Fellner who was Radius Films,   incredible character. Six-foot mountain   of   a   man.

RF: Where was he from?

VG: Middle Europe.

RF: There was a great influx of German-Jewish talent.

VG: He had a high-pitched voice. A bout six feet four.

RF: How did you get work? Did you make personal contact or did you have an agent?

VG: No, The Maid of the Mountains, from then on,  I went  in    through ‘Nipper’ Lane, because I had originally gone to ‘Nipper’ Lane to write his life story for the News of the World

[Side 14, 25 mins]

who then  weren't  just sex things, their features and things were very good. I did Mae West, Dietrich, Paul Stein,  I did all their life stories I  ghosted  all  their life stories for them, either the Sunday Dispatch or News of the World;  there was     a    good living to be made out of that, I went to  ‘Nipper’ Lane to write  his story and got  in with Nip. 

 He  showed me once a script for something or other and he asked me  what  I thought and I  made one suggestion  and he was very taken by it and he gave me the next script to read, and from then  on …he said “ Have a go, write them for me.”

I got into BIP because of Nip, I did a lot more pictures, I did a terrible thing called Toreadors Don't Care [aka Old Spanish Customers DS] with Leslie Fuller, who was their big comedian then, I acted in it, I didn't do the script, but I did a couple of things there, Weston Drury who was the casting director I'd got to know, and in between doing pictures with Nip, because we did three pictures in a row there, one at  B&D next door, No Monkey Business, so  really I got my initial  intro  there was through  Nip. I'd    done odd bits on stage for touring, but nothing on film.

RF: Leslie Fuller again is a forgotten character. I’ve never ever seen him to my recollection.

 VG: He was a terrible comedian but an enormous hit, like Lucan and McShane, like all those people out of the same sort of bracket, enormous success.

RF: Out of music hall?

VG: Yes: concert parties. Not Music Hall – out of Concert Parties. Which is a little different, ‘cos the Music Hall people used to be able to go on and hold up an act. Whereas with concert parties they  held up a party show with sketches, dancing, everything; music hall were all solo performers or double performers, they all came from concert party. Leslie Fuller came from concert party, he was their big money maker contract player at BIP.

RF: What were the films, a series of turns?

VG: No, [talks over Roy’s question] they were like the Mack Sennett comedies.

RF: He was ‘knockabout’ was he?

VG: Sort of: he had a funny looking face … sort of like  Frankie Howerd but not as defined as Frankie's.

RF: What was his audience, in the sticks [rural] or the suburbs?

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VG: Yes, the sticks. They made an awful lot of money, those pictures – I thought they were awful.

RF: You played what sort of part?

VG: Well, Toreadors Don't Care I played a newspaper man, a reporter, I can't remember any of the others. Dope Fiend? [chuckles]

RF: Do you remember who was directing?

VG: I can’t remember – it wasn’t Bill Bentley, but it was that kind of era.

RF: Did they come under Mycroft's wing?

VG: Yes. Toreadors Don’t Care  was originally called An Old Spanish Customer  and then  was changed to Toreadors Don't Care,          or perhaps it was the other way round. [They debate the correct original title] And there was another one I just can’t remember. Another Leslie Fuller I did a bit in. While preparing the next ‘Nipper’ play.

RF: What did they pay you, any idea?

VG: Oh, I should think about £4 or £5 a day by then.  I started at £3 I think it was £3 10 shillings a day [£3.50p], that was Maid of the Mountains. And  then it went up to £4 or £5.

[Side 14, 30 mins]

RF: Was it that you could establish a daily rate or did they dictate the terms?

VG: No, they  told you. They told you, when it came to the third picture, I said “Can’t I get more than that, I’ve done two, and one, not that terrible and I don’t fall over the furniture.” They said “All right” and it went up, only by pleading with them.

RF: Well I think we’ve covered the writing credits, but before we leave it I would ask whether you feel we’ve done justice to the Will Hay comedies. Whether in the interim anything further has come back to mind.

VG: Nothing specifically comes to mind. We sat down, what happened in writing the Will Hay’s we’d think up in between movies or during, we would make a list of things which would make a routine up so we always had a list of things, possible routines you could drop in if nothing else occurred to you, and you knew whatever a Will Hay picture was about, you’d have to have at least half a dozen set routines which dropped into this thing, which was the way we went about that. And your story, once you’d got your story, and you looked up what routines you could drop in if nothing else occurred to you, you’d say “Let’s look at our list” and you’d be able to drop things in. For instance in Oh, Mr Porter! there was a wintertime/summertime routine [about the clocks altering] and George Edgar and myself worked on that worked that out as a routine about summertime and wintertime, you put an hour on or you take it off at the end and put it on the beginning, so that when we were writing Oh, Mr Porter! we thought that’s a hell of a good place to drop that in because you could say “There’s a train coming” “No, no, that is summertime you’re talking about, this is wintertime, which means it’s going to be coming in an hour’s time” “No it means it’s here any minute, because you put an hour on, you don’t take it off” It actually was a very funny routine, but that again was an idea that had been worked out ahead of time and we’d stored it and we’d had to adapt it a little to fit a train [timetable]. Whereas originally it was written down as to whether you had to have now to get to a date or you were late already. That’s the sort of thing.

RF: So that was the genesis of all the little scenes that were developed the comedy sequences.

VG: Not necessarily because very often in writing things developed themselves, but at the back of our mind we had this list of things and suddenly something would spark when we were writing a screenplay, we’d think “Christ we can bring in such and such a thing here, you remember, the one we’ve got down somewhere?”, those would trigger it off. You’d never sit down with the routines and say “Now let’s write a story, which is the way working for Hitchcock was. Hitch would simply say “Find me six bumps[?], six unusual situations in unusual locales, once you got them “Now let’s write a story and fit them in”. He used to work the other way round.

RF: At Gainsborough with the contract writers was there a social life that you were bouncing things off one another, was there cross-fertilisation, was there the equivalent of the writer’s table at lunch?

VG: Oh yes, not only the writers, producers, all the [crew] we would all be at one big table.

RF: And the was a commissary or-

VG: Oh yes, there was. Ted Black always had his own table. They were all around us, the accountant Curbishley [?]

RF: Talking shop.

VG: Bob Dearing. No just kicking around what happened over the weekend mostly.

RF: I was wondering to what extent things came out of this-

VG: No, not really…. You went to lunch and you kicked life around.

RF: So not like the Vicious Circle at the Algonquin?

VG: No we really didn’t kick ideas around at all. You see we were very compartmentalised.

[Side 14, 35 mins]

Because George Edgar and I had an office because we always worked together. Frank and Sidney had their office and there were four of us in the whole studio. They used to bring odd people in: Leslie Arliss came in for something or other, and there were the four of us – it was wonderful really because we had to deal with every known type of picture.

RF: Of the four of you, there were two teams, would Launder and Gilliat come to you and say “We’ve got a problem, any ideas?”

VG: We could do, but we didn’t. We were rather inclined to go to Ted Black. What would happen, … Launder and Gilliat would write a story idea, then we would all sit round with Ted, discussing the story idea, then Ted would say “Yes, go off and write it.” And we’d go away and [get] no bother from anybody until we’d finished the first script and then it would go down to Frank Launder, who was script editor, Frank would read it and make his notes, then he’d give it to Ted, Ted would make his notes and then we would all come into the office together. That was the only time we got together. Yes we got together socially many times, but other than that we never sat around in one of those conference rooms.

RF: I meant more the informal get-together/interchange, rather than having script conferences.

VG: Strangely enough, we never did. Because Frank and Sidney, they were busy on their thing, whatever they were doing. When we were doing Oh, Mr Porter! they were busy doing The Lady Vanishes. And The Lady Vanishes, Fred would send the script up to us, and we might have the odd suggestion here or there, for Naughton Wayne and Basil Radford, some comedy thing, otherwise nothing. There was never a time when we all sat around in an office except the first time we were going to do The Crazy Gang thing. We all sat around the office with The Crazy Gang, which Ted thought would be a good idea to kick over the first story, and they got all excited about “what we did at Scunthorpe when we let the geese out” sort of thing, this is all we got all day, we never did it again! So in those old days we used to meet in Ted’s office and then go our separate ways.

RF: It was just that there were four of you, remarkable and productive talents, and somehow one expected an exchange over the partitions.

VG: I’m sure we kicked things around if things got out of hand … if you really got stuck.

RF: How did Joc [J.O.C.] Orton fit into all of this?

VG: He was a charming, rather boring, fellow – there was nothing wrong with him, he wasn’t a very creative person unless he’d sold a story and came to work on the thing, but we never sat on a story with Joc and wrote.

RF: Was he a polish, man, an ideas man?

VG: Not a polish man - he was an ideas man, but not a very good one. They would sometimes say to Joc Orton, how he got his credits was, they’d say while we were working on something, Ted would call him or Frank “See if you can get something on the bus service, someone running a pirate bus” and Joc would go away and write a treatment, and the treatment when it came down to us, if it was one for us, … we would read it and say, “Yes its an idea, but that’s fucking awful and that needs more, and Ted would say “Kick it around.”, and we would take the script from there. And do the rewrites. Joc mostly did treatments of ideas they flung at him.

RF: Do you know where they found him?

VG: No idea: he was Major Joc Orton.

RF: was he one of those who used his rank?

VG: Always. Then we had another wonderful character who was virtually a gag man, a routine idea man, who was Val Valentine – he was a larger-than-life character who won the VC [Victoria Cross] and Christ knows what else. He was a large lively man, always brimming with ideas, some awful, some of which were very funny, many of which we used., in fact I think on one of ours he’s got a credit.

RF: How were credits sorted out in those days, was it up to the dispensation of Ted Black?

VG: Yes, Ted and Frank between them, because Frank was a scenario editor, they decided who got credit, who deserved one, put him on.

RF: Would you say their judgement was fair, by and large?

VG: Yes.

They were aware of what was going on in the department. Joc was known as ‘Dear old Joc’, “Let him have a go at this or that”, he was mostly at the Bush [Shepherds Bush] when we’d moved to the Bush. The Jack Davis came in as an apprentice writer, and at one time, I can’t remember what the book was, but they bought a story off Roland Pertwee, quite a well-known author, they bought a novel and one of Roland’s clauses [in his contract] was that his son should be given a job in the Script Department, so Michael Pertwee came in and Michael Pertwee and Jack Davis between them were the gag men who would turn in a lot of gags, would be given a script and be told “See if you can think anything up on these.” They were there for a while, not very long.

RF: Was it a fairly wild sort of atmosphere?

VG: Not at all. Serious.

RF: Very sedate you make it sound. Bank Managers.

VG: Sedate. Ted Black had an enormous sense of humour, you could always have a laugh with Ted Black, there was a lot of fun in the studio and Hitch of course was the biggest terror of them all with his terrible practical jokes, but it was a serious studio, very friendly, a family atmosphere.

RF: One of those sad things is that we are inclined to patronise those times and those people, and say “How quaint” but actually everyone was operating in a professional fashion.

VG: Really working too. The hours we put in, everybody put in. I don’t know if I mentioned it before, … we used to try and get out in the sun. There was a place called The Old Barn at Elstree, The Thatched Barn and we used to drive out … and take our notepads and typewriters and work around the swimming pool, and Ted Black a couple of times had called our office and was told we weren’t in. And he said “What time do you come in?” I said “We went out to The Barn and did some work there. He said “I want everybody to check in”, he suddenly decided we would have to check in.

RF: Check in meant clocking in.

VG: Yes. Clocking in.

RF: Jack Warner, in Hollywood did that.

VG: We rebelled at this, all of us rebelled, I said to Ted “It’s awful having to clock in, you can’t do this with creative people, do you trust us?” “Yes.” “Right, you trust us that wherever we are at 9 ‘o’clock, we’ll start thinking for Gainsborough”. He said “You bastard, alright.”

[Side 14, 40 mins]

So we never had to clock in, but he didn’t like us going out. He liked to know that we were there working, so our trips to The Barn diminished. We would perhaps do it on a Friday if it was a nice Friday.

RF: I wonder why that was, because you said he was very aware of creative production, … so he must have known you don’t [just] get ideas between 9 and 5.

VG: No, but he liked to know you were there trying to get ideas between 9 and 5.

RF: But he had people to answer to? Or was it just a tidy mind?

VG: Just a tidy mind: I don’t think Ted answered to many people. They had too much respect for him. No, he liked to know, he didn’t want to think, he liked to know we had been around the swimming pool that morning, we had been working, he didn’t want to think we were pissing off not taking things seriously.

RF: Was there a lot of – not among the writers but people generally-  a lot of golf playing?

VG: I don’t recall it. I know Ted Black used to go camping, I don’t recall any of the golfing things at all.

[End of Tape 14]

[Tape 15]

RF: …when Ted Black went camping.

VG: Yes, as I remember he used to go on camping holidays. He wasn’t a sportsman, I can’t think of anyone who was, I don’t think Frank or Sidney were.

RF: What was camping in those days, taking a tent?

VG: Yes, taking your own tent and car… in this country, the Lake District or somewhere like that. I can’t remember anybody into golf or tennis either.

RF: It was more the goofing off.

VG: How do you mean?

RF: Goofing off in the studio. Whether or not there was any of the long lunches?

VG: No, because you always lunched in the studio, unless we went to the Old Barn. And Ted didn’t like that.

RF: I didn’t just mean the writers…

VG: No it was like a family, you went and had lunch with the ‘family’ every day.

RF: So there wasn’t that much freeloading?

VG: No, no, not at all. You got there and were with the family for the whole day and that was how it felt and we all lunched together always, unless there was some business thing someone had to do.

RF: An hour?

VG: An hour straight lunch, and after lunch, rushes.

RF: Before we leave Gainsborough, one final question, how much on average would one hope to get in terms of screen time? Any thoughts?

VG: I would think five or six minutes.

RF: So it was an efficient operation?

VG: Yes, everybody at Gainsborough knew their job, and if it turned out they didn’t know their job they weren’t there very long.

RF: And were they amply rewarded?

VG: I wouldn’t know what the other people got – I wouldn’t bellyache about what I got.

RF: We touched on that. You thought it was adequate but no more than that.

VG: Yes.

RF: Social life in those days? What er-

VG: Social life I used to go every weekend, I had a bungalow at Shoreham, and I used to go to Shoreham every weekend.

RF: Were you married? Or did you live the life of a gay dog?

VG: Yes I was married. I had no family my wife was a dancer and we used to go down every weekend to the bungalow and come back, every Friday [?]. We rented it – in fact it was just a couple of railway carriages which had been put on the beach, and the first-class carriage was the bedroom and second- or third-class was the kitchenette. It was on the beach, longways to the sea, and the centre of these two carriages had been roofed over so you had your living room with your veranda.

RF: And you’d rent that for the summer season.

VG: Regularly.

RF: Any idea what you paid for it?

VG: No. Not much, but it was cheap.

RF: And what would you do down there?

VG: I would usually take a script. I was usually typing down there, in fact I have some pictures at home of me in the bungalow typing some script or other, working there in my swim shorts because I do an awful lot of writing outside. And we’d do that, and, in the evening, we’d go to the little club and play snooker.

RF: You didn’t have your mates down from the studio? It wasn’t like Palm Springs! Was this during wartime?

[Side 15, 5 mins]

VG: No. This was before wartime; the late [19]30’s and all that beach was cleared when war broke out, they mined it all,…all those shacks went, there were shacks like Malibu, except they were grander shacks, they weren’t old railway carriages, there were a few that were wood. And the old lady that we used to rent this from, Mrs Robinson she used to stay all year in her little place on the beach, but that was a little wooden bungalow and she used to make her living renting these places out.

The social life in London, we’d occasionally go to the Savoy Grill which was the place to go.

RF: Was there a cross-over between theatrical circles and West End circles and the film business. Would you have gone to The Ivy?

VG: Many times. That was the in-place too, The Grill and The Ivy were the two big places. Socially at Shoreham you’d go out cycling all day, hire a couple of cycles, cycle to Bramber Castle and so on, £2 a day for your cycle, sorry, £2 a week, not at all glamorous.

RF: Not as it was portrayed in Picturegoer.

VG: I did a lot of that portraying; I was almost one of their resident writers.

RF: You mentioned before that you were ghosting these life stories, … what was the extent to which they were totally fabricated?

VG: I tried to be as honest as I could and if I used a story that I’d heard or that had come from the files, I would say “it is said that” but I would never write it as fact. I got a lot of the studio stuff, it was so ‘studio’ Mae West, I wasn’t interested in it, I got a lot from her and a lot from private sources.

RF: You mentioned earlier that your mother was a Principal Boy.

VG: Yes, she was musical and it is probably where I got my music from. She used to play the violin and was principal boy in many shows Julian Wylie did.

RF: What was her professional name?

VG: Anna Thayer. I have to be honest I never saw her on the stage at all. Because I did not really know my mother until much later in life.

RF: Was she still working?

VG: No, she had stopped. I did meet her when I was a little tiny child and I didn’t even know it was my mother. In later years when I was in my teens I met her properly, and she had then stopped working on stage and was writing books of poems.

RF: Julian Wylie had permanent companies.

VG: Yes, like Tom Arnold, toured round the country.

RF: What kind of properties would she be in?

VG: In pantomime certainly. And [various] Reviews….she may have done operettas, I don’t really know….She always did the Wylie pantomimes.

RF: They would tour?

VG: They would tour or they would do a season in Blackpool or one of the seaside [places], Bournemouth or one of the towns.

RF: Well, as I say, Harry Miller, who we’ve interviewed [BEHP Interview No 20] who was first of all a call-boy, then assistant stage manager for Julian Wylie so I wanted to ask.

[Side 15, 10 mins]

RF: Since we are now working against the clock first of all do you feel there are any areas we haven’t delved into?

VG: I don’t think so. You’ve delved very well and caused me to remember a lot of things I would.t have without being asked.

RF: Can we go to the people in your life who you were close to or fond of, or impressed by.

VG: Ted Black obviously has got to be one, I’ve enormous respect for him. George Black, a lot of warm feelings for George, I did an awful lot of shows for him; Beatrice Dawson, Bumble, whom I think we’ve mentioned, who has got to be one of the most sophisticated women in the world, … spoke all sorts of languages. I remember one day, Yo was in Malta, we had a place in Malta at that time, and I remember Bumble calling me and saying “I’m going to have a little dinner party tomorrow night, are you free, do you want to come along?” “Yes fine, Lovely Bumble”, “Nothing grand, practically help yourself, only small, not a big thing.” I go there and sitting round the floor in this small gathering was Judy Garland, [Albert]Finney, Sean Connery, Betty Bacall, this was the little small gathering, Michael York, … there were probably a dozen of us, no more, but the calibre of the other characters there, this was Bumble who everybody adored. … And the only reason Vivien and Larry [The Oliviers] weren’t there was because they were working that night.

RF: Were they part of your life ever?

VG: In as much as Larry was the person who brought Yo to England. … So Larry and Vivien used to come to our place, she was a manic depressive, she used to cry on the couch, we’d jolly her along. Larry was always rather an aloof person. Perspex wall around Larry, even when he was being one of the boys; he was much closer to Yo than me, he knew her, they went on tours together. Vivien was one of Bumble’s closest chums, in fact Bumble was one of Vivien’s closest chums. She held her hand through all sorts of things, we saw a lot of Vivien.

RF: Was the turmoil of her emotional life very evident to you?

VG: Yes, it was, because it was the night Vivien was missing and we found her sitting on a seat on Knightsbridge Green, the little bit of green there, she was sitting with all her jewels cradled in her lap. Really her manic-depressive states were getting more frequent and she was in [a] terrible state [over] the break up with Larry, she never got over that.

[Side 15, 15 mins]

RF: How about Jack Merrivale?

VG: He played Yo’s husband in 80,000 Suspects. A nice enough guy, he looked after her quite a lot. He now looks after Dinah Sheridan they’ve been together ever since Vivien died.

RF: A name that came up a couple of times… was Carl Foreman?

VG: Carl was a friend he was round at our parties. It’s very difficult to get close to Carl. He was one of those characters that was close, but there was always another layer of something.

RF: What was the barrier do you think? Was it ego?

VG: No, not at all, I think he had so many defences after what he had gone through, he didn’t open up in case you took a poke at him. I think that was it, some people close because they’ve been hurt on something and they never open again completely in case they get hurt again. I think that was Carl – he had a bellyful.

Carl asked me if I would make films under his umbrella – he would launch them and be a sort of executive producer, stake the money for us to do it. We never got around to it but we were always chums, right to the end. And Carl came and was my star witness against Harry Saltzman which was very good of him. I can only tell you that I called Bryan Forbes, who could have been a great witness, and he chickened out, “Don’t call me in, I like Harry, forget it.”

RF: I don’t think you’ll surprise people saying that. How was it that Carl Foreman could testify against Saltzman?

VG: What they were trying to do in the Saltzman case [was] was it normal for what I was asking for pre-production, I’d been paid my directing fee, but my contract ran on for delivery. My contractual daily rate that he held me on and the recutting … and reshooting and the special effects all of which I was asked to take care of, and on my contract the daily rate was so much a day and he reneged, and what he was saying it came up to £75,000 all in all including trips to New York, for which I hadn’t been paid, he paid the fare and the hotel, so I got people who had been in the business and worked on these things; Bryan could have come up and said “That’s not an unreasonable daily rate”, they wanted to say it was an unreasonable daily rate, I wanted Bryan to say it was not an unreasonable daily rate, he agreed on the phone it wasn’t unreasonable, Frank Launder said it was very reasonable indeed, but Bryan didn’t want to know, terrified, ran, in case he lost a job. … His attitude was “I like Harry I don’t want to go into a court case which might go against him.” … Sometimes you think how far can that go? So I had Carl and Frank.

RF: Still with Carl Foreman, were you also aware of other refugees from HUAC [House Un-American Activities Committee]?

VG: Yes, Eddie Dmytryk, Yo had worked for him in Hollywood in a film, Larry Adler.

RF: Joe Losey?

[Side 15, 20 mins]

VG: Joe Losey, oh yes, I knew all of them I wasn’t close. Larry I’d known from when he was first brought over here as a boy by his father, C.B Cochrane brought him over for a review, Streamlined I think it was called at the Palace Theatre, so I’ve known Larry since then. Losey, I knew just off and on.

RF: On the cocktail circuit?

VG: No, I saw him at parties. Stanley Baker, every time he gave a party, Joe was there. Cy Endfield was also at those parties, … you met them around the party circuit. Cy I now see at Hurlingham Club he used to play tennis, then he had this stroke, now he’s not able to, he just walks around rather bent, it’s rather sad.

RF: I think probably we are coming to the end of questions I can ask. Is there anything you would like to add?

VG: … The only thing is that you asked me about the output of work. I’ve never found output worried me: of course, you say “Christ, I’ve got to get this finished by tomorrow” so you stay up all night and get on with it, there are pressures, of course there are pressures; in producing and being a writer and  director and producer on the same picture, there are pressures, but there are a lot of pressures which aren’t there, you’re not fighting a producer, and you’re not fighting a director, it’s a question of putting on three hats and taking two off and getting on with the one hat until it’s time for the other one to go on. I think I’ve been reasonable disciplined in my shooting, I don’t take the bit between my teeth and say “Now I’ve got the money let’s spend the lot”, I have found through everything hard work never worried me at all, it doesn’t worry me now, I’m doing a lot of writing now, I’m doing a lot of preparing, I have a lot of things which are on stand-by, and told “any minute, any minute” and that’s our life.

RF: You’ve set no date for your retirement?

VG: No, the industry will set that date eventually, [laughs] but I certainly won’t do it. When I went to California I had just finished writing a Dennis Wheatley book, The Haunting of Toby Jugg, the most difficult script I’ve had to write, from a book which is almost unscriptable,[sic]  but it’s a very good story. I liked it and I did it and I said to them “Look I’m going to Palm Springs January, February, March” and they said “Whatever you do, don’t come back after April 1st, end of March come back we’re off, come back” … and we’re still waiting. At the moment there is this ghost series, we’re waiting for the off, this Hollywood writer’s strike didn’t help, nobody was putting out any money till that was off because they were paying too much to keep people on the payroll. Things are bubbling.

RF: Well since the tape is a finite moment in time I don’t know if you want to for the record, …to talk about that possible remake you mentioned.

VG: I’d rather not because I’m rather superstitious about those things.

RF: There is one final wrap up question, probably a short one in your case: your dealings with ACT/ ACTT.

[Side 15, 25 mins]

We looked it up [19]46. That was a few years after you started directing. Do you remember how, why, you came into the union, can you remember who recruited you?

VG: I wish I could tell you…

RF: It probably was a convention at that point that directors were members of the union.

VG: I would be at Gainsborough and at the Bush if it was [19]46 which means I would be in Charlie Wheeler’s area.

RF: Did the union play any kind of role in the affairs of the studio at that time?

VG: No, not that I was aware of. I had the odd brushes with the union over the years.

RF: As a Producer, [or] as a Director?

VG: Both.

RF: Right. Were they a pain in the arse?

VG: Yes.

RF: In what areas?

VG: I’ll tell you one extraordinary thing: when we were shooting Jigsaw in Brighton, and Roy Baird was then my first assistant. I was producing as well as writing and directing doing a very good day’s work and finishing near as damn it 5.30 and 5.25 because I really belted [along] and had it all worked out on my board. And Roy came to me one day and said “You’ve got a strike on your hands guv.” “Why?” “The boys are angry that you’re breaking at 5.20, they’re getting no overtime and they’re spending money going to movies … to fill in” I said “You must be joking. They all want upwards to £15 for expenses because you’re not working into overtime!”…  I got onto ACT and they backed that up.

RF: Officially?

VG: Everybody backed it up and – who was the head of the Film Procucers Association - Arthur Watkins, I called Arthur, “We’re not working, they’re on strike.” And I told him why. “Ridiculous, don’t you worry, I’ll fix this.” We were three whole days of no work until it was fixed. That was one [example].

RF: Now tell me, was that one firebrand, one hothead?

VG: If could be, I don’t know.

RF: Was that a typical experience, do you think?

VG: No it wasn’t typical, this was unbelievable. These are people who have a rule book in their pocket and are waiting to find something they might possibly get away with.

RF: Mind you, there’s nothing in the rule book that says you must have overtime.

VG: No there isn’t but when you are on location and you’ve got an unruly unit who say “I’m not going to unless-“ you’ve got to dig your feet in. And we lost three day’s shooting on that. You say “…were they a pain in the arse, that was a pain in the arse.

The other thing that’s not being a pain in the arse, but having a sense of humour you’ve got to see the funny side of it is that when we were shooting in Beirut and I took my whole unit over there and I chartered an MEA [Middle East Airlines] plane … and we’d made a deal with them, I said “I want first-class food on the plane, don’t lets skimp it give ‘em good thing.” Coming back on the plane we had champagne, smoked salmon, everything I could think to give them, snacks, and I went back to go to the loo, and on the way back I saw the boys filling out forms, and I thought they were doing their pools [Football Pools coupons] and I could see what they were doing, they were filling in no ‘lunch breaks’. I thought they can’t be serious, we’ve given them everything, first class travel, champagne they had steaks, everything but as they weren’t sitting down in a place to eat they were filling that in. That isn’t something you can blame the ACTT about, someone just got the idea that if you’re not sitting down to have a lunch, you can claim a ‘no lunch break’.

RF: Mind you the ‘Spanish practices’ are still widespread, I think they have disappeared in the film side, to a large extent-

[Side 15, 30 mins]

VG: Yes [talking over].

RF: -but they still prevail in television, which is one of the agonies, why the television members are so desperate to keep their power.

VG: I had a rough deal here during my first film for my own company Penny Princess when we went to Soho Square, Yo and myself and Reggie Beckwith and we were going over to Spain to do this and we were being told how many people we had to take and it was over the budget and they were not really necessary and there was a big meeting and we were asked to leave the meeting and Charlie Wheeler was very eloquent and “Would we mind sitting on a couch outside?” with the door open like this and we could hear everything that was going on. Charlie was saying “I don’t trust them I don’t trust what they’re saying, they’re bloody liars.” We were sitting there thinking this is our first production, do we want to do a second? But finally, we did get through, we had to take the people they said we had to take. But otherwise -and the time Alan Sapper didn’t want us to shoot Diamond Mercenaries other than that I didn’t have any trouble. hese were generally from people who were as you say a pain in the arse. But otherwise I’ve had no problem with ACT at all.

RF: Generally: a good thing or a bad thing?

VG: For me it hasn’t made much difference. …  Does Don Mingay mean anything to you? … He was one of the better-known shop stewards, when we were down at Bray, he worked at Bray in the Art Department. He came on set one day and told the Assistant Director that I was a year behind in my subscription and the guy came to see me. I said “It’s possible, sorry, I don’t remember”, he said “Well Mingay has said All work stops until you are paid up.” This is over the top, you know – these are hotheads, this is the few people who give it a bad name.

RF: Yes. And the union is at fault there because there is supposed to be a card check before shooting starts.

VG: Is there. Oh.

RF: Yes. Supposed to be a pre-production [check]

VG: Anyway, I don’t know where I am now, whether I’m up to date or not. I don’t think I am up to date. I’m sure not, no, because I remember paying last year or whenever it was. I don’t think of them, I don’t – and then suddenly another picture comes up and I still don’t think. I’m too worried about the picture and this and that and suddenly somebody will say, you know, I’ll get a little note or a card, and I think Oh Christ and I send a cheque and pay for six months ahead..

RF: Well I think that’s a sensible way of doing it because the nature of the business is such that it isn’t one of the things that comes into one’s head.

VG: I never think of any union. I mean I get Equity things suddenly sent into me, you know you are out of date and you think oh crikey, yes alright send a cheque. But they are not things you think of – you see if you are on the [studio] floor and you’re a member of ACT and you’re going to the meetings, then yes, it’s all part of your life, but without any disrespect ACTT is not part of my life. It’s a part of my ‘necessity life’ as it was.

RF: It’s part of the ritual, part of-

VG: Absolutely, so I don’t think about it. And I think one day someone will tap me on the shoulder and say “you owe”.

RF: Undoubtedly, they will.

VG: In fact, now that we’ve talked now, I remember that. But next thing I’ve got to do is spend half an hour looking for my card to see how far up to date [Laughs]…

RF: They’ll tell you readily enough on the floor. On the computer. [inaudible]

VG: But I – is there anything else?

RF: I think not that comes to mind.

VG: OK Roy, well thank you and I hope there’s something in there because you’ve put in a lot of work.

RF: Oh indeed the areas – let me thank you and dare I say that look back over 56 years.

VG: Is it as much as that?

RF: Well, ’32 to ’88 [1932 - 1988]

VG: Yes.

RF: Well if my arithmetic is any good.

VG: Lot of years isn’t it.

[Side 15, 35 mins]

RF: Let me say this, looking at you, you couldn’t look in better shape and it doesn’t seem to have done you any harm.

VG: Well, I feel alright. It lost my hair for me, but otherwise… I don’t feel it or anything.  As I’ve told you I’m one of those people, age doesn’t cross my mind until I see that somebody’s dead and they were younger than I am, and then I think how can that be?

RF: Yes, and as one begins to see one’s own generation checking out…

VG: Oh, our chums. Yes, we’ve lost so many chums. So many chums.

RF: Well, let me thank you very, very much indeed.

VG: Thank you for making it easy.






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).