Waris Hussein Part 1
That's camera speed gentlemen I'll class you slightly right of frame side. Yeah. Okay.
Darrol Blake 0:06
All right. Can you tell the camera who you are? When
Waris Hussein 0:12
I'm Waris Hussein. I was born in India in a town called Lucknow in December 1938.
Darrol Blake 0:23
Okay, now, so you're in India as a child through the war. Yeah. And you came to Britain at the end of the war ?
Waris Hussein 0:32
Waris Hussein 0:33
Yes, I did. I came to England in 1947. My father-
Darrol Blake 0:39
Waris Hussein 0:40
Pardon? No. This is the big irony of our lives here. We actually came over because my father was a diplomat. And he was working for the British Indian government, who had sent him here as a supply commissioner for cotton. He was in the situation of cotton import and export. So it meant that we were based in London, but he used to commute to Manchester and those days dark and satanic as it was post war Britain.
Darrol Blake 1:12
Can you tell us a bit a bit about being a child in India during the war? I mean, did that affect you at all?
Waris Hussein 1:16
Well, this is I was about to say that the shock for us arriving in postwar Britain was that we had no knowledge of what had been going on because in India, although there was a possible danger of Japanese Invasion through Burma, we led the life of Riley, the British did too. I mean, there was a war going on, obviously, because we kept hearing about it. And there were cartoons and news reels, and things like that cartoons with anti German anti Hitler.But as a child, I grew up in the most wonderful way. I was born in a very beautiful city called Lucknow. My father was then transferred through his work to Bombay, where we lived in very comfortable circumstances. And then he was transferred to Britain. And at that time, there was absolutely no thought of immediate partition or independence. We arrived in May 47. Hardly settled into what was then a rashioned and grim looking London, bombed out as well. To find that in August, suddenly, end of a way of life.
Waris Hussein 2:33
My father's job stopped because of India being separated. We were given the option to remaining British subjects, or becoming new Indians or the new Pakistan. My mother, who had us both my sister and myself on her British passport, decided to stay British, thank goodness. Because she absolutely deplored what had happened. The partition of India was appalling. And as we all know, huge migrations, lots and lots of suffering. And because we've been brought over as small children, she said, she just didn't feel we could just be shunted back and forth. We'd already been put into schools, boarding schools. So that's how my British education started. My father went back to find work elsewhere back in the cotton areas in India and burgeoning, independent India. But my sister and I ended up as Brits.
Unknown Speaker 3:37
Darrol Blake 3:38
Your mother, I believe was involved in broadcasting or acting.
Waris Hussein 3:42
Indeed ,my mother was more than just that. She (and I'm very proud to say this) was one of the first novelists in English, female novelists in the English language.Her first book was published in 1961, by Chatto & Windus, and her editor was Cecil Day Lewis. So And subsequently, that book has been republished number of times in the book of short stories. So that was one aspect of her life. In order to keep us here and make a living, she managed to get a job at the BBC in Bush House, which in those days broadcast to the Far East. So she used to broadcast in Hindi and Urdu at £25 a week. My father was not allowed to send any money because in those days, it was a lot of restrictions on foreign money sending, however, you know, he was allowed, I think, almost as a tribute to the work he'd done, to send money for education regarding my sister and myself, but he was not allowed to send any money to my mother.
Waris Hussein 3:43
Somehow or other we managed and it was an amazing thing to do. Because she was more or less the single mother. She said she wouldn't go back because of us being here. My father did understand all this but you can imagine the ramifications of an adverse effect, the partition factor is very deeply because our families are divided as well, some of whom stayed in India, and some of whom went to the new country called Pakistan, which none of us knew, because they're in different parts of the subcontinent in the Punjab, which I'm totally unfamiliar with. So, yeah.
Darrol Blake 5:20
And whereabouts in London were you if you were in London ?
Waris Hussein 5:23
Well, strangely enough, we landed up in Cornwall Gardens, which is not far from here. So my life has sort of centred itself around the Chelsea Kensington area. Cornwall Gardens in those days was pretty grim. Not now. I mean, today it's very fashionable. We were put up in a flat at the top of a building. And it was dreadful. We met a woman who sort of looked very much like one of those horsey country types, Lady something or other. And of course, in those days, incredibly superior. And she was very concerned about having these rather strange characters who were Indians on top of everything else. My mother had been very carefully brought up and under fairly good circumstances, so she knew what her situation was, and but we were all appalled. Sort of puritanical life that we had to now adjust to. So we went Cornwall Gardens and then when all this finished with my father going back, my mother moved us to a one bedroom flat in Sloane Avenue in a place called Nell Gwynn House. So in those days, because it was one bedroom, my sister my mother slept in one bedroom, I slept in, I think, a cot bed. It was all pretty basic. But actually, what was so interesting was the Nell Gwynn House was a bachelor pad for visiting businessmen in those days and quite luxurious, 1930s style. It had a porter, a rather forbidding porter called called Mr Hammerstone. We were terrified of him.
Darrol Blake 7:04
Incredibly I lived there in the 60s.
Waris Hussein 7:06
Oh, you did? Oh, my goodness, that well, then we have som ething in common? Yes. But since then, in the 90s, it became a knocking shop for Russians. Oh, yes. Natasha's they were installed there as very high class escorts. But it's now been cleaned up again and become very expensive. But when we lived there, it was basic. And we somehow made do. I used to hide in the cupboard, which had a radio above it, it was already inbuilt. And I used to listen to all the radio programmes. And I, to this day, remember, things like "Much Binding in the Marsh" and "The Archers"
Darrol Blake 7:46
That was later. But yes, you're you're you're going in the right direction. Can you tell me now about your early influences in terms of theatre, ?
Waris Hussein 7:56
Well, I was always a very imaginative child. Yes. I used even in Bombay when we were kids. Because I was full of film. I mean, we were allowed to go to the Metro cinema, which is a very glamorous thing to do. And of course, children's films, but every now and again, I get a glimpse of Hollywood as it was then. Esther Williams diving into pools, trailers for things like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Lana Turner in white, and I all these things sank into me. And then there were the Bollywood films, you see, lots of singing and dancing. And I used to make believe. I used to get my sister, my cousins to get into one of the cupboards in nursery, and pretend we were on a train. Now you're getting into that train, you're travelling there, don't come out until the next station. Then I'd shut the door, no windows, and they'd be sitting in a dark cupboard saying when is the next station, and I'd be imagining that we're travelling somewhere. That was my first stint at imagination. I might add that I was brought up by an English nanny, who taught me to say Hail Mary, because she was a Catholic. And also, she didn't like me very much. Sh e liked my sister a lot and said I'm going to make a little English man out of you if it kills me. Now, that was amazing foresight, considering the fact that we never thought I'd end up in Britain. So I think Mrs. Lesley, wherever she is today, is probably quite pleased with me, but no, what happened was all this built up to my coming to Chelsea and theatre, and my mother was an avid theatre goer. She loved theatre from way back.
Waris Hussein 9:47
My imagination used to take me into all sorts of areas where I used to play act and if there was a four poster bed, put the curtains then draw them into a stage thing on this bed. So what happened was when we were here, we made little expeditions (in those days quite a lot of expedition) to get to Stratford on Avon. And we arrived there, my mother drove. And we booked into a lovely hotel which still there called the Alveston Manor Hotel. And we could just about afford it. I would get up at six in the morning and go across to the theatre and queue up for seats returns. And we saw John Gielgud in King Lear. I remember queuing up like mad and seeing that and then we also saw Julius Caesar. And that season where Peggy Ashcroft was there as well. Peggy played Cordelia. I'll never forget because didn't, I wasn't familiar with Shakespeare. I can't tell you seeing that play, him bringing her on dead at the end. And when he says "Pray you sir undo this button" ( classic line) I fell apart. I just couldn't believe the horror of it all. And then they came on for their applause and there was Peggy alive with the rope around her neck. How could this be possible but my introduction to theatre and Shakespeare I got going to the Lyric, Hammersmith (I was a bit older by now) in my teens, 12 year old, 10 or 12. "The Way of the World", Gielgud , Paul Schofield , Pamela Brown, Eileen Hurley, Margaret Rutherford. What more do you want? I mean, that was my classic claim.
Darrol Blake 11:51
What more do you want to work in the business? No doubt. Oh, so bring us to that.
Waris Hussein 11:55
How could I possibly not then. No, no, my aspirations were being arrogant enough to think I was pretty, a pretty little boy. Well, where, how, when? No, no ethnics around? I mean very few and ethnics were then being cast by Caucasians. All right, all browning up. And, but theatre, theatre. I was put in to... ...I went from prep school, to boarding school. I went to school in Clifton, Bristol, Clifton College, which was a traditional Victorian edifice originally created for people to be sent to colonial rule to become colonial administrators. Our most famous person was Earl Haig, from the First World War.
Waris Hussein 12:47
The people who we boasted about were Michael Redgrave, who was an alumni and Trevor Howard. And since then, Simon Russell Beale, I might add, and John Cleese, who is by the way a contemporary of mine. Anyway, I went Clifton - hated it. I absolutely couldn't stand - well, it was still Victorian. Yeah. And it was still rationing. 1952/3, I was by now 11 or 12. I mean, I was put into the most horrible place I've ever been to. The toilets had no doors. Hygiene was at its lowest. We wore stiff collars in those days. And this is why I discovered the art of hypocracy. You took off your dirty collar and put on a clean one to look as if you were clean. But the dirty collar was put into a massive sort of wooden sort of container, along with all one's underwear. Appalling. And what the worst thing that was for me was the lack of privacy in the toilets. I have, since then, discovered a shield to my horror of such things as body bodily functions, was to read. I used to take film magazines with me and read Picture Goer and Photoplay. That's how I got all my knowledge of Hollywood, sitting on the toilet. Reading about James Dean, who I then fell madly in love with, as did 1000s of others. And I used to have scrapbooks - cut out all these famous movie stars and put them into my scrapbooks. Ironically, my early cutouts were Gene Simmons and Elizabeth Taylor.
Darrol Blake 14:37
Both of which more later, of which...
Waris Hussein 14:39
More later. So then then at Clifton, we had a very thriving theatrical traditional. We used to have House play competitions. And the House that always won, which I always thought was brilliant, but I didn't realise the latent sort of racism underneath all this, was the fact that the House that always won was a Jewish house called Polacks House. It was purely for Jewish boys. And it was created so that they could practice their own religion on Saturday Sabbath, that sort of thing. It never occurred to me that there'd be latent sort of, oh my god, well, you were what do you expect they'd win sort of attitude. I always thought they did so much better at performances. Anyway, my problem was that I was born to a Muslim household but not practising. And I had a very good voice. So, before my voice broke, I was in the choir. And I can now sing Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring to you this moment, and a number of other hymns that are still in my head, you know, I was brought up in the Anglican faith so forget being Muslim, which is odd now, because of the days that Islamophobia is rampant. It's sort of ironic, you know, because I'm, you know, brought up in a totally different way. Anyway, I finally said to my mother, what is this, that I turned to the altar and say, I believe in God Father and Son of the Holy Ghost? Surely that's wrong. She said just turn to the altar and say, I believe in God the Father and then shut up. That's how I learned to do it - there we go back to theatre. Yeah, we did all these plays. And I would choose, you have to choose, a play which lasts 50, 40, 50 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes. I chose extracts. Guess what I chose? So yes, we can. Yes, I'm afraid
Camera speed, gentlemen.
Darrol Blake 16:39
Can we pick up again from the plays?
Waris Hussein 16:42
Well, my choice of plays was always subject to much alarm. First of all, for instance, I did a play - I did the sequence from The Crucible, where the girl sees the bird on the rafters in her questioning. And all the other girls start mocking her in front of the judges. Well, now if you can think about this, the majority of that cast is women. I'm now casting an all boys cast, playing Abigail and whatever. So suddenly, all these boys screaming and pointing to the unseen bird - it was very unnerving to the chaplain who said, "Oh, this is this is really not right". And he walked. But, and then I subsequently did another play, called The Witch, based on a Carl Dreyer film called The Day of Wrath. I was so fixated on that period of time in his film history - Carl Dreyer and The Day Of Wrath - I found the play of it. He'd originally found the original play, made the film. So I found the play somewhere in the library of the school, and I did an extract from that and what did I do? It's all about a young woman being married to an old pastor, who's got an even older mother, who dislikes this young girl very much. Her name was Anne Pedersdotter, and she that has an illicit affair with her husband's son. So I did a scene with me playing the old lady and my friend, Peter Turner, playing Anne Pedersdotter and the love affair between her and her son-in-law. Well, not a son-in-law but an adopted son, a stepson. Well, again, shock and horror because it was very close to the knuckle you see. Peter Turner was so good at Anne Pedersdotter under my direction that the school play the next year was St. Joan. And the person who directed it cast Peters as Joan. So he went up a few notches in the school drama sequence of events. Anyway, that was my introduction to theatre and directing. And when I got to Cambridge, which was a year later, I joined the Cambridge University's Mummers and the ADC and my career as a director took off. My first significant production for the Mummers was Ondine by Jean Giraudoux and it was a huge hit. I'll never forget that John Tusa played the Knight, the eminent John Tusa, and subsequently I directed A View From The Bridge when it was first released as an amateur from under the Lord Chamberlain's, you know, because he'd had it banned. Mine was the first amateur production of it at Cambridge - sold out, couldn't get a seat. In that production people who are like now Lord Rowe-Beddoe, David Rowe-Beddoe, played the Longshoreman. So that was the kind of thing that I did. I also did Twelfth Night with Ian McKellen as Toby Belch, Corin Redgrave as Orsino. Trying to remember this - Margaret Drabble as Viola and Trevor Nunn as Sebastian, who also held my script as my assistant. I'd say things like "Trevor, make a note, please tell Ian not to do too much". And that's where we were then. I did it. I then came up with a brilliant idea because George Rylands was the big man there at Kings and he was a lecturer and I liked him a lot. He liked me actually, and I assisted him on his production of Cymbeline for the Marlowe Society. And I went to him one day and I said, "Dadie, I've had this incredible idea. During the Easter vacation, would it be possible to do a production if you can get the Arts Theatre for us, of me with the Marlow Society and the final year students at RADA and bring two lots of young people together and see how they mesh,because RADA has got a very grand attitude to theatre?". And Dadie thought, well, if you can get this together, why not? So I went off to RADA and suggested it and they said, okay, and their final year students consisting of people like David Warner came and auditioned for me. I didn't cast David. To this day, he won't forgive me because he wanted to play the part of Britannus. I did cast it ultimately, with a mixture of both. And the play opened at the Cambridge Arts Theatre. And I'd applied meanwhile to the BBC, for a traineeship. Now the reason I went to do this was because I thought I'd be an actor. However, my acting career came to a grinding halt after I played the West Indian sailor up in Nottingham, in "A Taste Of Honey". Now, the point about that was it was directed by Roy ... a very famous director subsequently, who wanted to be radical about everything. And subsequently me playing, ah - Roy Battersby was the director. And for him to cast me as a West Indian ment I had to black up and put cotton wool in my mouth to get my mouth... Why I ever got the role... But anyway, I played it. My entire earnings went on my laundry, because I'd take the train down to London from Nottingham every weekend and my mother would do my laundry because all the black ran on my clothes. Then I'd go back and do whatever run it was. Anyway, actor - but where? What happened then? Nothing. So I thought, well... And then John Jacobs, who is a very prominent director at the BBC, was directing a show called "You Can't Win Them All " by Alun Owen. And I put my photograph in Spotlight, in which I look quite gorgeous. He then auditioned me for a part in a play - it was set in a revolutionary country in South America - as a young boy called Cholo. And I got the part because I obviously look Latin American, especially in lots of khaki uniforms, carrying guns. I was so totally undisciplined that, on set, not realising when in those days where you've lined up shots and you have to stand in position, I would be agitating all over the place moving and I had to be shouted at from the control room. That's when I first got my first bite of Television Centre. And the whole forest was built as a set and all these incredible things going on around me. I had to jump from a fake cliff at one point and there was no double. I had to do it myself.
Darrol Blake 24:29
This was in Television Centre, it was Television Centre. So after 1960.
Waris Hussein 24:32
This was after, yes 1960. Before I became a director, yeah. Anyway, that was my one and only chance of of acting. Work dried up. Except I got a call again from John Jacobs. He was doing "A For Andromeda". Would I be able to play an Arab commentator in the desert at a radio station? "Of course" I said, not knowing a word of Arabic. I was short of a job. I didn't have a job now. So I went to see John Jacobs. He said "Hello Waris. You remember me?" I said yes. He said "Well, you speak Arabic?" I said yes. He said "Fine". I said "Can you just give me the script?" He said "No, no, we can just improvise. When we come to do it, we will be asking you to come for... We'll give you send you the details". When I went home and panicked. In those days, I lived at the same flat as my mother and she said, I said "What am I going to do?" She said "Well, there's a lady upstairs who is I believe Middle Eastern. Why don't you ask her if she speaks Arabic and then write it out in Roman lettering?" So I could then study it, you see. Panic, panic, what am I going to do for £75 and I was going to be paid. Parallel to this, what had happened was my career was grinding to a halt, as you can imagine, I had gone to see two people about films, one of which was a film called "Nine Hours To Rama", all set in India about the assassination of Gandhi. Every single role was being played by a caucasian, including Horst Buchholz playing the murderer and Valerie Gearon playing a very glamorous Indian woman. And I went see Mark Robson the director because the casting director had seen me in Spotlight. And I sat there and finally went in and, and he spoke to me for about - I spoke to him for about two minutes. And then he turned to the lady casting director and said "Is this guy an Indian?" And I said "Mr. Robson, I am Indian, but I understand why are you asking the question? Would you like me to speak like Peter Sellars?" I didn't get the part. So that was my one failure in life. The other failure in life was I was desperate to get cast as one of the boys in Lawrence of Arabia. I knew there was a part for two young guys and David Lean knew me because of his wife then being Indian. Leila. The problem was that I didn't get it. So I now realised I had to apply elsewhere. That's why I went to the Cambridge University appointments board and said "Please, try and put me up for something." And they were waiting, waiting, waiting. My production of Caesar And Cleopatra had fabulous reviews.
Darrol Blake 27:37
This is with the two lots of students. Yes, yes.
Waris Hussein 27:40
I got a call from the BBC. Would I book two seats for the Head of Drama who would like to see it? He came. I didn't see him at all. I booked him into a hotel, he left and I thought that's the end of it. I got the offer to come and be interviewed on the course. Because of the production. Yes. And I then went...
Darrol Blake 27:59
I think you have to explain what the interview was for.
Waris Hussein 28:02
For the traineeship, BBC, BBC drama - in television. Now, let's put it this way. At the time I went for this it was totally unheard of. Especially a person of my age. The BBC, at that time had directors of vast experience like Rudolf Cartier, who was a sort of Cecil B. DeMille of the BBC. He did all the epic stuff. And then I went for multiple interviews. At each interview, where there'd be a board of people sitting there, they would ask me if I would be okay, if they gave me my BBC job. Would I be happy going to Bush House? And I said "Well, what would that be about?" They said "Well, radio and actually we've a pensionable job, you'd have it for life." And I said "Yes, but I'm applying for television." "But television, well, I'm sorry, we can't really offer you that. Or if we did, it would be temporary. I mean, we could train you if that's what you think you could get. But at the end of six months, we would let you go with no pension or we could keep you on with no guarantee of pension either. Which would you choose?" And I decided against everything - my hackles are rising.
Waris Hussein 29:30
My father (who is by now waiting for me to go back to India, by the way) I'd graduated, he wanted me to go back and get a job in either oil or advertising, which would have guaranteed me a very good social life in India. He gave me a year. I said "Dad, listen, I'm very young still. I've graduated at a very earl y age. Can you not give me a year?" He said, "Well, that's all I can help you with. The rest you've got to find yourself." Well having gone to the BBC got through these interviews, I waited. Believe it or not, I got a letter saying "We were very happy with your interviews, but since you've turned down the Bush House offer, we are unfortunately unable to put you into a television course. However, should anything fall through you'll be first on our list." I hid the letter. I didn't know what to say to my father. The week before I was due to go and do my stint as an Arab in John Jacobs' A For Andromeda. On the Friday, I got a phone call from the BBC. "Are you available to join the course on Monday?" I said, "Yes, but I'm already signed with the BBC to do this thing." "Oh, don't worry about that. We can deal with that. Sorry to be so late on all this, but you were on top of our list. And we're very happy to offer you the course." You cannot imagine what happened to me. I arrived at Woodstock Grove on the Monday morning, carrying my little bag, tie, jacket, the lot, walked in and sat down and saw in front of me the card of the person who had fallen out whose name had barely been extinguished, and mine written in. And I thought Anthony Page had dropped out. Being the kind of person Anthony is, he still think does things like that. Thank you, Anthony. Little did I know one day I'd be competing with him for the same jobs, at one point being mistaken for him because I've got a bald head and grey beard, half his sizeand not even the same. Anyway. So that thank you, Anthony. So that started my traineeship at the BBC. Six months of sheer bliss learning, which is what I did.
Darrol Blake 32:08
I believe the contract was was the training scheme plus one production. That was included?
Waris Hussein 32:14
No, no, it was later. In my case it was that you have to do production exercise.
Darrol Blake 32:20
Yeah, that's what I mean.
Waris Hussein 32:22
That basis. Guess what I chose? I chose one act. I know how to be realistic about I was going to do - one act, which is a Tennessee Williams called Hello From Bertha. And it's about a prostitute dying in a New Orleans brothel. The scene is about the madam coming into the room and trying to get rid of the dying woman who's having her usual Tennessee Williams moments of total chaos, mental chaos and dying at the same time. So I chose it. One set, two characters. Perfect. I decided that I needed to expand that a bit. So in my set I asked for a brothel corridor, leading to the bedroom. I peopled it with at least three or four prostitutes and about three sailors. The camera travels yes to the room. And then we go to the room. And then we have the scene - bed, sink and God knows what - a window. And then in those days, you couldn't do exterior. You had photo captions. So I had a photo caption of an exterior of New Orleans with Bessie Smith singing over it.
Darrol Blake 33:53
And we cut that indeed. Yeah. So what was it like during the course? Who were your contemporaries? And how did the exercise actually play out?
Waris Hussein 34:06
Well, the course itself that - I can't actually say who survived my stint there. Most of them actually were let go.
Darrol Blake 34:15
Ah, sorry. I wonder where were we. Well we've got to the to the exercise with the Tennessee Williams extract.
Waris Hussein 34:25
Ah, Hello From Bertha. Well, the point was, imagine the actual choice. Everyone else did their little bits and pieces. But here I was doing a complete drama which only lasted half an hour about two women, one of whom is dying and is set in America. Bessie Smith on the track. It was quite imaginative. And I think it hit home to the executives at the BBC. They suddenly thought oh, wait a minute. We've got somebody here who's got something to say. And I think it contributed to the fact that after that I was then put on to - they didn't let me - they told me that I was going to be kept on. And all the rest of my [g roup} they were all the people who were not actually BBC staff, training. But anyone from the outside they were all let go. I felt terrible because one of them was called Gerald Blake. Do you remember? Gerald? Indeed. Gerald was a freelancer with a family. Yeah, he was let go. He was on my course.
Darrol Blake 35:31
Yes. But he came back later.
Waris Hussein 35:32
Yeah. But as a freelancer. God, when he came back with his face right down there, I thought, God, I'm next you know, waiting for my, the axe to fall. Yeah. And when I went in there, of course in that true BBC fashion, I was welcomed aboard. So you know, I should have put on the old school tie and the blazer. Yes. Anyway, the...
Darrol Blake 35:54
Yeah. The then and then how did that - you went into employment straightaway? Or was there a gap?
Waris Hussein 36:01
No, no, I was put under contract. They immediately put me under contract for a year. The situation was that if they took you on, you were taken on on an annual basis at a fixed salary, which they dictated. And I was then there as a member of the staff for a year.
Darrol Blake 36:20
In serials or...?
Waris Hussein 36:21
I was put into serials. Yeah, my first stint was to follow Compact. And I followed Christopher Barry around and watched him work. And it was terribly funny because with Compact, every scene was set in an office and in TC2, and the sets were quite tiny. And you didn't really have much to do except move them from A to B and to a filing cabinet. And I as a director kept thinking, "What can I do to make it spectacular?" Of course, what can you do? I was that time watching avidly ABC Theatre from Armchair Theatre which is full of imagination. Directors like Philip Saville and Silvio Narritsarno, and they were doing...
Darrol Blake 37:12
Waris Hussein 37:12
...doing these spectacular dramas. And here am I doing Compact? Well, trying to do it. I got my first stint. And that was the big trial because my contract was coming to an end or being considered an issue. And so they had to decide what they're going to keep me on. Well, my first thing was how to direct Frances Bennett, who was, at that time the doyenne, the diva leading lady. Louise - there was another girl called Louise Dunn. They were famous. And all I had to do to get a free drink at the bar at a pub was by saying I work on Compact. "Ooh, what's happening next week?" This is way before Corrie and yeah, so I'm about to do my first episode. One was live, one was recorded. The live show which I'd carefully mapped out and all my camera cuts and everything rehearsed. Countdown, cue titles. Off we go. Camera one, three minutes into shooting starts shaking his head, he is going down. And I am now like Doris Day about to land the plane being taught from ground control. And I'm saying "Camera Two. Be careful. Don't go there!" Talking my way through it. Not, thank God, not one shot was out of place. Nobody faced each other. Somehow or other we got through it. And I collapsed in my control room. I had to be taken out to the bar and given a large drink. And I thought this is the end of my career. They think I don't know my shots. I don't know what they are. But it saved my bacon. They watched it and they saw and they knew what had happened. The result: kept on. And then on Compact, dying to get out. I'll never forget we did one Compact which took place in a fashion show. Oh, was I happy with that? At least I could get some models walking up and down a ramp. And the big star was an Italian lady called Isa Miranda. Oh gosh. And she came on set as a guest star. So I had Isa Miranda to cope with. And the designer was Ridley Scott.
Darrol Blake 39:41
My flatmate and best man.
Waris Hussein 39:44
And there you are. So he designed the fashion show.
Darrol Blake 39:48
I don't remember him doing Compact. How extraordinary! Go on.
Waris Hussein 39:52
Anyway I then went sat and waited and suddenly this show came up which nobody wanted to touch. Rex, Rex (what's his name?) Rex Tucker walked off of it - "This is crap." And I was brought on and it was Doctor Who.
Darrol Blake 40:21
So tell tell us about Verity and how she steered that ?
Waris Hussein 40:24
This is amazing. I was allocated this. I was given the script by Anthony Cockburn. Couldn't believe my eyes. All set in a quest for fire and people called Ug and Og and dressed in skins and an old woman and fire and bones. And I thought I can't deal with this. I've just done Shakespeare. I've had a play, you know, Caesar And Cleopatra that I directed with - I forgot to tell you this - but Caesar And Cleopatra, it transferred. Cambridge Arts Theatre to the West End (Gosh). It went to the Duchess Theatre. Good. So you know all this, then directing something called Doctor Who. With a cast called Ug and Og.
Darrol Blake 41:11
But that wasn't the first episode.
Waris Hussein 41:13
Of Doctor Who? Yes, it was
Darrol Blake 41:15
I beg your pardon.
Waris Hussein 41:16
The junkyard was the first episode, then three followed.
Darrol Blake 41:21
Beg your pardon.
Waris Hussein 41:21
I did four episodes.
Waris Hussein 41:24
Anyway, there I am. I walk into an office, which I'll never forget on the fifth floor, a table and two chairs and this wonderful looking woman. And she said, "Hello, I'm Verity". I said "Hello, I'm Waris". And I said, "What am I going? What are we going to do with this? So we're going to have to make it work." And we did. Mervin Penfield was allotted to us as our advisor. We were given Studio D Lime Grove, which we were horrified about because the Television Centre at that time was a gleaming building full of promise. And we were just sent off to the wilds of Shepherds Bush. And that's where we had to create Doctor Who. At that time I was allocated Peter Brachacki, the designer who would have done anything to get out of it. He in fact said to me, "Look, I have no budget. And all I can give you is this." And he gave me three flats with circles and a hexagonal thing set in the middle, which is meant to be the control with a few buttons that actually came to life - actually, you could light them - and a few knobs. And it did go up and down. And that was it. And he was a very reluctant designer who was not at all friendly to a young director like me trying very hard to be artistic.
Darrol Blake 43:04
So how was it received? I mean, you you did the first four episodes. And was that those that it was an instant success? Or is it just well dribble by
Waris Hussein 43:14
No. What happened was that first of all, it was announced between football and Top Of The Pops. It was meant to be a children's show. Lot of bitchiness from the children's department, especially amongst the ladies who looked as if they'd all come out in the play of Killing of Sister George. And their attitude to Verity was one to be heard to be believed. "My dear we know she didn't walk into the job." And Verity, who was a glamorous but incredibly clever [woman] (she'd been a PA at Armchair Theatre) knew exactly what it was to do. The show was recorded. We did a pilot. The first episode was disaster. Everything went wrong. And we were only allowed 3 Take Breaks. And entering the TARDIS was one of our problems. How do you get into a telephone box? And then there's no way you could follow somebody over their shoulder on what is now a steady cam. Even the cameras were as large as the men pushing them. So you had to cut and I just didn't know how to do it. And it became a nightmare. Anyway, the show is a disaster. Sydney took us out to lunch and said "By rights I should be firing both of you. But I'm going to give you a second chance" which never happened at the BBC before. He said "Budget-wise I'm going to say it was a pilot." Now in those days there was no such thing as a pilot. That was in America, not here. And so we were given a second chance. And I'm happy to say with the second chance it worked. If you look at it, it is quite amazing. It actually works on all sorts of levels, the first episode, it had and people keep coming up to me saying "Oh was my god it was so this that and the other." I said "Really ?"
Darrol Blake 45:03
So do you mean you did it again?
Waris Hussein 45:05
Yes, the first episode,
Waris Hussein 45:09
And with all the glitches taken out, obviously all the things that were wrong the first time. Even the fog in the studio. We had to start with the fog and it was actually created on set. And we did it and it worked. Then on the night of transmission, Kennedy got killed. And they cancelled the show obviously, they postponed it. They actually, literally the next week they transmitted it and for some extraordinary reason the show took off, but it finally reached its peak with the Daleks, which was not mine. However, it had already gained momentum, by the time after the Daleks - because the format in those days is meant to be historical, educational, futuristic, and then back to historical. And I did the Marco Polo [story] which was to educate the children about a journey across Asia,
Darrol Blake 46:10
I remember it well.
Waris Hussein 46:11
So that's how it went. By then the budgets had already gone up, because they realised they'd got a good show on their hands. Suddenly, they realised and that was the beginning of what is now their biggest moneymaker.
Darrol Blake 46:26
Yeah, yeah. They did. So but but but you stayed in that area, you stayed in serials, because you did...
Waris Hussein 46:33
Well, what happened was afterwards I did the The Newcomers, which was a bit later. well, but this is what happened with me there. I actually opted out. And I got my first major play. It was a drama to be written by Patricia Highsmith. An original. I was thrilled to the core. I even met the lady. And we were talking about casting. It wasn't her best idea. It was about a husband who plans his wife's death. And we were talking about how to do it, And this ,that and the other. And suddenly I get a phone call from Donald Wilson who was Head of Serials, "Waris we're going to take you off the play, because Verity Lambert's producing a new series called The Newcomers, and she's requested you as a director." I said, "Donald, please don't do this to me. I've done my stint." He said, "Well, I'm sorry, but that's the way it is. You are under contract and you're obliged to do whatever we ask you to do." And I was taken off the Patricia Highsmith put onto the serial and I did The Newcomers. The first one...
Darrol Blake 47:42
...Still in Lime Grove?
Waris Hussein 47:45
Yes. The only good thing was I met Maggie Fitzgibbon who I really liked. She was a lovely Aussie
Darrol Blake 47:50
Did she go back to Australia?
Waris Hussein 47:52
Aussie, yeah, yeah, yeah. But anyway, that was my stint. But in all fairness to Verity, our relationship blossomed. And subsequently, when she went on to much bigger and better things, I was first choice for a number of things. And I was lucky enough to therefore direct some stuff that I'm proud of. Yeah,
Darrol Blake 48:11
Yeah. But from The Newcomers, I mean, your progression was copybook really wasn't it? I mean the series, one shot plays, movies, you know, I mean, it was what we all aspire to do at that time. Yeah. And the clever ones did it.
Waris Hussein 48:27
Well, I was lucky. I got some of the better shows to do. I did A Passage To India for instance, before David Lean, black and white play of the month. I did Saint Joan with Janet Suzman.
Darrol Blake 48:40
Yes, now in the CV, you appear to have written Saint Joan.
Waris Hussein 48:45
That's intelligent. Whoever wrote that in. No, I directed Shaw.
Darrol Blake 48:49
No Bernard Shaw. Sorry I must look again.
Waris Hussein 48:53
Maybe we did a bit of adapting but that was hardly writing.
Darrol Blake 48:58
I think you're credited with having...
Waris Hussein 49:00
Oh, how could I possibly have written it? No.
Darrol Blake 49:02
...two writing credits, one of which was Saint Joan.
Waris Hussein 49:04
That's not... that's inaccurate. Most of the cast - wonderful cast, of course. Janet Suzman and John Gielgud is the Inquisitor, and that's when I first met John, and then subsequently worked with him on stage. So that was a feather in my cap, then Passage to India, which I got by default, because there wasn't the original director on it. Michael Elliott was going to do it. And he fell ill. And Peter Luke then asked me to do it. That's where I fell into my natural rhythm. After that I did Hedda Gabler with Janet and Ian McKellen
Darrol Blake 49:41
Was Cedric not doing Play of the Month or...?
Waris Hussein 49:44
Yes. Peter Luke and Cedric shared. They'd got a good job. I did Hedda Gabler for Cedric. Right. And that's that that literally put me into a different category. As a result of which I got asked to do, and then (by now I was I was in my fourth or fifth year now at the BBC) and I then got asked to do Hamlet for ITV and I couldn't because I was under contract to BBC. And it was Dr. Richard. Richard Chamberlain. Yeah, he was gonna do Hamlet. Yeah. And he asked me to do it. Having seen my work. He'd also, I think, done Henry James, Portrait Of A Lady or something. Anyway, I was asked to do that and the BBC wouldn't let me go. So I thought, right, once my contract comes up, I've got to take this huge leap. And at that time, a friend of mine had watched and he (I'm trying to remember the chronology now because I did a film... ) my first film feature was because the result of my work in television.
Darrol Blake 51:02
Yo I'm sure, I'm sure.
Waris Hussein 51:03
It was the thing by Margaret Drabble called A Touch Of Love from a novel called The Millstone. And I was asked by...
Darrol Blake 51:13
Waris Hussein 51:14
No, my first film was Milton Subotsky and Rosenberg who used do horror films. Yes, yeah. And they were now trying to go legit. And they bought this book,The Millstone, about a middle class girl who becomes pregnant in London, becomes a single mother, refuses to have an abortion. And Sandy Denis was cast from America, she was by now very hot. She just done Broadway and Virginia Woolf and all that sort of thing. So she came over to play the ultimate English girl, being the total, total All American girl that she was, but in all fairness to her, she did a very good job. There were moments when she'd lapse into all sorts of mannerisms, which I would say, "Sandy, I'm sorry, but no English girl would speak like that or say that." But I cast in his first film role ever Ian McKellen.
Darrol Blake 52:09
And you happen to know Eleanor Bron...
Waris Hussein 52:11
Well, I persuaded, got all my chums in. Yeah, yeah. Ian didn't want to do it. He said, "I don't want to do film. I want to do theatre only." I said, "Yes, of course Ian, but please do me the favour." And he did. And he was very good in it. So I did my first film, I graduated, but I went back to the BBC. Subsequently I did The Glittering Prizes which got a lot of attention.
Darrol Blake 52:35
Were there two directors on that?
Waris Hussein 52:36
Yes. Rob Knight? Yes, I did three and he did three. But mine was seen because I introduced Tom Conti to the world of fame. He was famous for being theatre, but not television. And then at that time, we were looking for somebody to play an upper middle class Jewish boy. And believe it or not, upper middle class Jewish boys didn't act. They all went into law or being medical. It was very strange, because at that time, we were looking and I was having lunch with Francesca Annis who at that time was doing Madame Bovary. And I said "You know, we're trying to find this guy, it's so hard." She said "Have you thought of Tom Conti? He's playing my husband in Madame Bovary. We're in the studio next week. So have a look at us." And I went to look at him on the monitors, which we used to do. Sure enough there was Tom. And I called Mark Shivas who was the producer. I said "Mark, I think there's somebody there who could do this." And we came and looked at him and said, you know, that possibility. And we sent him the scripts. And we got a phone call: "If you don't give me this part, I will commit Harakiri at the gates of the BBC Television Centre." That's what happened. He got the part and it was very funny because he wasn't Jewish. I wasn't Jewish. I had to cast his parents, who were. I cast Leonard Sachs, who was, but he'd forgotten all to do with rituals. We had to do a Sabbath Night on a Friday night. Nobody knows what to do with the candles and the bread and it's all terribly funny. Yeah, but anyway, it landed me, I got me the attention of producers in America - that's how it happened - and a producer called Herb Brodkin who is on top of the heap because he just done a series called Holocaust with Meryl Streep in it and people of that calibre. Yeah. And suddenly out of the blue, I got a script.
Waris Hussein 54:46
And I read this, I couldn't believe it. About a gang warfare in New York where a Puerto Rican kid (based on a true story) Puerto Rican kid kills three Irish boys in a playground and was tried as an adult. There was so much racial hatred and prejudice. And I got the script - I can't believe I've been given this and I said, "Yes." And I went to America to do it in New York.
Darrol Blake 55:18
And they got your a card.
Waris Hussein 55:20
They got me an H1 Visa. Yeah, that was my first stint. I already committed to do something, but it wasn't till further down the line, for Granada. By now I'd given up my BBC staff pass, my security, to become a freelancer.
Darrol Blake 55:40
So where are we now? 1970 something?
Waris Hussein 55:44
Darrol Blake 55:46
Waris Hussein 55:47
No 70s. We're getting into the 70s. We're getting into the late 70s. I did - it was called Death Penalty. 1978. And we shot in Pittsburgh, in a real prison, in a real courtroom and the leading lady was the most wonderful actress I've ever met in my life. I saw her do Virginia Woolf on stage with Ben Gazzara. And it was a lady called Colleen Dewhurst. Oh, yeah. And she and I just clicked like that. And the show went very well. I was amazed at my own ability, because it was all shot as a feature film on 35mm in those days. Full film crew, I was so used at the BBC, to getting up and going down on the floor and doing all the extras that I got up out of my chair, and the assistant director came up and said, "Mr. Hussein - Waris - do you mind sitting down because I'm being paid very highly to be your assistant? Now tell me what you want and I will see that it's done. But I'd rather you didn't go around telling people what to do. It's actually against the Equity rules, actually, to address the extras." So I suddenly learned what it meant to be powerful. I sat in my chair and said, "Tom, could you just, yes, that extra over there." Anyway, we did this film set in a real prison. And I've never encountered the prison system before. The American prison system has to be seen to be believed. The racket, the noise, the ethnicity of it all. They're mainly black and Puerto Ricans, the whites are minimal. And the constant noise and seeing the way they behave. The muscle men, the feminine people, the boys who did their T-shirts in knots to show their bare midriffs parading around like, girls. Yeah, yeah, I was absolutely horrified. I couldn't believe it. But we felt we've...
Darrol Blake 57:53
Was that in the film?
Waris Hussein 57:54
We filmed it. Yeah, they were like we had to get permanent permissions. We had a sequence where this angelic looking guy is bringing the food trolleys with all the hands reaching out and the food being passed into the prison cells. I said, "Oh, what did he do for to be here?" The guy who was taking so and so said "Don't be fooled by him. He's a triple murderer - cut the throats of his mother and his brother." And he was an extra in our film. So we did it. And it worked. And I came back to England thinking "Oh my god, I've had such an experience.", reported to Granada in Golden Square. This was the height of the strikes when everywhere was piled up to the ceiling with crap and rubbish. I reported to this tiny office. In came a man in a naval double breasted suit. The usual "Welcome aboard Waris." I'm about to do Staying On by Paul Scott, set in India. And he said "Now I'm going to give you your crew list." And I said "Oh, aren't we having a choice of crew?" "No, no, we've got to use staff members." I said, "But can I say something? We're going to India for six weeks. We're not able to see our rushes on a daily basis. Can I not choose the cameraman I'm used to?" "No, I'm sorry. You can't you can't have freelances here. This is unfortunately [because] we had a problem with unions." So I said "Oh, well, can I at least see the person you allocated to me?" And he said, "Oh yes, he's actually filming something. He's doing some inserts for a TV show and I'll give you the address." So I went along to look at the filming. It was dreadful. And I could see the man was not qualified to direct a major drama. So I got back and I called them. I said, "Look, I honestly am not being temperamental, but this is not going to work with the people you are giving me." And he said "Waris I'm very sorry. but yeah." I said, "Can we please discuss this?" "Well, you can discuss until the cows come home. We're actually having a meeting next week. But we need to have a decision before then." And so, a week went by and I sat looking out the window, thinking, "This is ridiculous." And Wendy Hiller was playing the lead, and she was the one who guided me to this project. That's how Granada got it. Yeah, they didn't even know about it until I got it to them. A week later, I'd had memories of my time in New York with the fabulous crew and everything. And, at that point, David Plowright, called me, "Waris we need your answer about your crew." I said, "David, I've thought long and hard and I... [recording break]
Waris Hussein 1:00:42
Colleen Dewhurst. Yeah, it was Colleen Dewhurst who I'd worked with and she said Waris, I know you're about to go and do something. But I don't know what instinct is asked me to call you. Because I thought there may be an odd chance that you might be available. She said, I've been asked to do a pilot for a TV series in California. She said, I live in Connecticut, but I'm reluctantly going over there. Because if it takes off, as you'll have to live there, but the pilot, they've offered me, I've got director approval. And I've turned down. God knows how many people because I think you'd be perfect for this. Would you be interested? I said, would I be interested? She said, I'll send you the script. It arrived. Within four days, Darrol, I was on a plane to California. And I took me one little suitcase thinking I just do the film. I ride their note. Her position was something that doesn't exist anymore. Nobody has direct approval now in television in America. But she did at that time. Nobody amongst the production knew who I was. They had been forced by her. And the network who I NBC, who also didn't know who I was, to, except me. I was met by a very bewildered assistant at the airport, who didn't know what who to look for, except obviously, look out for puzzled Indian. And then I'm taken to a hotel.
Darrol Blake 1:02:18
This is your first trip to California.
Waris Hussein 1:02:20
Yes. And installed. And I just found myself in a production office with everyone saying "Hello, producer. Hi, my name is..." and on this basis.
Darrol Blake 1:02:38
But what was on the page? You haven't said what that was?
Waris Hussein 1:02:41
Oh, the show itself? Yeah, it was the pilot for a show called "And Baby Makes Six". And it's about a middle aged woman who becomes pregnant when she and her husband think that they're now due for a fabulous life, having brought up their children, and they can now lead a life of Riley as middle aged people. They want to do things with their lives. You know, they're both adventurous and they're both active in terms of being athletic and - the perfect American couple. Suddenly, she's pregnant. And now it's a decision "Do I get rid of it?" And she, against all everybody's advice, including her children, who are all grown. She's got a grown up daughter who's married. She's got a teenage son who actually approves and she's got another son who was a bit of a runaway. And all of them are saying one thing or the other. And this woman is surrounded by a cacophony of objections, including her devoted husband, who finally says, "I can't deal with it. I mean, what are you doing?" And that was played beautifully by Warren Oates. I'd got a lovely cast.
Darrol Blake 1:03:53
How is this a pilot?
Waris Hussein 1:03:55
Well you do a pilot to start with? And then if they approve it, then they do a series.
Darrol Blake 1:04:00
But how can you get a series out of it?
Waris Hussein 1:04:02
Well, it's all about how does a woman of her years cope with being the mother of a baby as well as...
Darrol Blake 1:04:09
Yes Oh, I see. So it was gonna get born and...
Waris Hussein 1:04:11
Yes, it gets born at the end of the episode, the first film and then everything else blows up like family, daughter in trouble, sons... Teenage son, played by Timothy Hutton. And so, you know, credentials. The show I thought went incredibly well. We shot in San Francisco for exteriors that were supposed to take place there. And then interiors in the studio at 20th Century Fox. I'll never forget driving in my car there. My name it was written in the parking lot. I've arrived ! I've arrived! - in West Hollywood, I mean, I mean, Hollywood. This is where Marilyn Monroe walked. That was my first show and then because of it going well, I did it on, you can check. It's a two hour film, shot in 18 days. And I filmed it in 18 days, did not go over shedule. The moment it finished Herb Brodkin in New York said "Waris (because Death Penalty gone down very well) we want to offer you another film." Each one had to be applied for with an H1 visa. So from one production company, I now go back to New York. I did a show there, but it was shot in Richmond, Virginia. It was called The Henderson Monster - beautifully written. The sort of dramas you don't do any more about the issue of contamination in the laboratories where something might escape into the mainstream. And would it affect the population? It's about a very ambitious scientist, a biochemist who's working on a particular virus.
Darrol Blake 1:06:12
So you did quite a few of those in the States didn't you. And I seem to remember you at one point saying, "Oh, yes, it's another disease of the week."
Waris Hussein 1:06:19
Well, this was before the "disease of the week". This was the integral... ...these were dramas with integrity.
Darrol Blake 1:06:26
Waris Hussein 1:06:27
This is an issue drama, about what happens when something goes wrong, and the conscience of the people who are responsible for it possibly going wrong, and the conscience of the scientist versus the person out in the street. And it dealt with the people who... ...it was very intelligently written and issued drama. Well, this was suddenly overtaken by "disease of the week", because producers suddenly started finding headline stories in People Magazine and immediately going and getting the rights of some dreadful murder or some wife battering or some extraordinary event. Signing people up and then coming back to Hollywood and casting the most unimaginably wrong people in the roles. For some working class mother in the backwoods would be played by Loni Anderson or Lindsay Wagner, who was very popular having done the Bionic Woman. And then my life moved from these very serious pieces, to soaps of a magnificently expensive kind. I ended up doing a mini series thing called Callie And Son, based on Mildred Pierce, but about a woman obsessed with her son rather than with her daughter. Set in Texas, which we shot in Los Angeles. I had the brilliant brainwave of having my character arrive in Dallas, in downtown Los Angeles, and on a long lens put all my crowds (who I think numbered about 50) in Stetsons. So long lens shot of Stetsons bobbing up and down with my lady in focus in the foreground. That's the art of telling.... ...you get used to that kind of storytelling indeed. You know, I've skipped a whole chapter actually, which I should have mentioned, because before any of this happened, I had done a series called Edward And Mrs. Simpson for Thames. Yeah. And that was just... ...it got the Emmy and the BAFTA when I was shooting Baby Makes Six. And Colleen Dewhurst stopped the shoot and said "I want to announce that my director's just won an award". And I wasn't there to accept it. I've never been there to accept anything!
Darrol Blake 1:09:14
Have you bypassed Henry The Eighth as well?
Waris Hussein 1:09:16
Darrol Blake 1:09:17
I'm sorry. Right
Waris Hussein 1:09:18
Have I bypassed Henry the Eighth? My mind's going!
Darrol Blake 1:09:23
Waris Hussein 1:09:25
Chronologically, I think I have.
Darrol Blake 1:09:28
Yes, I thought you had.
Waris Hussein 1:09:30
I did a whole lot of films before I went to Hollywood. I did feature films.
Darrol Blake 1:09:35
Yes, I know.
Waris Hussein 1:09:36
So we have bypassed some of them.
Darrol Blake 1:09:38
Yes. Okay. But backtrack then, to... ...you did the first film, which was for the American producers.
Waris Hussein 1:09:44
Yes. That was '79 - Drabble
Waris Hussein 1:09:47
But oh, the Drabble film was in '68. Right. Yeah, I can vouch for that. Yeah. Following the Drabble film, a whole bunch of films was offered to me - features. I did a film called Melody with David Puttnam, written by Alan Parker, based on music written by the BeeGees, specifically from their songs - so the songs dictated the narrative. Years later, they've ended up with Mamma Mia, as you can see, and in this case it was the BeeGees album that was put into a drama about two young children falling in love. Yeah, Mark Lester and Jack Wilde were the two boys and a young girl I discovered called Tracy Hyde. It had a wonderful group of people involved David Puttnam, Alan Parker. Peter Suschitzky was the cameraman. And I shot it all in South London and on location. That was seen by Americans. Gene Wilder was doing a film in Ireland called Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx. He played an Irish shit-shoveller, a horseshit shoveller, in the days before horses were taken off the streets and his manure job got him into various women's beds. He'd be putting manure into their flower plants and at the same time playing with their flowerpots. So he... ...that was my second stint in Dublin, Dublin before it became what it is today. And I discovered a young lady called Margot Kidder who subsequently went on to be Superman's girlfriend. So that was then and then from there... ...Henry The Eighth had been a huge success on television, because it'd been all about his wives. EMI wanted to cash in on the success of that. So they decided to give me the job of a feature film - two hours. I said, "What am I going to do that hasn't already been done? Why am I going to do this?" - especially as Keith Michelle was gonna play the lead? And then they sort of, uh, you know, it's very hard to just turn something like that down because it's one of my favourite periods in history anyway. So I said, Look, if you'd give me the chance to think this through with the writer, a very good writer actually, called Ian Sharp, (not Ian Sharp). Anyway, he and I sat together and thought now how do we do a two hour film? We approached it on a psychological basis. Who was this man? What was he capable of? What was his big problem? Big problem was that he couldn't have sons. Every woman he touched somehow... Catherine of Aragon had God knows how many miscarriages. Ann Boleyn had a daughter - no son. Jane Seymour had a son - sickly - but died in the process. And so you know, yeah. We had a scene where he talks to Thomas Moore and says, "Why? (because Thomas Moore has a wonderful family life) How come I haven't got one." So this whole thing of feeling betrayed by up there, by the people around him and trying to keep himself together when he's got the ability to destroy? That's what we made. Yeah. And it kind of worked.
Darrol Blake 1:13:37
Yes. How tell me about working in a very well established studio like Elstree, like ABC Elstree?
Waris Hussein 1:13:42
I have to say it was fantastic, because the budget, even though it was not excessive, gave us the chance to create. And I had this designer Roy Stannard. And Roy was an incredibly clever guy, because his theory was having worked in television, that you can make things look different in the way you shaped them and moved them around. And so he used, he built all these Tudor panelled walls, with windows and platforms, and you simply moved them into different positions to be different rooms. And there was one main hall that we created, which also could be refurnished and made to look like different things, if you simply use certain props and foreground stuff. I mean, my work in television had taught me this. The whole theory of which is that it's an illusion. Nothing is for real, you create your reality with what you shoot. I've known directors who've gone into fantastic locations, and you'll never see any of it. You see a corner of a pillar and that's it. So I said, "No, this is what we're going to see and this is what we're not going to see." Roy created the whole of Hampton Court like this and brilliantly, and Peter Suschitzky's lighting was brilliant too, because he was my DP. It looked like Holbein paintings. And it ended up as a royal premiere with Princess Anne and Prince Phillip coming. It was very funny because I deliberately put on my Neru jacket and presented myself as an all Indian director. And it was terribly funny. I was being introduced in line. First of all, they got the name wrong. I was introduced as Mark Shivas and no, they're "Sorry, oh, so sorry. No. Waris Hussein." "Oh" says Princess Anne "Have you been here long?" And Phillip: "And where do you come from?" "I come from India, Your Highness." Oh, anyway, I did do the film. They did see it. And after that, I had the awful experience of going to see a film directed by Mike Sarne called Myra Breckinridge and it was awful.
Darrol Blake 1:16:07
Waris Hussein 1:16:09
And it was was it Mike? Myra Breckinridge. Oh, he did a second film about a girl in London. Yes. Sorry. I'd been to see that. Yeah. And it was dreadful. I was so incensed, because I was so terribly intense on getting films. And I happened to be at my agents house she'd been giving, she gave a buffet lunch. And as I'm piling my plate with food and frustration, I'm rabbiting on to nobody in particular about having just come from this terrible film that I'd seen. And I looked up and saw this woman It was Shirley MacLaine. I said "I'm so sorry, I'm being terribly negative." She said "No, go on, I'm listening." I said, "Well, I'm sorry, but I just seen this and I can't understand how people get films." And I said, "But let me say, Miss MacLaine. I'm really thrilled to meet you. Actually, you're somebody I've always... ...they're filming right now, Robin, my agent has been responsible for an Edna O'Brien film with Elizabeth Taylor. I'm sure you should be playing the role she's playing because Edna's more or less written herself into the script. It's called Z And Company." And I said... ...and Shirley said, "Do you think I should be that role?" I said, "Well, it's just that you look so much like Edna, being both Irish and red-haired." And she kind of grinned at me. And that's the end of that. Next day, I get a phone call. "Hello, my name is Martin Poll." I said, "Yes." "I'm producing a film with Shirley MacLaine. I believe you met her yesterday?" I said, "Yes." He said, "We've got a book we're basing this on. There's no script yet. Would you be interested in reading the book? I'll send it round." It came round and was called The Possession Of Joel Delaney. Well, I read the book and I thought "How is he gonna make this?" but I'm not going to quibble on that front. So I said, "Oh, I think it makes a very interesting film." So then I was asked to meet Mr. Poll, who was a bit worried because he'd never met me. And I was introduced to him in a screening theatre because I'd been asked to bring some of my films in. In those days there were no VHSs or DVDs. We had to run an extract, carried the film in and we had to arrange it. I showed him a bit of Melody, a bit of Quackser Fortune, a bit of Henry The Eighth and they then said "Would you mind while we have a bit of a meeting?" and I went outside and sat. And I sat and sat and sat and then suddenly out they come, Martin Poll looking a bit shaken, because Shirley was co-producer on it. And she said "Waris I'd like you to do our film. When can you be in New York?" That's exactly what happened. I got the film.
Darrol Blake 1:19:09
So then I just Yeah, sure.
Sorry. I'm just gonna check what I got here. 107 minutes left, yeah, left. Okay, so you're talking an hour. I'll put my hands up. I was recently told we can do about two hours.
Darrol Blake 1:19:25
Yeah, well, that's that's what I generally do.
I've got 107 minutes.
Darrol Blake 1:19:29
Right. Ah. Divorce Him Divorce Her. so it was next as it were.
Waris Hussein 1:19:32
So it's coming up. Yeah.
Darrol Blake 1:19:40
Right. So where did you do Joel Delaney?
Waris Hussein 1:19:46
Joel Delaney was shot entirely New York. And on location, no sets at all. We even had to find a townhouse where we had to... ...really it was quite narrow, you know, though it looked quite large. In films they are always much larger because they build sets, when in ours it was more... Anyway. No, but that was about something that I will never touch again. It was about some very odd supernatural things that happened to people. The world of the occult. And it dealt with, I thought, a very interesting theme. [Angle grinder noise outside] It seems they've started again!
Darrol Blake 1:20:26
I think we're on a hiding to nothing. I think we...
End of Part 1
Waris Hussein Part 2
That's camera speed. Yeah.
Darrol Blake 0:01
Thank you very much. Okay, we'll pick up more or less where we were yesterday, which was bringing us to 1973 and "Divorce His, Divorce Hers"
Waris Hussein 0:12
Darrol Blake 0:13
How did that come about? Well, I believe John Hopkins wrote the script,
Waris Hussein 0:17
John Hopkins wrote the script, and it had a very interesting - how do I call it - genesis, genesis. It wasn't originally going to be John Hopkins at all. But he actually took it over from the writer of "Look Back In Anger", John Osborne, Osborne. He apparently wrote a script, which wasn't acceptable. The whole point about this venture was that Richard Burton was a member of Harlech, the Television Group. And because of his name, they got the franchise. And this was his thank you to Harlech by saying "I want to do something for you." So they commissioned. Now what happened was, when John Osborne dropped out, John Hopkins came on board. And his idea was to do a story about a couple who already divorced, but they now meet in Rome, having had separate lives, and then they find out that they're going to meet and then having met, they have the memories of their past. And so they were two-hour films each, there were four hours all together for television, and one deals with her point of view of him, and the second two hours, about his point of view of her. That sounds very interesting, because then you can overlap the action. And you can also do certain memory things about that particular past. It's complicated. And he was actually basing it on his concept of a script called "Talking To A Stranger", which also was an incident in a suburban house, where members of families see something and then see it from different points of view, which I think is fascinating. However, this needs a lot of thought, rehearsal and understanding of why you're doing what. That's to put it on the side. The fact was that Richard agreed to do the role. And Elizabeth, out of a kind of loyalty to him, agreed to be in it. She never read the script. I read the script, and I liked it a lot. But I said, "You know, this is going to need an enormous amount of preparation". And the producers who, by the way, John Heyman, who was very eminent as her agent and producer. The father of coincidentally, David Heyman, the producer of Harry Potter. John arranged the whole situation, along with Gareth Wigan. It was a very, very tightly knit and prominent group of people. Richard I met in London. They had a place in Hampstead. He made it very clear that he was on the bot... [wagon], he was drinking Perrier water and nothing else. And we had a long chat. And obviously, my meeting with him was important. The reason I was chosen was that this is going to be shot with four cameras in a TV studio at Harlech TV, which was therefore going to offer employment to the people of Harlech and give them a sense of themselves in the pride. Now the studio facilities were in Bristol. We have had to book way ahead, because then in order to accommodate this illustrious couple, we also had to find accommodation. So I went off to Bristol, and we decided actually to put both of them in Bath, which is a much more congenial city in terms of accommodation. And we were going to put them into a five star hotel. The studio is going to be emptied out. I was going to work with four cameras exactly as I did the BBC. The whole point about my being employed was that I was very well working on multi cameras. If it had been a one camera situation as a film goes, like a cinema film, I may not have been considered. However, I was contracted to do that. With this understanding in mind, I then had to meet Elizabeth. She was filming at Elstree with Lawrence Harvey, who it turns out was actually terminally ill. And the film was called "Nightwatch". And Elizabeth gave me, I think, 10 minutes of her time in between shots. I heard her coming down the corridor, and I heard her saying, "Who is this? I don't know anything about it. What's it what's it all about?" And then she appears in the doorway and says "Hello. I'm Elizabeth" and I said, "Oh, hello Miss Taylor", out of sheer respect. She sat down and said "Right tell me what am I doing? What's it all about?"
Waris Hussein 5:09
So I started telling her this very complicated story about a couple meeting in Rome, and the flashbacking and all this. She said "Wait a minute. Flashbacks? Flashbacks?" I said, "Yes". "How many years do I go back?" I said, "Well, actually, it starts off very early in your life. And sort of 20 years." She said "20 years! Alexander?" she said and suddenly, out of a corridor came Alexander, the hairdresser, who'd been nowhere from what I could see. She said "Did you hear what the man said? I need hairdressing to look like how I was in A Place In The Sun." And the entire conversation then revolved around hair. And I could see she was glazing over when I started the narrative. And then at the middle of my narrative, she said, "I've got to go back to the set. Goodbye." and off she went. And that was the beginning of my meeting with Elizabeth. So you can see this foretold the chronicles that were then to take shape in a very monumental way. "Divorce His, Divorce Hers" due to go to Bristol. She then stopped before she left and said, "By the way, where are we... ...where are we doing this?" I said "Bristol". "When?" I said such and such date. She said, "I couldn't possibly do that. I'd be had up for taxes. I've got to leave the country before then. Who's the producer on this?" I said "Gareth Wigan". "I'll be in touch..." Next day, I got a phone call. "Waris, this film is not going to be shot in Bristol because Elizabeth can't accommodate herself into the situation for tax reasons. John is busy negotiating a deal with another company. It will probably be Germany. So standby". So I was kept waiting for about five days. And John negotiated a deal with a German production company. And so it was now going to be shot exteriors in Rome and interiors in Munich (meant to be in Rome). So whatever exteriors we did would have to be matched on sets, thereby complicating the issue somewhat. However, the four cameras situation still wasn't mentioned. Now. I assumed it would still shoot with multiple cameras to get through the schedule because the schedule was quite tight. However, Elizabeth then demanded that certain people service the show, one of whom was Edith Head, the costume designer in Hollywood. Well, as we all know, Edith Head was an eminence gris in the way of design for me and a total privilege. So Gareth and I were flown to Hollywood, to meet Edith Head. And in meeting Edith Head, who I found to be absolutely delightful, she said, "Now tell me what sort of character this is?" I said, well, "She's married to a wealthy man. They've been divorced. She's been to very prominent educational establishments in America. She belongs to the upper echelons of American society. She's well read, she's intelligent, and a modern woman, not a snob, but understands the world. And I see her in very elegant but simple clothes, and nothing too brash". And Edith turned to me and said, "Have you met Elizabeth?" And I said, "Yes". And she said, "Well, the whole situation is this that I would have to do designs and show them to her. Before I do that, I'll show them to you. But she's got permission to alter them". So I said, "Well, good". And she said, "We'll meet in London when I've done the drawings. And then I'll show to you because Elizabeth is somewhere else". By this time, Richard was filming in Yugoslavia. Comes the day, and Edith shows me the costumes at the Dorchester Hotel. And I said, "Oh, they're wonderful!" She said "Yes, but I've got to show them to Elizabeth". So she went off to Yugoslavia. I mean, this production was now taking its own impetus. You can imagine Edith Head and Yugoslavia. [Yeah.] Yeah. First Class back and forth across the Atlantic. She comes back with huge red crosses on all the drawings. And necklines down to there [Yes], instead of up there. So I knew now we were dealing with a diva, the biggest star in the firmament...
Waris Hussein 9:55
No rehearsals. We arrived in Rome. Richard had a week ahead of Elizabeth. He was extremely amenable and the bottle of Perrier was firmly held in his hand between shots. And we did the first...
Darrol Blake 10:11
It didn't turn out to be vodka ?
Waris Hussein 10:13
...At this point. We started working and everything went very smoothly. By the way, we have now got a cameraman, who had been asked for by Elizabeth, who she'd worked with in the past called Gábor Pogány. Gábor Pogány was Hungarian, who behaved as if he was related to Otto Preminger. And ordered his crew accordingly, and deferred to me in a very formal way. But you could see with no communication whatsoever, I would have to be very specific, because if I wasn't, he would have ideas that had nothing to do with the film. Clearly, he had not read the script. So I would then tell him "Gabor, this is what we really need". And he would say, it'd be a long pause, and then he'd say, "Well, I'm going to have to take quite a while lighting it". And then I would say, "I understand". He, everytime... Elizabeth - she hadn't turned up yet. So Richard and I went together. He said, "Now, don't on any account called me Dick". And I said, "No, I won't Richard". And he said, "Uh, can I call you Warisco?" And I said, "You may". He said, "By the way, you know, we have something in common". I said, "Oh, what is it, Richard?" He said, Well, I'm Welsh. You're Indian. And we are not English". So we had something in common.
Darrol Blake 11:42
That's him being kind, I'm sure.
Waris Hussein 11:44
Well, no, he was companionable. [Yes] Yeah, he was very Welsh orientated. Anyway. Sure. One night we went had lit the entire villa of the Via con Dorte for a walk. He was simply meant to be walking towards us reminiscing, during which we would use the walk as a flashback point, in different angles of his walk. Suddenly, out of nowhere, chaos, lights flashing, lots of noise, police car sirens, the entire shebang and who arrived early without announcing herself? Elizabeth. She'd finished early in London and decided to see what was going on. We were totally stopped in our tracks. She got out of her limo with lots of cameras flashing, came up to me and said, "Oh, I hope I'm not interfering or interrupting. Yes, I hope, I'm not interrupting". I said, "Oh, no, please do sit". She sat down. And I said, "Right". "What is the shot?" I said, "It's Richard just walking..." "Oh, wonderful. Where is he?" So we looked around. No Richard. I turned to the assistant director. I said, "Do we know where Richard is?" "Well he was here five minutes ago." I said, "Well, could we find him because we're ready to shoot and you know..." No Richard. Well, now there was subsequently a search party went out. And no one could find him. And she said this, "Oh, dear. Is there something wrong?" I said, "I hope not". And then finally the assistant director came back and said "Umm, we have found him". I said "Yes". "I'm afraid he's not really up to it." I said, "What do you mean?" "All I can say is a whole bottle of vodka has been drunk." So he then emerged from wherever he'd been found and the moment Elizabeth saw him she said "Oh, is there anything I can do?" I said, "I don't think so". I said, "Richard, are you alright?" He said, "Of course I'm effing alright. What am I supposed to be doing?" And I knew it was gonna be downhill all the way. I'm simply telling you the story because no one knows these things. And I then... ...subsequently our first day of shoot came. Another shot of her walking towards camera reminiscing, to give me the flashback voice. She arrived on set. It was the Borghese Gardens - I'll never forget. She turned up and I said, "Elizabeth. We start off here then walk towards the camera and..." She said "Yes." I said "Right. She said "Have you lined this up already?" I said "Yes with your stand-in." She said "I hope she's good because, you know, I always... ...I expect you to rehearse with my stand-in before I come on set. All you need to do is tell me where she moved. And I will then follow the moves." I said, "Oh, so no rehearsal?" "No, no, I just need to be told to do whatever is necessary." So I said, "Fine". Well, this is quite simple as was their dialogue. I said, "I'll walk you back to the start point". And it was all on a fairly long lens. As I walked, I said, "This is the bit where you are doing this and this in the script" and she said, "Yes, yes, I've read the script" Now, right So I went back to the camera and shouted action. And she walked as if she'd forgotten where to go. And I came up to the camera. I said "Elizabeth, could we do one more? Because I would like you to perhaps be remembering some of this. Not sure what you could to be helping yourself to do. I mean, perhaps you could..." I jokingly said, "...perhaps you could stop and blow your nose or something." She said "I've never blown my nose in my life!" I said, "No, I know you haven't". She said, "I'll do something. Just, yes, shout action". So she starts walking towards camera. Action! She walks in, she got a scarf that goes like this. That's the action. She comes up to camera. Cut! Kisses the lens. "Bye!" Gets into the car and leaves!
Waris Hussein 16:31
That was the sum total of our first day but oh, I forgot this. Between the shots. I keep forgetting chronologically what happened in between. She was sitting in her chair, and I could see Gabor going up and kneeling at her feet in sheer abeyance. Now we were going to go on to Munich from Rome. And it was agreed that when we got to Munich, we would have a German crew. It was understood that the crew changed. And so would the DOP. Yeah, it was a part of the deal. I could see Gábor talking to her. And she said, "Where's Gareth?" And Gareth was hiding behind me. And she said, "What's this about Gabor not going with us to Germany?" And Gareth said, "Well, Elizabeth, we've, unfortunately got to do this because..." "I don't care what kind of deal you've made. I'm not having a DOP change horses midstream. He's got to come with us and just see to it." So Gabor got up with a Cheshire grin on his face. And was on crew. Now we had to somehow inform Ernst Wild back in Munich, that he was going to share the DOP honours. Right, because we couldn't get rid of him either.
Darrol Blake 17:54
Oh, right, right. So pardon my intervention, but I'm worried about the money. Who was paying for this. HTV ?
Waris Hussein 18:08
Well, HTV was way behind on all this. Yeah. John Heyman being the genius he was, after all, don't forget, as Elizabeth's agent, he had negotiated the first ever multimillion dollar contract for "Cleopatra". So I guess he had the art, which his son has now inherited, of negotiating, and he managed to get the money, right. Don't ask me because I wasn't involved. And I wasn't about to be involved. All I wanted to do was to get on and finish this thing. And so now this entire thing was about to roll into Germany. Before we did that we had a night shoot. And Edith had to design the most wonderful outfit for her, because it all takes place over one night in terms of the present. And she designed this elegant black dress - a long dress, an evening dress and a black coat to go with it with this off-white silk lining. Very elegant, and it also helped Elizabeth's very curvaceous figure. Yes, believe me, she is very curvaceous. So, which is one of the reasons for the necklines. But anyway, um, when we got to the set, it was a night shot. By now my patience with Mr Pogány was really beginning to wear because he lit the thing. And I could see for instance, it was a entrance to a department building with a statue. And there were three shadows on the statue. And I had to go and say "Gabor, could you, could you just explain to me why the lighting has three separate shadows? I mean, I don't understand." So he was justifying himself. Anyway, Elizabeth meanwhile was in her trailer. And I was summoned. And I went into the trailer and there laid out on the table was all her personal jewellery. And she pointed, she said "I'm going to wear that". And it was the diamond necklace with the Mary Tudor pearl that Richard had bought her, that Philip of Spain had given Mary Tudor. The pearl is the size of a duck's egg. And I said, "Elizabeth, can I just point out that unless we say it's costume jewellery, it could not possibly be anything that you as a character would wear? Because it doesn't have anything to do with the story". Yeah. And then I jokingly said, "Besides which, when you bend down to kiss the kids goodnight, you're going to knock them out!" Because in the script, we had two children. And she said, "Oh, well, I'm wearing it anyway!" And she said, "By the way, the coat. I'm going to wear this..." and she put on her black floor-length mink. And I said, "Well, what about Edith's coat?" She said "Well, I can change?" I said, "No, you can't because it's in one night. And continuity wise..." "Oh, we'll have to have a scene where I come in and change coat." So I said, "Well, Elizabeth..." I then went out and Edith Head was standing. And I went up and I said, "Edith, she's not going to be wearing your coat. What do you suggest? Can you have a word?" She said "Waris when do you want to finish this? By Christmas?" This was in May. Yeah. She said "Let her wear whatever she wants." So Elizabeth got out of the trailer wearing her Mary Tudor Pearl, and the black floor-length mink. And that was the beginning of our wonderful experience together, which took us to Munich. Do I need to go on?
Darrol Blake 22:05
No, no, no, no, no, if you don't want to then. Well, it's very... ...I think you've given us the flavour yes of the piece.
Waris Hussein 22:10
The result of this was it was sold to ABC Television in America without the necessary commercial breaks that they need over there. We had not shot for commercial break climaxes. So arbitrarily peppered them through the film, of a very talky script. It was sold on the name of the two stars by John Heyman. The head of ABC at that time was a man called Barry Diller who bought it sight unseen, financing quite a bit of the film. I think he paid over a million for it. He sent over one of his representatives who was a very nice lady who came over to see a rough cut. We warned her that it was temp tracks and everything. And she then said, "Oh, it's wonderful. It's looks like something out of Antonioni" and went back to tell her boss, who said, "Oh, I must look at it straightaway". So off it went, neg cut - before neg cut. He hated it. Loathed it! He made the same woman come back and tell us it was crap. By the way, the four cameras things stopped immediately when she came on set. We had to do a single camera. The sharing of the DOP was quite interesting. Ernst Wild would light it. And Gábor Pogány would be the one saying "A little bit a bit more there" in his Hungarian accent, "Bit more there." Ernst Wild was then being told what to do. thing ended. And I can tell you, when it showed in America, the critics who'd already watch the decline of their career before mine (mine was a whimper compared to the Cleopatra "bang" which started it all). Yeah, they were waiting with knives. They had a field day. It died a death. If it hadn't been for the fact that Verity Lambert (bless her) found me hiding in LA with friends and said, "Come back, I've got a series for you which is based on the suffragettes called Shoulder To Shoulder" which leads me into the next bit. Yes, that's what resurrected my career. Because believe me, after the disaster of Divorce His Divorce Hers, yeah, I would have been unemployable in America. They just stopped enthusiastically saying, "Forget it. We don't like it. We don't know who you are". The two stars of course, by this time they divorced very soon after. The entire thing fell apart. The ingredients of this was whole different story, but that was the experience I had of these two.
Darrol Blake 25:01
So yeah. So I actually I was going to ask you to go on to "Edward and Mrs. Simpson". But I mean, if you want to talk a bit about , "Shoulder To Shoulder"
Waris Hussein 25:05
I did "Edward and Mrs. Simpson" before didn't I. I think that was 78. Yes. When was " Shoulder to Shoulder" ? .
Darrol Blake 25:23
"Shoulder to Shoulder". It was-
Waris Hussein 25:25
Must be in 72.
Darrol Blake 25:25
It was 74.
Waris Hussein 25:27
So "Edward and Mrs. Simpson" came after that. Yes, indeed. So we should talk a bit about "Shoulder To Shoulder" Yeah, sure. Because I'm very proud of it. And this is the year that everyone's talking about Emily Wilding Davidson, who fell under the King's horse. The story of that was that Verity out of sheer loyalty to me, asked me to direct what was basically a totally women oriented production. Midge Mackenzie, Georgia Brown, Verity Lambert. And Verity said, "Look, we cannot just have a woman, it's going to become a women's ghetto. Let's get a man in and Waris is great with women. Let's get him." Midge McKenzie was against it all down the line. "We don't want men" -she was extremely anti male. And Verity said "Midge you are becoming absolutely - you're becoming the extremist. We cannot be extreme. We cannot have extremists on this". So I was brought in with a lot of reluctance on the part of Midge, a certain amount of fence sitting by Georgia who I began to like very much by the way, she was lovely. She elected to play Annie Kenney, which was a North Country blonde girl, which was not exactly Georgia. She even tried wearing blue contact lenses on the first few days shoot, and she couldn't wear them. So we suddenly had Annie Kenney who went from blue to dark . It should have been someone like Billie Whitelaw, yeah, yeah, at that time would have been perfect. But anyway, this production gave me the chance to get back into the saddle, and to direct the way I work. And I did, I think, very well from it, and for them. And Verity was very grateful to me. Because halfway through, I was approached by Andrew Brown, who I'd done - I was new - and Andrew wanted me to do "Jennie Churchill". at Thames. It was great. Lee Remick was going to do it. But it would have meant that I would have had to leave"Shoulder To Shoulder". I was going to do three. Now, contractually, I wasn't bound, I was per show. I could have left and Verity said to me "Look Waris I can't influence you. But I'd rather you didn't leave". And out of loyalty to her I stayed. And Jimmy Cellan Jones, I remember, took it and it did him a huge amount of good because it was very popular. Yeah. I was sad. Julian Mitchell never forgave me, because he thought I'd turned it down because of him. And I ended up doing Shoulder To Shoulder, became a very close friend of Sian Phillips and a number of people involved on the show. And from that, I think I went on to Edward & Mrs Simpson . Yeah. Which by the way, was one of my career highlights. Right? They gave me enormous amount of time to prepare. It was seven hours.
Darrol Blake 28:53
Waris Hussein 28:54
Andrew Brown, and me. And it just - I can't describe it. It was a pleasure from beginning to end. And again, you see, when you (as a director you'll appreciate this) given that kind of support system to prepare, for instance, because we couldn't get it wrong. It was too close to the Royal Family. In fact, we actually had a meeting with somebody from the palace, who came and said to us, "Look, we know where basically you're doing this based on Lady Donaldson's book, which is very highly thought about but don't ask us to help you officially." He said, "I mean, officially". And we said "Ah" - that was a little clue. So but we had to do our homework so that we didn't get anything wrong. And then we had the extra burden of having the Duchess of Windsor, who was still alive. Her lawyer Maitre Blum, who was a fearsome French woman threatening to sue us if we so much as implied that there'd been any carnal exchange between the two before the wedding? Well, we all know that. But she wasn't going to... ...she was going to sue us. So Verity had every page vetted by lawyers, and had to go to Paris twice to talk to this awful woman who threatened to shut the production down. I couldn't show them in bed together or anything like that. And nothing - I don't think we even showed them kissing. But I implied! We had a scene on the Marlin, which was the boat, they went on to - they went on this cruise. Well, we know they shared the cabin, we know they shared a hotel room. Well, I had them dancing on deck. She had taken her shoes off, which was significant in those days when you took your shoes off, it was very significant. And then I had the camera pan across to two silhouettes merging. That was my metaphor for what was going on. So that's, we had some of those things happen.
Darrol Blake 31:11
Yes. You mentioned Verity in relation to that. But you seem to imply that Andrew was the producer, Andrew, presumably, was the Script Editor.
Waris Hussein 31:19
No, no, Andrew was the acting producer. Verity was the Head of Drama. I think, at this point, she was the executive head of it. Yeah. Alan Cameron, by the way was the designer - brilliant - he went in features after that. Yeah. And he did a brilliant job. But I learned so much from my TV experience. For instance, there's a sequence in it, which is a long corridor at Buckingham Palace, where Edward has been summoned to see his father. And we obviously couldn't shoot anything on location, or even on film. So Alan designed one long flat that went from one end of the studio to the other. And a carpet and pillars. One foot in foreground, and then a row of pillars on one side, and we put footman on one side, and all you could shoot was... ...there was nothing behind me or to the left. Yeah, one pillar obscuring. Yeah. And you had this long lens, a long shot of him walking down this length of corridor and footmen. Yeah. I mean, that is the art of illusion. And I keep mentioning this to people, I keep saying it is an illusion. Yeah, we are creating an illusion. There's nothing realistic about any of this. And when people go on about this, I have to contradict them. Because I learned this. You know, I learned this out of this BBC, Tony Abbott. Yes. Years before (brilliant designer) when I did Saint Joan he built the whole of a mediaeval structure in Studio One, with archways and this - but with different - it was in the form of basically the cross and then hexagonals off of it. So you could use different angles and it would become something else. Yeah. Yeah. From the cathedral to the bedroom to the... ...so that's the art of it. Sure. But no one sees. You as a designer know this. I know as a director. How many people today will even know about that? No. Unless they have the four walls? And...
Darrol Blake 33:31
Yes, well, studio drama has passed away, hasn't passed. So therefore they're shooting in real locations. And so you have the whole thing? The whole corridor or whatever.
Waris Hussein 33:41
Yes. But the fact is, even now, not all of it is done that way. Sets are still built at great expense. Yeah. At Pinewood and Shepperton.
Darrol Blake 33:52
But fully built, not suggested.
Waris Hussein 33:54
Yes, you could save money if enough thought went into it. And say, "You know what, we don't need a forth wall set here. We know we need a very elaborate set up there. Put the money into the staircase. Yeah. Forget the wall behind me because I won't see it".
Darrol Blake 34:12
Yeah, sure. Sure. But what about casting Edward & Mrs Simpson?
Waris Hussein 34:16
Well, the casting was actually quite amazing, because it was a vast cast. And the key was, of course, Edward himself. Andf I think we struck gold with Edward Fox. I mean, he couldn't be bettered. I think actually the most recent portrayal of him, which I thought was rather good was in The King's Speech, in that very short sequence, not the film itself. But the King's Speech - playing the brother David - the Australian actor. Yes. Yes. He was terrific. The King's Speech we can discuss on a totally different level because to me, it was like a grandiose play of the month. With a lot of money. Yeah, thrown in.
Darrol Blake 34:58
What about that? dusting Mrs. Simpson? Did you import?
Waris Hussein 35:04
Andrew and Verity had gone to New York. Ah, I had nothing to do with it right. And they cast an actress who I was then told had been cast, and I had to go with that. And then at the last minute, she backed out, because she'd been offered a TV series in America, and they paid far more. And suddenly, we were stuck. And out of the blue, Cynthia Harris was suggested. Cynthia's red-haired and very consciously so but physically, she came in, we put her into a dark wig. And I said, "Perfect". And having been cast, then we did the photoshoot for the credit sequences. It turned out that her wig had been styled exactly like Mrs. Simpsons, but was red. "Hey, wait a minute. What's this red hair?" "Well, Cynthia asked for it". I said, "No way! Where's Cynthia?" I said, "Cynthia, this is insane. Do you not know that Wallace was dark to the point where they accused her of being a Chinese woman?" I said, "Look, we're gonna have to redress this wig". And of course it was done, at great expense. Thank God for my stepping in. Yeah, but you see, here's the thing. I bet you there are certain directors who would not have contradicted that. And gone ahead and said, Oh, you know, who cares? It's wrong. Like Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing Henry The Eighth. And not ageing one minute. No. Giving him a goatee and that's it. Yeah, yeah. So, but thank God, it didn't happen that way. Because I wanted her - I mean, we all know what Wallis Simpson looked like. Yes. Anyway, she looked uncannily like her. Then all subsidiary actors would just... ...I mean, I got some of the best actors in London, England to play the various roles. I gave Cherie Lunghi one of her first roles as Thelma Furness? Yes. And Patricia Hodge as Diana Cooper. Right. And we had the good luck to film at Fort Belvedere...
Darrol Blake 37:15
Ah, I was going to ask if you went to the fort.
Waris Hussein 37:17
Well, the fort exteriors. Yeah, however, it was very rundown. It was owned by the Lascelles family. The swimming pool was full of crap and mud. And we at enormous expense emptied it out, filled it up and shot there. The actual house amazingly, is tiny inside. And we built the interiors at Shepperton to match the exteriors.
Darrol Blake 37:43
Waris Hussein 37:44
Sorry - Twickenham, Thames Television! Teddington! Twickenham, Teddington, all of that - TTT. Wonderfully done, all matching the interiors, but giving us more leeway in cameras.
Darrol Blake 38:02
Yeah. Back to your multicam.
Waris Hussein 38:04
Darrol Blake 38:06
Waris Hussein 38:11
Daphne Laureola came about because Laurence Olivier was doing a series at Granada called Laurence Olivier Presents. Classic dramas, mainly it turns out, American ones. He did err...
Darrol Blake 38:24
Waris Hussein 38:24
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. He had Come Back Little Sheba. And so I was going to do - and I was contracted to do - A Patriot For Me. And I was thrilled, because actually that play is cumbersome onstage, but as a screenplay it works. And I was thrilled because I thought, "Oh, my God". They were talking about Albert Finney as Redl. They were talking about Olivier playing the Baron in the drag scene, which would have been fantastic. Can you imagine how he'd look dressed as Queen Mary! And I thought this is going to be sensational. And then Derek Granger as producer. And it was, I thought, going to be set in the studio. But for some reason they budgeted - because the thing is set in Vienna - for Vienna, and I said,"But I thought we could..." "No, no I'm afraid it's going to be too expensive". So they cancelled the show. And I'd already been contracted. And suddenly, because out of sheer desperation I think, Larry said "Daphne Laureola" which he had produced on stage with Edith Evans and Peter Finch, who'd been brought from Australia actually, in those days. I was suddenly lumbered with this piece. It's quite an interesting piece, but quite stagey. It's all set in a restaurant and where this woman sings a lot. And then in Hampstead, her back garden of the Hampstead house up in... Totally different to anything I was contracted to do.
Darrol Blake 40:01
With Joany, presumably?
Waris Hussein 40:03
Well Joan was now cast.
Darrol Blake 40:08
That being Joan...?
Waris Hussein 40:10
Plowright. Yeah, yeah, but Joan Plowright, sorry, yes, I should have mentioned that of course. Lady Olivier.
Darrol Blake 40:15
Was she related to anybody at Granada?
Waris Hussein 40:18
She was indeed. Her brother being David. But I think rather like Elizabeth was doing a favour to her husband, Joan was doing a favour to Larry. And here's the rub. Joan called me up and said, "Can you come down to Brighton to see me?" I said "Yes." They were living in those days in Brighton. I went to see her and she said "Larry isn't here. And I asked you specifically to be here when he's not here. Why am I doing this part?" I said, "But Joan, I thought you..." "No I'm doing it because Larry's asked me. I am not Edith Evans." I said, "No, you're not."She said, "Well, I certainly won't play it like that". And I said, "No, you're not. Let me... ...Joan let's let's sit down discuss this. I don't think... ...I think everything will be fine. Let me just do a bit of research and get back to you". So I did and I then found out that this play had been written for Fay Compton and it was sitting on the desk of, in those days, the company that did all of the theatre...
Darrol Blake 41:31
Waris Hussein 41:32
Tennants. Yes. Binky. Binky Beaumont's desk. Yeah. And Edith Evans swept in and said, "Well, what is there for me?" And she said, "What's this?" picked it up, went away, called and said to Binky Beaumont, "I love it. I'd love to do it". So, Fay was left out of the picture. However, there are clues in the script where the character turns out to be a vicar's daughter, who was highly intelligent, but impecunious, wanted to go to university but had been thwarted because she was a woman and was ultimately married off to a very rich man, much older than herself who treasured her. She's now trapped, loves him in her own way, but feels put upon and therefore takes to drink. Hence all the scenes in the club where she starts to sing, and hence the young admirer who follows her all the way to Hampstead and her ambivalence towards herself and her relationship with that old and ageing husband, who in the garden, realising - he catches them. He catches the young man actually kissing the woman who reluctantly...
Darrol Blake 43:03
Who were the two men?
Waris Hussein 43:07
The young [old] man was was Larry and the young man was played by a young actor who I've lost sight of now. He played the Peter Finch role. Yes. In the scene in the garden, Larry's sitting in his chair, more or less doing a monologue about dying and about infidelity. And, calls her his hepplewhite. "I've never collected anything more beautiful, pure hepplewhite". And she says, "Oh, you collected me, did you?" All the key to the idea? Age difference? Marriage difference? It was almost uncannily like Larry and Joan. Yes. Little did I play on that. But I mean, I think they both knew. Larry gives one of the best performances of his career, I think, not that I directed it any more than I did in that scene, where he talks about dying, and about being married to her.
Darrol Blake 44:10
How was it received?
Waris Hussein 44:11
Very well. Very well. But very talky piece, very theatrical piece, no exteriors.
Darrol Blake 44:19
Waris Hussein 44:20
Multicam. The back garden in Hampstead is a marvel of design. Because not only do you get the interior of the house, whether it starts off in a sort of conservatory, yeah, where they're all sitting around, and then the garden, which is a whole length of the studio. Beautifully designed. I'm trying to remember- I think it was Richard Henry. Maybe?
Darrol Blake 44:45
Wouldn't be at Granada.
Waris Hussein 44:46
He was not Granada. Who would have been a Granada designer?
Darrol Blake 44:51
I'm not up on Granada designers.
Waris Hussein 44:53
Or freelance perhaps?
Darrol Blake 44:54
Yeah, could be.
Waris Hussein 44:55
I'll have to look it up. But...
Darrol Blake 44:56
Yeah, not to worry, not to worry. Can we go on to one of your many TV movies which seems to be cropping up? Yeah, Arch of Triumph. What was that? Was that Paris?
Waris Hussein 45:10
Another famous work. It's based on a novel. Same writer who wrote "All Quiet On The Western Front" Erich Maria Remarque. It's a love story set just prior to the second world war about displaced people, refugees in Paris. And it ends with the invasion of Paris by the Germans, and displacement of people. About a woman who doesn't have a focus on life and a man who's a refugee from Germany. Played... ...and it was done originally as a feature film years ago with Ingrid Bergman. And it was not a huge hit. It had...
Darrol Blake 45:55
How was that setup? Was that an American production?
Waris Hussein 45:58
It was an American production.
Darrol Blake 45:59
Waris Hussein 46:00
No, it was going to be shot by Harlech. Harlech had an agreement. Now, the producer, Peter Graham Scott was going to do it and he said, "We're going to do it very, very - for instance - the scene on the bridge over the Seine we'll simply imply it with lighting and the way you shoot it, Waris, against black drapes." I said, "Peter, stop. Either we do right or we don't do it at all. I think we've got to really think this thing through". Well, I managed to persuade the Head of Drama in those days who - you know Darrol you're gonna have to prompt me. His son then took The Bush Theatre.
Darrol Blake 46:48
Waris Hussein 46:50
Patrick Dromgoole, yeah. Patrick Dromgoole - I persuaded him. I said, "Patrick, let's sit down and discuss this. You can't do black drapes for American TV anyway. I know you can say go, find a location in Bristol to look like Paris. And it won't work. Why can't we at least try and make this happen? And you've got Tony Hopkins for God's sake". But in those days, he wasn't as big as he is. Now. He hadn't done his big films yet. But he was wonderful, Tony. Anyway. It was a remake of a film. And Ingrid Bergman had been the lead. Charles, Charles Boyer had been the lover and Charles Laughton had been the villain, the Nazi villain. In ours, it's set in wartime, in pre-war Paris. We had Lesley Ann Down and Donald Pleasance played the Nazi. My lovely friend, Jane Martin designed it, she did a brilliant job. We shot the exteriors in Paris streets, and that bridge over the Seine - lovely stuff. Couldn't have done it anywhere else. They shot the interiors in an aircraft hangar in Bristol, where we created an entire hotel complex a la 1940s and she even did a courtyard. So we had him sitting in a window. And across the courtyard, we saw another hotel with windows and people inside. It was through a series of flats. Again, television design. Yeah. So it's a love story. And I got George De La Rue to do the music. Jules Et Jim. Yeah, yeah. Wonderful man. He loved working on it because it was a French subject. Yeah. Because we did the music in LA. And he said to me - I said to Mr. De La Rue "I remember Jules Et Jim. I would love music almost exactly the same". And he used the Jules Et Jim music as for a temp track when? Right. So that was - it was very, very well received.
Darrol Blake 49:10
Right? Another television movie was Onassis. Richest Man In The World?
Waris Hussein 49:18
Oh, my goodness. Based on another book by Peter Evans. Four hours.
Darrol Blake 49:25
Four one-hours you mean.
Waris Hussein 49:26
Darrol Blake 49:28
Oh, I see.
Waris Hussein 49:28
Two two-hours each. Big miniseries - took me to Greece, where we tried to get the original Christina - the yacht - which is now lying rotting in Piraeus Harbour.
Darrol Blake 49:45
Was this based in the States or or were you working out of...?
Waris Hussein 49:48
Its was an American production, based out of London. Yeah, that's their way of getting out of the DGA agreements. And although I'm a member of the Directors Guild, I can work as a British person as well. So that's the advantage of hiring people like myself. They get out of all sorts of taxation and stuff. Greece turned out to be a disaster. And we got a crew all ready, and we had to lay them all off. And it was about to close down. And then I said, "For God's sake, don't close it down. We can go to Spain. Spain looks like Greece in certain areas". I mean, Scorpios, the island, that could be in Majorca. Anyway, they did bring it back, and we shot all of it in Madrid and in the south and Cadiz and Seville.
Darrol Blake 50:39
Who played Onassis for you?
Waris Hussein 50:42
Interesting. You see now in America you don't cast according to the way someone looks. You go according to the fame, right? In this case, the fame belonged to a wonderful actor called Raul Julia. Oh, yes. And Raul is six foot one. Yes. Doesn't resemble Onassis at all. I tried to introduce them to David Suchet, who would have been far better physically, because the whole point about Onassis was that he was shorter than his leading ladies. That was his whole thing. And he screwed a lot of women and they were all taller than he was. But anyway, it didn't matter. Raul was the Onassis.
Darrol Blake 51:20
Waris Hussein 51:20
And the other money that I was more or less told I had to have was Jane Seymour, who at that time was riding very high in television. Yeah - cue rating - as Maria Callas. She apologised profusely to me about having been cast without my permission. Took me out to a very expensive lunch. I said, "Jane, I'm sure you'll be wonderful". I offered the Jackie part to various American actresses. And they turned it down because in the script, she was portrayed as a bitch.
Darrol Blake 51:20
And she was still alive at that point.
Waris Hussein 52:03
Oh, yeah. No she'd gone. Jackie was - oh, no wait a minute - Jackie was? Was she still alive? When did we make this? No, I think she'd gone.
Darrol Blake 52:12
I beg your pardon. 88?
Waris Hussein 52:16
Yes. I think she - was she still alive?
Darrol Blake 52:18
I thought she was. I think she died in the 90s.
Waris Hussein 52:22
I don't know. Anyway fact was... She was an icon in America. Yeah. So I had to then literally try and find somebody to play her. And I said British actresses. But with Jane playing a Greek...
Darrol Blake 52:41
...and being English anyway.
Waris Hussein 52:44
English any way. I then called my mate, Francesca Annis. She said, "Oh." I said "Francesca please read the script. It's a great part". And she said "But Waris I'd have to study her". And anyway, she agreed, because the fee was quite generous in American terms. And not just because of that, but partly 'cos I wanted her to do it anyway, because of me. But she read the part. And she agreed. Now here's the rub. She wanted to look at material on Jackie. Yeah. Funnily enough there's very little of Jackie actually talking. A lot of material on her images. The one that actually she spoke in was when she did a tour of the White House as the First Lady. Yes. So we got the tape and Francesca studied it. Yeah. And in it, she speaks like Marilyn Monroe. Yes. Yes. Terribly girly voice. Yeah. And so Francesca got the role. And now we started to shoot. We're in Spain. And the rushes go all the way to America - takes three days to go there, three days to come back. Not quite because they then phone in their reactions. Yes. You can imagine a row of executives sitting with yellow pads making notes in America. My producer takes me aside and says "We've just had a report on the rushes. Waris, they're very concerned about Francesca Annis." I said, "Oh, what's the problem?" "Well, what's this little girly voice she's speaking with?" I said, "But that's exactly how she spoke." "Yes, yes, yes. But you see, the problem is most of the executives don't know that and therefore neither do any of the American public. They will think this is an English actress being very bad. So, I think what you're going to have to do is to go to her and tell her that you just have to go back to her normal voice with an American accent". I said, "But Frank" - this is Frank Koenigsberg, the producer - " This is not my job. You should go as a producer". "Oh I can't do that. I think you've got to go and do it". So I had to go and talk to Francesca. "Francesca, sit down and let me tell you something. They don't think that your voice is right". She said "But Waris...". I said, "Look, do me a favour. Can you just drop the trying to be like Jackie, just play it with an American accent?" And she said, "Well, what about the first three days rushes?" I said, "We'll have to loop them". And that's what happened. So, these are the things you have to deal with.
Darrol Blake 55:42
Yeah. Oh, yes. Yeah.
Waris Hussein 55:52
I did a whole spate of American films by this time.
Darrol Blake 55:55
Yes. Yes. Now the one I've next on my list is Shell Seekers, which was the next year.
Waris Hussein 56:00
Darrol Blake 56:01
Waris Hussein 56:02
The Shell Seekers? Hmm. Have we done Princess Daisy yet? Is that mentioned at all?
Darrol Blake 56:09
I'm sure it's on the list, but I haven't I haven't. I haven't pulled it out as a... ...here it is. We've passed that.
Waris Hussein 56:16
We passed that?
Darrol Blake 56:19
Waris Hussein 56:19
Was that before Onassis?
Darrol Blake 56:21
Oh, yes. Oh, that five years before?
Waris Hussein 56:24
Well, Princess Daisy. Yeah, just to mention it very quickly, was a potboiler. It was very much pulp fiction, you know.
Darrol Blake 56:34
American TV movie?
Waris Hussein 56:36
Judith Krantz - American television. She's one of the biggest bestsellers along with Barbara Taylor Bradford, and there was a spate of miniseries done in America, which are based on these rom coms. And and Princess Daisy was one of these dramas. And because of its money, believe it or not, for instance, I was flown. We had five different locations. Los Angeles, New York, London and Normandy. That's four different locations. But we flew from one to the other. First Class airfares. We shot in each city as we went along. From New York, to go ahead of the crew, I was flown by Concorde to Paris. And the cast consisted of unknowns, such as Rupert Everett. I even got... ...we had Claudia Cardinale, Stacy Keach. I mean, yeah, this is not chopped liver.
Darrol Blake 57:42
No. But it was enjoyable and worked on its level or?
Waris Hussein 57:53
It was pulp fiction of a kind where money was spent on costumes and locations. It was glossy. Everything had to be glossy. Yeah, you could not afford to do anything other than gloss. And I realised this. I unfortunately - oh, I forgot to tell you Ringo Starr was in it Oh, I got him to play a part with his wife Barbara Bach. In it there was supposed to be a bisexual couple who were supposed to corrupt our heroine. And we couldn't in America imply bisexuality. It was verboten. But what I did do is I put Ringo into a bath full of bubbles, a bubble bath, and the entire scene is him sitting smoking a sheroot, while his wife paints his toenails green and they discuss Daisy.
Darrol Blake 58:57
Waris Hussein 58:58
Now if you have any idea of the subtlety of this, that was my way.
Darrol Blake 59:05
That was how subtle the film got.
Waris Hussein 59:09
Okay, so Ringo (I'd forgotten to mention him) was our major star. Rupert, by the way, had not yet made his mark, so that was another story. But anyway, huge hit - ha ha ha. It kept my career going in America. It also paid my bills.
Darrol Blake 59:25
Yes which is vital, I found.
Waris Hussein 59:28
It is vital.
Darrol Blake 59:29
Yeah, sorry. I've got myself lost now.
Waris Hussein 59:32
So we won't be out of time? Oh Shell Seekers...
Darrol Blake 59:32
Yes Shell Seekers.
Waris Hussein 59:35
Shell Seekers based on another book. Rosamund Pilcher was in the best selling charts for almost a year. Top of the bestseller list - about an English family. Wonderful thing. I loved doing it. We shot entirely... ...it was American production shot, in England. Hallmark - Hallmark production.
Darrol Blake 59:59
Waris Hussein 1:00:01
Everything. No! Studio. We did some Shepperton interiors. What it was was, it was set in London, Cotswolds, Ibiza and the Cotswolds sequences were cottage exteriors, wonderful cottages, and the interior was built on the studio floor at Shepperton. Ibiza was for real. We found a real Finca. It was gorgeous.
Darrol Blake 1:00:32
Waris Hussein 1:00:33
Cornwall - beautiful. Cornwall was - that was all location. St Ives.
Darrol Blake 1:00:40
Yeah, yeah. And, in fact, I saw it on the box last week.
Waris Hussein 1:00:43
No, you saw Vanessa Redgrave.
Darrol Blake 1:00:45
Ah - it was a different one.
Waris Hussein 1:00:46
That was not mine. Oh, it's so interesting. Mine is I might tell you... ...Vanessa was the perfect lead in it. We did ours way before that and the casting there was not half as good as mine. Patricia Hodge played the daughter. Yes. Anna Carteret played the other daughter. Michael Gough played Brookner. The husband was... ...the lover, the older lover in Ibiza was played by Dennis Quilley. Did they go to Spain in that one? Did they go to Ibiza? I don't know. But they did go to Cornwall. Yeah. But Piers Haggard did it. Piers - it was so funny. Piers didn't even realise a version had been... ...this was a German company who were intent on doing Rosmand Pilcher stories, for some reason. They did theirs much after mine. I wanted in mine, when I was casting it (because the woman who has to be of a certain age, she's actually supposed to be dying) and Vanessa would have been perfect, but she wasn't considered. There was an embargo on Vanessa, by the way, in that time politically, politically. I wanted Anne Bancroft who had done a wonderful Pumpkin Eater because she could play English. And they were all saying, "Well, nobody knows who she is - she's Broadway. And she's not gotten the TV cue". And then out of the blue a letter was written to the head of NBC from Angela Lansbury. Could she please be considered? But having done Murder, She Wrote it automatically went to her. So I had to deal with Angela. She was fine.
Darrol Blake 1:01:24
Yeah, I'm sure.
Waris Hussein 1:02:33
I'd love you to see it actually, in contrast to the other one, because I think I did a bloody good job, right. Anyway, Angela played the lead. Yeah. And Sam Wanamaker played her lover in the present.
Darrol Blake 1:01:59
Right. Sorry, I confused the two.
Waris Hussein 1:01:59
No, no, there's no reason why you shouldn't. They use the same title and same...
Darrol Blake 1:02:53
Clothes In The Wardrobe?
Waris Hussein 1:02:54
Clothes In The Wardrobe. Wonderful. Well, Jeanne Moreau. Yes. And Julie Walters and Joan Plowright. Yes. Guess what - produced by Norma Heyman. John Heyman's ex wife and David's mum. The Heyman family has featured heavily in my life. I was called up one day on a Friday: "Waris are you available?" I said "Yes". "Well, it is rather awkward. We're filming at the moment with Jeanne Moreau and I'm afraid we're going to have to replace the director. Would you be available to take over?" I said, "Well, Jeanne Moreau. I don't even need to read the script". So she said, "Well, the script will be sent to you by cab" and it arrived. And I read it. "Yes, I'd love to do this. But I need to - are you still shooting?" "Yes, yes". I said, "Well, I need to see the material". She said "Well, we'll show you whatever we have. But unfortunately, we have to continue shooting over the weekend because we've got crowd scenes". I said "You mean to say you're going to shoot with the director you're planning to fire?" And she said "Yes". So I then said "Well, alright, but I'm going to need a few days".
Darrol Blake 1:04:18
Can you name names at this point?
Waris Hussein 1:04:21
Darrol Blake 1:04:22
The man you're replacing? I presume it was a man.
Waris Hussein 1:04:25
I think it's awfully unfair to to mention people or not, maybe not.
Darrol Blake 1:04:31
Waris Hussein 1:04:32
Should we talk about...?
Darrol Blake 1:04:33
Yes, go on. You can embargo this bit if you're like.
Waris Hussein 1:04:38
No, it's not a question of embargoing. It's just that the poor guy... ...I mean I just feel terrible.
Darrol Blake 1:04:44
Well, one would.
Waris Hussein 1:04:46
He was the same one who did A Private Practice (sic) [A Private Function] by Michael what's his name? Great, Alan Bennett. Alan Bennett wrote A Private Practice (sic) about the pig in the war. Do you know the one I mean?
Darrol Blake 1:05:02
Oh, yes, yes. I can't think of his name either. Sorry. I interrupted. Go on.
Waris Hussein 1:05:07
Anyway, he was being replaced. Yeah. And, to make it even more bizarre, on the weekend the editor was on holiday. We had to get him back. He'd taken the weekend off. I had to call him back because I needed to see the rushes. Yeah. And when I saw them I sat at the BBC in the editing rooms back then, in those days. And "What's happening," I said, "Are there any close ups of Jeanne Moreau?" And he said, "Well, no." I said "?" but I rang up Norma. I said "Norma, there seems to be all this material, but all we've got of Jeanne is over shoulders and long shots". And she said, "That's the whole point, Waris. He hasn't been covering her". And...
Darrol Blake 1:05:56
Sorry, can you cut? Yeah.
Waris Hussein 1:06:00
This was pretty ghastly, the fact that I was doing this. Yeah. Anyway, I had to go and see Jeanne Moreau. Yeah, with Joan - no, with Norma Heyman. Jeanne presented herself with her hair pulled back, just looking the way she normally does. And I said "Miss Moreau, I've been a great admirer". She said "Don't admire me, just direct me". So that was my meeting with her. But anyway, now going back to this editing thing. And what had happened was that Malcolm Mowbray had asked to see Jeanne's work and was not familiar with it. So they sent all these videos of Jeanne in things like Jules Et Jim, yes, Sailor From Gibraltar. Various other things of hers - Lift To The Scaffold. Now the point was, when she turned up in person, she obviously got much older. Yes, so Malcolm Mowbray apparently turned to the DOP, whose name I've forgotten conveniently as well, because he was not nice. They apparently turned to each other. And Malcolm said, "What the hell are we gonna do with her?" Yeah. And he apparently said, "Well, try and avoid." Now, not knowing that this lady is as canny as you can get and knows that she's not getting coverage. Yeah. And apparently, this is hearsay, because I wasn't witnessing to it. She and Joan sat down and said, and she said to Joan or Joan said to her, "Is this ship sinking?" I think Jeanne said, "Yes, it is. And I don't intend to go down with it". Right. So she went to Norma said, "It's either him or us." So that's what happened. I was dragged in. They stopped for two days, shooting. That's all they could afford to do. I had to then look, not only at the rushes, but rush around looking at the locations that had been chosen. They're all real locations. So it was a suburban house in North London. And then for some reason, Malcolm had chosen another house, which was supposed to be adjacent (they're supposed to be next door to each other) - with a golf course in between! He chose the other house in South London. So in one house was in North London, the other was in South London.
Darrol Blake 1:08:24
Creating shots are difficult!
Waris Hussein 1:08:26
Well, you couldn't do it. So I thought this, I said, "This is so bizarre". And they'd already shot stuff, so I couldn't even... So now there was also location about to happen in Egypt, where he'd already done his location hunting. And I said, "Look, I can't just go to Egypt. I've got to go there ahead of the crew. But first of all, let's get the London stuff done". So we had to then squeeze into tiny kitchens and, I mean, it was unbelievably difficult for me. And the costumes had all been set. I had to watch the stuff. [Audio mute]
Waris Hussein 1:09:06
Egypt, we're gonna go.
Okay, that's camera speed.
Waris Hussein 1:09:10
So we were at Clothes In The Wardrobe. We having finished shooting in London, we then went to Egypt, to do the Egyptian stuff. And when I arrived ahead, I took the writer with me, Martin Sherman, and Norma - we arrived in Luxor and I was shown what had been chosen. And I turned around and said, "But you could have put a palm tree up in one of the pits around here, where Doctor Who used to be shot and say it was Egypt, but this isn't Egypt. What has he chosen?" So there was panic, and I said, "Can we at least look at what we have?" And I then walked to the Temple of Luxor. I said, "Can't we shoot here?" "No, no, we can't do that. The permits have to be got from Cairo - takes up to six months." I said "Oh for God's sake, let's please do it." Do you know what? I don't know whether we got permission or not. But we managed to shoot amongst those wonderful temples. I've a whole sequence of them walking through temples. And he had chosen, in all fairness, a villa by the Nile. The private villa, which we also shot in, outside. So I use that, but the locations that I created, were entirely mine. And they worked wonderfully. And so we got away with that. And the show actually, was, I thought one of the best things I've done, I had to match - oh, that was the other interesting thing - I had to match up some of the stuff that's been shot that Sunday, which was an art gallery sequence with the crowd. And I couldn't do that sequence. I had to get my characters into close shots because I had to show paintings of what we had shot in Egypt, because some of the paintings are supposed to have been painted in Egypt. So it was all very skillfully done, where we got the crowd scenes and the close ups of my people looking at the paintings and the paintings themselves, which had to be recreated again in a set. We then... ...I think, I think that the film itself got made. We loved it. The BBC in their wisdom, should have held it because we were heading for Oscar season. And we managed to sell it to the Goldwyn Company as a feature, because it got very nice reviews in America. They wanted to enter it for Jeanne Moreau's performance. The BBC, in their wisdom, broadcast it the week before the nominations went in, thereby cutting it dead for nomination because it was shown on television first but not in the cinema. Right? Same thing's happening just now because Behind The Candelabra has been made by HBO for television - doesn't qualify for the Oscars.
Darrol Blake 1:12:30
And I've read great notices for that.
Waris Hussein 1:12:32
I'm going to see it. I want to see it very badly. But so here we've got this awful situation where Jeanne could have been nominated. Yeah. And possibly won. So yeah. That's luck of the drawer as they say.
Darrol Blake 1:12:46
Yeah. Yeah, indeed. So another lady Pamela Harriman.
Waris Hussein 1:12:51
Yes. A real life lady. Yes. Who became the first British-born woman to become an ambassador at Paris for America. The reason for that was it was a thank you on Bill Clinton's part for getting him into the White House. Right. She used her influence through her husband, Averell. But of course, her life was a chequered past. Yes, she was known as L'auraisiontalle. And however, I have to say, the privilege of working with the wonderful Ann-Margret, who is brilliant at a British accent, and she gave a consummate performance as Pamela. We weren't allowed to go delve into her sexual... ...the darker deeds, but we made her into quite a character.
Darrol Blake 1:13:35
How was that set up? Obviously it was American production.
Waris Hussein 1:13:38
American, totally shot in America - even 'Paris'. We found... ...oh, that's another story. I could find, at the American Embassy, interiors which were all very grand, you see. And I found this mansion built in the French style by a Russian dentist's wife, who had created the entire Fontainbleau Palace to look like her's. And we shot it there at the interiors - it was wonderful, gloriously vulgar, but with all the right ingredients.
Darrol Blake 1:14:21
Yes, yeah. What was that? That was a one off, was it?
Waris Hussein 1:14:25
It was a movie? Yeah. Television. Lifetime Television.
Darrol Blake 1:14:29
Yeah. So then, Her Best Friend's Husband.
Waris Hussein 1:14:37
Husband Again shot in... ...this was an American production movie for television, for Lifetime. Yeah. This funnily enough, came up. It was an idea of mine, you see. It was... My idea was... ...do you remember that film, where Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft played old friends? Where one was a ballet dancer. They'd been friends together and then it fell apart. Anyway, I wanted to do a film because there's very short... ...there are very few films for older women. I wanted to do a film about two best friends, one of whom would - and I wanted to write it because I'd work with Ann-Margret and loved her very much. Ann-Margret, and Sophia Loren, two wonderful looking women in their 60s. One would be an Italian, obviously, the other American. It was about a woman in grief, whose son gets killed and she's obsessed by her son. He gets - she's resentful of his engagement to a young woman. Anyway, he gets killed in a car crash at the beginning. And she's now in total grief. She's very well off. But she's...
Darrol Blake 1:14:55
Which one is this? the American or...?
Waris Hussein 1:15:45
Ann-Margret, she's the rich widow. And she doesn't know what to do with herself. And she gets this invitation to go to Florence (I wanted to shoot in Florence) by a best friend who was an Italian countess, to come to Florence. And she does, she goes reluctantly, but to heal herself. And the two women are very fond of each other. And the woman says (this is all my idea, by the way). And she's trying to repair herself, goes to galleries and things like that. Now, Sophia has a son who she dominates, who she's arranged this marriage, this dynastic marriage, to a Florentine family. And of course, the location is wonderful outside. And the son is very much against being dominated and trying very hard to find himself. He's very sensitive, artistic, likes to go to the Uffizi a lot. And so does Ann-Margret. Older woman, younger man.
Darrol Blake 1:17:01
Waris Hussein 1:17:02
And reluctantly, she allows herself into a relationship, which of course betrays her friendship with her best friend. Crisis. And there's this huge scene where they confront each other. Well, I presented all this to the network. "Wonderful idea. But - no location in Italy. Too expensive. Foreign filming is now no longer in. Sophia can be in New York and Ann-Margret can be in Los Angeles. And we can still do the love story if we do it that way." And then the next thing is, "Actually how old are these two women?" I said, "Well, in their 60s." "No, no, no, they can't be older than 40". So I said, "But the whole idea was to..." "No, no sorry, Waris, it's not going to work for television. We're going to have to rethink this whole thing. We know you love Ann-Margret, but..." Ends up with us looking for 40 year olds. I'm now in Toronto casting. We're offering it to - oh, the network gives you a list. They even thought of a Country & Western couple, husband and wife. Because now it's not going to be a love affair between a young man and... It's going to be the husband. She has an affair with her best friend's husband. Hence the title. Yeah. I'm now locked into this project. And I can't extricate myself because if I did I never work again. Besides which I need the fee. Yeah. We're in in Toronto looking at locations.
Darrol Blake 1:18:59
For New York?
Waris Hussein 1:19:00
For supposedly for New York. Yes. And I get... ...my producer has a phone call. She said "A plane's just flown into one of the buildings in New York". I said "Oh, was it a Cessna or something, a private plane?" She said "Well, my niece is coming from Los Angeles. And apparently all traffic's stopped". She said "We'd better get on with our location hunt". So we spent the entire day during a location. I get back to the hotel, turn on the telly. And what??! The world has fallen to pieces. Oh my God! I called up Gene. "Gene have you just watched the telly?" "Yes, I know. It's absolute disaster. All flights are cancelled. Nobody to move anywhere, let alone actors." Because the leads have to come from America. The rest are being cast in Canada, to play Americans. Now no scripts can be sent by FedEx, no actors. But even though when that embargo stopped, when you could send overnight...
Darrol Blake 1:20:13
How closewere you to shooting?
Waris Hussein 1:20:17
Two weeks, two to three weeks. No cast. No American wanted to fly. We could not get a single person to get on the plane. Now, permutations of who we could... Well, one actress, you know, who I think needed the work but had was well known; Cheryl Ladd from Charlie's Angels. "Let's get the two women from Charlie's Angels to play as the two best friends". In the end she wouldn't say "Yes" - the woman who played the other dark Angel. She married Tony Richmond.
Darrol Blake 1:21:01
Waris Hussein 1:21:02
Jaclyn Smith. "No, no" she said "No". So in the end, we ended up... ...I read a review with an actress called Bess Armstrong. And Bess Armstrong - the network said, "Well..." (anyway, we are now close to the wire) agrees to do it. She turns up onset - blonde hair, the same as Cheryl Ladd's. And we now had two actresses playing blondes. I said "No, no. We've got to dye someone's hair". Now Cheryl said "Not mine. I'm known for being blonde. Bess do you mind having your hair done?" "Well, I suppose so". It's a weekend now. We shoot on Monday. No rehearsal. They hire a hairdresser to come in, at high expense, risking everything, because the hair could have gone disastrously wrong. Anyway, he managed to give her reddish hair. And we start shooting on Monday. And meanwhile hysteria is raining down in America and in everywhere - the world! Yeah. And in this swirl of hysteria, I'm shooting this thing called Her Best Friend's Husband from my idea for which, by the way, I get executive producer, as well as director credit.
Darrol Blake 1:22:24
Waris Hussein 1:22:25
I think a little bit more money. We shoot finish shooting. And then the American cast are flying back with me, with the producer was also American. And one of them said "Are you alright about getting back in?" I said "Back in where?" - because you cross the border in Toronto, you don't do it in America. The border is in Toronto, at the airport, to go into America. Right. And they said, "Well, you know, maybe we should help you get through." I said, "Yeah". With my name and my looks I could have been arrested. Yes. So they went ahead of me to the immigration and said something. So when I pushed my trolley through the immigration said, "Oh, hi. Welcome back home. You've been directing Cheryl Ladd. She's one of my favourites!" I said, "Well..." "How is she to work with?" I said "Terrific". I was welcomed back with open arms because Cheryl Ladd went ahead and said "Please be nice to my director. He's very nice and not a terrorist". So that's, that's my adventure and that was by the way, the last film I shot there. Since then - when was that? It was in 2001. But - Sixth Happiness we haven't mentioned, which was a film I shot for the BFI and the BBC.
Darrol Blake 1:24:02
Oh, in '97, it says here. In '97.
Waris Hussein 1:24:07
So that was...
Darrol Blake 1:24:10
Sorry. How much longer have we got?
Waris Hussein 1:24:13
Oh, I could finish this. It was sent to me as a script about a boy with brittle bone disease, set in the Parsee community in Bombay. It was from a book called Trying To Grow, written by a boy who has brittle bone disease - semi biographical fiction. I was asked to read the script. I loved it but it needed work. I met the writer and he was adorable and he's tiny. His legs are like this. He's in a wheelchair. Mind as sharp as that. Brilliant. I said, "Clearly, have you ever written a script before?" He said, "No. But I'm so film orientated that I just taught myself". I said, "Well, you're brilliant but there are things that you need to do and let me help you". So we worked on the script. And then I said, "Right now we have a problem. The character starts at eight to eighteen. How do we do this? We can't cast three different stages and the age with this disability". I said to the producers - oh, and it was the BFI in those days. His name was Gibson, Brian Gibson, or Bill Gibson. Was it Brian? (Yes). He ran the BFI. And I went to him and I said, "Look, I'm going to take a huge step here. Remember a film called The Tin Drum, where this little boy played somebody who grew up as an adult? And there was this incredible scene where the six year old is screwing a 40 year old woman. Now, that was to say the least a stretch. I'm going to ask you to give me that option. I would ask for Firdaus, who's never acted in his life to play the role from eight to 18. He's tiny". And they said, "Waris be it on your head." I took the risk otherwise, we couldn't have made the film. Yeah. So here was the decision. Firdaus was cast. I insisted on rehearsing with the cast who were cast in England. It's set in Bombay entirely. I got a fabulous young designer. We went to Bombay for a week, and we looked at the locations. Not even a week - I was down for four days, five days. She went around, and I looked at flats and apartments because most of the action takes place in the apartment because the boy can't move around. And we found one apartment that was perfect. She took measurements. She went out she got locks, doorknobs, light fixtures, everything. Trunk-loads of stuff. We came back and we built the interior at Three Mills in Bow. That's where we shot the Bombay apartment. We shot exteriors, actually in India for 10 days, but most of it was in the apartment. My cast consisted of a wonderful group of actors partly here, from here - British Asians and partly in Bombay. Nina Wardia played his sister. And this wonderful Indra Varma played... ...you know, these lovely people being very good, talented. Ahsen Bhatti - he played the boy. Souad Faress who's not actually Indian, but she played a Parsee. But the whole point was it was about a boy, a: boy who has the handicap physically b: as a Parsee which is a diminishing minority. That's why they they were anglophiles. Yeah, at the height of their fame during the Brits. And the British left, everything went downhill. Yeah. And on top of that he's gay. So I had to deal with the gay thing as well, and not be able to tell the Parsee community in Bombay we were shooting this, because they're very...
Waris Hussein 1:25:30
Religious. Yes. And did they know the book there?
Waris Hussein 1:28:28
They did know the book. But though very vaguely, yeah. The gay thing was much stronger in the script. We even had a kiss and all that. I mean, we had quite a lot. And there's one sequence where - the first time they kiss actually - is when the boy who plays his friend, who becomes his lover, is standing on the bed looking through a telescope. And our hero's lying on the bed. And he collapses on top of him by mistake. Now in reality, for Firdaus we had to be incredibly careful that this fall wouldn't break him. Yeah. I mean, I mean, we shot it and I mean, I was like this. And I said, "God, we're risking a hell of a lot for this one shot". We did it in one take, thank God! There was another sequence where a whole bookshelf collapses on him. I mean books - and we had to do fake books so that he wouldn't be hurt. Yeah. Very, very difficult for this boy and he used to get exhausted. We used to have to give him moments to recover.
Darrol Blake 1:29:34
And that went out on BBC?
Waris Hussein 1:29:36
Here's the rub. One BBC group had given the green light. Trust my luck! Another group came in... ...the new head of whatever. She hadn't been responsible for green-lighting it. She didn't know it. They scheduled it 11 o'clock on BBC Two on Oscar night. No one saw it. It got bought for distribution in America. Yeah. But once they bought it, they didn't know what to do with it. So got nice reviews, never got repeated on BBC. And do you know what? With the Paralympics, you'd have thought that...
Darrol Blake 1:30:09
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Waris Hussein 1:30:25
The place is in chaos. Yeah, they don't know their arse from their elbow. And Ben Stevenson is Head of Drama.
Darrol Blake 1:30:33
I don't know who that is.
Waris Hussein 1:30:34
Have you no? You know what he looks like? Looks like a 12 year old.
Darrol Blake 1:30:40
But a lot of people do now, or is he?
Waris Hussein 1:30:42
Well, yes. But even I didn't look like a 12 year old when I was 21, or something, yeah. No, the guy sanctioned stuff. I mean, 1 million an episode on Doctor Who now or more! Yeah. On all those special effects. Yeah, on scripts that were gradually going downhill.
Darrol Blake 1:31:00
That gives me the cue to ask you about the man who gave you the job in the very first place.
Waris Hussein 1:31:06
B y the way, I don't know whether you should hear me saying, Ben Stevenson doesn't know his ass from his elbow?
Darrol Blake 1:31:11
Don't worry, don't worry. He'll have passed on by the time this is seen. We talked, I talked about mentors and people, patrons and things. And we didn't have a name for the man who put you on the BBC training course in the first place. Head of Drama was at that time...?
Waris Hussein 1:31:31
Michael Barry. Ah, now that's something we should mention, because I'd done this production of Caesar & Cleopatra, which had got wonderful notices, which was a student production. Now to pay tribute to a Head of Drama, who at that time was Michael Barry, who presumably read the reviews, which were in the national papers - The Times and The Guardian - which are excellent - The Telegraph. I got a phone call from the BBC asking if I would book two seats for the play, which was running at the Arts Theatre at Cambridge. And he not only came to see it, and went back, but when I was applying for a job, obviously he had knowledge of my work. And I suspect he put in a word for me to put me into the trainee course that I finally was recruited for. And so I have to say that I have to be very thankful to someone like him, who gave me the opportunity to get into the BBC. He was then replaced by Sydney Newman, of course subsequently.
Darrol Blake 1:32:39
Oh, yes. Yes, I'm way on. Okay.
Five minutes left.
Darrol Blake 1:32:43
Is there anything we've not talked about that you think you ought to mention?
Waris Hussein 1:32:48
Maybe we should talk about what I would like to do? Yes. Because I still haven't given up. No, no, I feel that one of the things that I'm very strong about is ageism. We all have experience. And we are still in a position to do what we do while our creative wheels are turning. I mean, let's face it, some of the A-listers today amongst the directorial group, are people like Martin Scorsese. And people like Steven Spielberg, but they've already created their situations. The fact that I'm not on an A list does not mean to say that I'm not creative, or capable. And on that level alone, I would say that I'm still trying to do things. I actually have to make a film about the Burton / Taylor experience, with actors playing them and someone playing me or whatever. I may not even end up by directing it. But I want to do it as a film. I joke about something like My Week With Marilyn is my two months with the Burtons. And the other thing I want to do is that I'm involved on it. But I'm involved with a producer who's working on and trying to finance a most wonderful script. It's Shakespeare, based on The Winter's Tale. And I know Shakespeare is not box office, but I see that there's one just opening called Much Ado. (Yes). Which apparently is very good.
Darrol Blake 1:34:07
Shot in somebody's back garden.
Waris Hussein 1:34:09
Yes. So if that can happen. I firmly believe that our version of The Winter's Tale can happen, but it needs casting. Yes. That's a whole other story. But in other words, I'm not giving up. I want to continue as best I can.
Darrol Blake 1:34:26
Waris Hussein 1:34:28
Good ending isn't it?
Darrol Blake 1:34:29
Brilliant. Yes, thank you very much.
End of Interview