The Prendergast File

This quite short film is something of a curio but one I was pleased to see very recently  on Talking Pictures – the UK Television channel that is unique in it’s style and understands – as none of the other TV stations seem to do – that there are millions of us out there wanting to see those films of the fifties or before that even – many of them would never have seen the light of day but for Talking Pictures.

The Prendergast File was made in lovely Technicolor showing off the English countryside in summer to its very best advantage with the accent on the canal waterways we have here zig-zagging the country

There is humour thrown in because this is a spoof film from the ‘Ministry of Public Apathy’

Hugh Symons plays Samuel Prendergast, a civil servant in the ‘Department of Constructive Delays’  is sent by the ‘Ministry of Public Apathy’  to investigate the canals and report back with an eye on closure.

The sequence above and below has Samuel Prendergast reading a newspaper whilst standing on the deck of the barge – as we can see  his bowler hat is knocked off under the bridge which he seems to find quite funny

He has to report back on his findings and produce ‘a full report of recommendations which he duly does but it does not fit the brief of ‘inaction’ so his report is discarded

The film ends speculating on the whereabouts of Prendergast, who we seem to think has abandoned his civil service career – and maybe fallen in love with canals !!!

The other actors in the film are Mabel Cunningham, David Hutchings, Harry Barlow and Jack James – and all of these along with William Symons have one thing in common – they were all in this picture but never made another or seemed to appear in any TV programmes either – so their film careers were short lived – but very pleasant

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VE Day – and Dad’s Army 2016 on Television

VE Day was very memorable with street parties in every village – social distancing fully adhered to no doubt – and beautiful warm sunny weather – and then just to add perfection The Queen addressed us all with her usual beautifully and carefully chosen words that evoked Wartime Memories by her reference to standing on the Buckingham Palace Balcony -and her father – the King’s speech to the nation and then right up to date with an oblique reference to our current situation.

Then we had Dad’s Army 2016 – the latest film version with great performances from Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring and Bill Nighy as Sergeant Wilson.

Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring

Bill Nighy as Sergeant Wilson.

I love this version and think it was a well filmed story with terrific locations around Bridlington and Flamborough.

The casting was excellent. The characters were close enough to the original but still brought enough of their own interpretation to make something new.

By bringing Captain Mainwaring’s wife into the film – we never saw her in the TV series although she was frequently referred to – we added another dimension particularly when the final climatic action takes place.

Corporal Jones was still pursuing his ‘hinted at’ liaison with Mrs. Fox and Sergeant Wilson, as suave as ever, seemed close to losing his heart to Catherine Zeta Jones who was actually a German spy

She, in fact, was seen through quite quickly by Private Godfrey’s sisters played by Julia Foster and Annette Crosbie, but they were not listened to until close to the film’s end when they came up with information that really sealed it.

The final sequence saw Mainwaring heading the parade along with Sergeant Wilson through the streets of Walmington On Sea ( actually the old town of Bridlington ) through cheering crowds as three Spitfires swooped overhead – when I saw it in the Cinema on first release on the big screen, I felt like standing on my seat and cheering.

Also when Catherine Zeta Jones and Toby Jones are seen standing on the beach – filmed at Flamborough – and suddenly a German U Boat rises up out of the waters in front of them on that wide screen, I thought that was really impressive.

In a later interview, Holli Dempsey the young actress who played Vera, Pike’s girlfriend, said how enjoyable it was, and quite daunting, to play in this film with such a big cast of experienced and well known actors

Holli Dempsey and Catherine Zeta Jones approaching the film’s exciting climax

Catherine Zeta Jones has just clubbed Vera ( Holli Dempsey) to the ground

When the film was being made, there was much publicity, so when it was released I just had to be there and see it, and in fairness I did go with the intention of enjoying it and not being critical in comparing it with the original cast. That was, I know, inevitable but you just have to make adjustments mentally I think.

I, for one, was not disappointed – I thought and think that it is a good and very enjoyable film

Captain Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson head the parade through Walmington On Sea

Walmington On Sea – Bridlington Old Town

Walmington On Sea – Bridlington Old Town

Those Spitfires swoop overhead

We must not forget to mention that a couple of the original cast members appeared in this 2016 film – Frank Williams who played the vicar Reverend Timothy Farthing – and does so again here and Ian Lavender who as a very young man was Private Pike, here he plays Brigadier Pritchard

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The Thief of Bagdad – 1940 from Alexander Korda

Talking Pictures treated us a few days ago with a big film – Brought to us by Alexander Korda and starring John Justin, Sabu and Conrad Veidt

This 1940 Film is a great piece of fantasy and certainly is great entertainment. It has adventure, romance, song, a Miklos Rozsa score that one critic said is “a symphony accompanied by a film”

The Film was Directed by Michael Powell and it shows – it has his stamp all over it – The Thief of Bagdad is a towering triumph that takes us the audience to a spectacularly coloured world of adventure and magic.

The Colour and the camera angles and use of close-ups that hold the screen for longer that we are used to, reminds me of a later Michael Powell film ‘The Elusive Pimpernel in 1950 which was not a success – personally I think that was because David Niven was not the actor for the lead – much like he wasn’t a few years earlier in Bonnie Prince Charlie. 

With the right leading man, I reckon that The Elusive Pimpernel would have been a hit

The Thief of Bagdadwith may not be Michael Powell’s best film. We more remember him for the  such classics as The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, teamed up of course with his close colleaugue and friend Emeric Pressburger.

He first collaborated with Emeric on ‘The Spy in Black’ and I remember a story that Michael Powell himself told about his first meeting with Emeric Pressburger in AlexanderKorda’s stately office at Denham in the old house.  Mr Korda asked Emeric, who Michael Powell didn’t know at all at the time, to read out a summary of the screen play that he had written for this film.  On hearing it, Michael said that the author nearly fell off his chair whilst Korda remained sitting calmly watching the other’s reactions. Michael Powell thought it was brilliant – Emeric Pressburger had turned the story on its head , changed a man to a woman and so on – and Michael Powell thought ‘this man is a genius – I must work with him again’ – and the rest, as they say, is history.

John Justin a young actor made his film debut in this one – he was a classic handsome leading man of the era and Alexander Korda chose him and liked him

The Man Who Loved Redheads

The most compelling character, as he should be, is the villain Jaffar, played by the German actor Conrad Veidt with hypnotic eyes and a cruel laugh. The beautiful heroine is  a princess desired by both men, is played by June Duprez.

John Justin – Obituary from The Independent (UK)

John Justinian de Ledesma (John Justin), actor: born London 24 November 1917; married first Pola Nirenska (died 1992; marriage dissolved), second 1952 Barbara Murray (three daughters; marriage dissolved 1964), third 1970 Alison McMurdo; died London 29 November 2002.

A handsome actor with lean, matinée-idol looks in the style of Ivor Novello and Rex Harrison, John Justin will forever be associated with the first major role he played on screen, that of Prince Ahmed in the opulent Korda production The Thief of Bagdad. His film career, interrupted by the Second World War, was never as illustrious as that start promised, and he concentrated more on the theatre, where he had a long if variable reign as a star.

Born John Justinian de Ledesma in Knightsbridge, London, in 1917, he was the son of an Argentinian rancher and he spent much of his childhood in South America. He returned to England to be educated at Bryanston in Dorset but at 16 he left college and defied his father’s wishes by joining Plymouth Repertory Company. His grandmother payed for him to be trained at Rada, after which he joined John Gielgud’s repertory company for a season at the Queen’s Theatre in 1937, appearing in Richard II, The Merchant of Venice and The School for Scandal. The following year he played Hugh Randolph on stage in Dodie Smith’s delightful comedy drama about a large family, Dear Octopus (1938) and was the footman in The Importance of Being Earnest (1939).

He made his screen début with a bit role in the spy story Dark Journey (1937), produced by Alexander Korda and starring Vivien Leigh and Conrad Veidt, but his major break came when Korda cast him as the dashing hero in The Thief of Bagdad (1940). Though credited to three directors, the film was primarily the vision of its producer, Alexander Korda. “He controlled it totally,” said Justin, “and, effectively, he directed it.”

One of the most magical fantasy films ever made, with breathtaking sets designed by Vincent Korda, The Thief of Bagdad was a tremendous success. Korda originally wanted Jon Hall and Vivien Leigh to play the leading roles, but neither was available, so Justin and June Duprez won the parts. Alongside the portrait of venomous evil by Conrad Veidt and the exuberant enthusiasm of young Sabu, the pair made an engaging couple, with Justin’s aristocratic bearing, athleticism and melodious voice were assets that served him well as the story-book hero.

War broke out during production, but Justin was allowed to finish the film before starting service as a pilot in the RAF. Later he was given time off to appear in two propaganda films, providing brief love interest in Leslie Howard’s tribute to the women’s army, The Gentle Sex (1943), and playing a cameo role in Journey Together (1945), which promoted co-operation between British and American airmen.

After war service, he returned to the stage, perfectly cast as Robert Browning in The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Richmond, 1945) and playing Admetus in The Thracian Horses (Lyric, Hammersmith, 1946), a mock-Greek comedy co-starring Eileen Herlie. In the 1948 Stratford-upon-Avon season Justin’s several roles included lauded performances as Horatio to Paul Scofield’s Hamlet, Paris in Troilus and Cressida and Cassio in Othello. At the Scala Theatre in 1949 he played Mr Darling and Captain Hook in Peter Pan.

For Korda’s company, London Films, he appeared in The Angel with the Trumpet (1950), a sad tale of thwarted love and Nazi persecution starring Eileen Herlie. Justin told the writer Brian McFarlane,

Eileen wasn’t right for the part and the picture failed. It was the first time I played a role which aged from 22 to 75 – but not the last.

He had one of his best screen roles as a test pilot in David Lean’s The Sound Barrier (1952), sharing some notably tender scenes with Dinah Sheridan as his wife. In an enjoyable if implausible comedy thriller Hot Ice (1952), Justin co-starred with Barbara Murray, who became his second wife the same year (he had formerly married the Polish dancer, seven years his senior, Pola Nirenska). The couple had three daughters, but divorced in 1964.

20th Century-Fox offered Justin a non-exclusive contract in 1953 and he played major supporting roles in several films the studio made in the then-new CinemaScope process. In Henry King’s stirring adventure story King of the Khyber Rifles (1953), Justin was Tyrone Power’s rival for the hand of the General’s daughter (Terry Moore) and maliciously reveals that Power is a half-caste.

Justin was teamed again with King and Power in Untamed (1955), advertised by the studio as “Africolossal!”. As the husband of Susan Hayward, Justin is killed in a Zulu attack, leaving the way clear for Hayward and Power to get together. In Robert Rossen’s Island in the Sun (1957), a tedious film which became a hit due to its Caribbean locations and its controversial treatment of interracial romance, Justin was teamed romantically with Dorothy Dandridge.

Between Fox assignments Justin had starring roles in the theatre, though plays such as Miss Hargreaves (1952), with Margaret Rutherford, and the Hollywood satire Olive Ogilvy (1957) with Yolande Donlan, were not very successful.

He had a challenging star role in the film The Man Who Loved Redheads (1955), in which he again aged from a young man to an old one. Adapted by Terence Rattigan from his own play Who is Sylvia?, it told of a man who has four great loves during his life and they all look the same. Co-starring Moira Shearer as the four women, it was not a happy production – the producer Alexander Korda and director Harold French argued throughout the shooting and French later said,

I shouldn’t have done it. I knew it was a bad script but it was partly love of Rattigan that made me do it. I felt it was under-cast. I got on all right with Moira but I didn’t think she was quite strong enough. You couldn’t meet a nicer man than John Justin, but I really wanted Kenneth More.

It was a film that Justin recalled with affection:

The film didn’t go down well, but I liked it. There were some wonderful comic actors and some very nice moments.

In 1959 Justin joined the Old Vic company, and played Mellefont to Maggie Smith’s Lady Plyant in The Double Dealer, Orlando in As You Like It, John Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest and King Richard in Richard II. The following year he made his first appearance on Broadway, as Lieutenant Boyd in Little Moon of Alban.

At the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park he was a flamboyant Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing (1963) and he spent a season (1963-64) in The Mousetrap at the Ambassador’s Theatre. He tackled the demanding role of Willy Loman in a revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in repertory in Northampton (1965), and he played both Prince Escerny and Puntschu in Peter Barnes’s adaptation of Wedekind’s play Lulu (1970), which moved from Nottingham to the Royal Court and then the West End. In 1974 he toured as Winston Churchill in A Man and his Wife and as Mr Laurence in Little Women, and the following year he went to West Germany to give recitals of Blake and Shakespeare for the British Council.

His later film roles included three for director Ken Russell – small parts in Savage Messiah (1972), Lisztomania (1975) and Valentino (1977). In Michael Winner’s remake of The Big Sleep (1980) he played the effete bookstore owner and murder victim Arthur Geiger, and his last film was Disney’s limp comedy thriller Trenchcoat (1983).

By most film fans, though, he will be remembered as the athletic, devil-may-care hero of The Thief of Bagdad.

Conrad Veidt had a long and very successful career in the cinema – I mainly think of him in ‘The Passing of the Third Floor Back’ made in England in 1935 where he plays the stranger who moves in to a block of slum like flats where there is much unhappiness and nastiness among the people who live there. The stranger brings peacefulness to them and by the time he disappears things have changed dramatically – I love this film

ABOVE – Conrad Veidt in The Thief of Bagdad

Conrad Veidt in ‘The Passing of the Third Floor Back’

Back to the The Thief of Bagdad :-

The story seems to move from one spectacular special-effects sequence to another: the Sultan’s mechanical toy collection. The flying horse. The storm at sea. The goddess with six arms. The towering genie released from a bottle. Abu’s assault on the temple that contains the All-Seeing Eye. His climb up a mountainous statue. The battle with the gigantic spider. The flying carpet. At the time these special effects when viewed on that large cinema screen would have been unbelievable – and so so impressive – they even are today on the smaller TV screen

The film was a breakthrough in technique and vision and went a long way to shaping the film future for this type of adventure story

The Thief of Bagdad mixes the best of those classic tales in a nice even mixture of fantasy and swashbuckling action to deliver a unique film that still is as enchanting and thrilling as it was all those years ago.

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69 Years ago today – a Weather Shock for Walt Disney

69 years ago today  that would be 30th April  1951, Richard Todd, famous film actor, opened his curtains that morning to prepare for the first day of filming on Walt Disney’s superb film ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie men at Denham Film Studios just a short distance form his home in Pinckneys Green, close to Maidenhead.

As with all of Walt Disney’s films much preparation work had been gone into to ensure a minimum of delay in filming BUT on this day of all days, the weather caught them out.  Richard peered out of the window to see a covering of quite deep snow.

This was not something that the Walt Disney Producers had bargained for – but they did some Studio work and a few days later were able to film in Burnham Beeches – although it was still quite cold as Richard remembered in his Autobiography ‘ Caught in the Act’ – very good it is too and well worth a read as is the follow up ‘In Camera’ which deals with his film years after Robin Hood.

I try to post this snippet each year on this date

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The Seekers 1954 – In Technicolor

The Seekers is a 1954 film in beautiful Technicolor starring Jack Hawkins and Glynis Johns – and directed by one of my favourites Ken Annakin.

This is a real adventure film that could and should have been so much better than it was. Ken Annakin said in his Autobiography that the film was ‘not his finest hour’. He got on well with Glynis Johns who he had worked with before and he liked Jack Hawkins but felt that he was wrongly cast – as ‘he was too old and too well fed for the part’

In my view he was right on this. With a different leading man this could have been really good.

Laya Raki was cast as a Maori and is filmed swimming in a lake devoid of clothing – which nowadays would not have raised an eyebrow but then it did.

Opera singer Inia Te Wiata was also cast – he seemed to be on British Television quite a bit I remember throught the fifties.

Kenneth Williams played a young soldier and was quite good in this straight acting role.

Scenes above from the Film Premier in Wellington on 24th June 1954

Special mention for the brilliant Cinematography – in glorious Technicolor by Geoffrey Unsworth , shot on location in New Zealand , Whakatane, Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand and Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England, UK . Atmospheric and evocative score from William Alwyn and musical conductor as usual Muir Matheson .

The film titled ¨The Seekers¨ or ¨Land of fury¨ was professionally directed by Ken Annakin, containing some quite exciting moments . Ken Annakin had quite a diverse early career, including as a trainee income tax inspector in Hull. He got into film making during the War – His feature film debut, Holiday Camp (1947), was a comedy drama about a Cockney family on holiday in an English summer. It was made for the Rank Organisation and was a quite successful – I loved it – and it spawned three sequels, all of which he directed. 

His big break came when he was chosen to direct ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’ for Walt Disney at Denham Film Studios – a film which, up to that time was the most expensive film ever made here.

Ken was well up to the task and the film did very well at the Box Office on a Worldwide scale. A wonderful film that was and is !!!

Wonderful Shots of New Zealand ABOVE

Above – Jack Hawkins

Jack Hawkins and Noel Purcell

Noel Purcell ABOVE

An Irish Actor who was around quite a bit throughout the Fifties and after. One thing that has come to mind whilst writing this article is that I realised that Noel must have got used to long distance travel in his film years – first he was in Fiji in 1949 to film The Blue Lagoon – a mega trip in those days – then to Tauranga in New Zealand for this one – and a few years later in 1962 he was in Tahiti for a few months with Mutiny of the Bounty – Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard.

He certainly chose some wonderful locations – or they were chosen for him I should say.

Laya Raki ABOVE was a German born former model who won a leading role in The Seekers. Not too long after this she married Americal actor Ron Randell and they had a long and very happy marriage.

She was not someone who missed a trick when it came to publicity though and I love this story about her :

Laya Raki caused a scandal at a wine presentation at the Hotel Gehrhus during the Berlin Film Festival when her gown suddenly split open. Fellow guest Jayne Mansfield is devastated by losing all the publicity.
This was in 1961


The Seekers 1954

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Lex Barker – Tarzan

Lex Barker made only five Tarzan films but he is identified with this role so much so that when Tarzan films are mentioned his name comes up straight away – similarly when we mention the name Lex Barker – people immediately say ‘Tarzan’

Here he is with his family in 1948 – His son Zan Barker, born in Los Angeles, CA, March 25, 1947 to Alexander “Lex” Barker and Constance Thurlow-Adams, passed away peacefully at his home in Marla Bay, Lake Tahoe, NV on October 2, 2012.

Zan had always been very proud of his father and some of his earliest memories are watching his Dad on the RKO set filming some, if not all, of the Tarzan films there.

It also appears that Zan’s older sister Lynn Thurlow Barker died in 2010

Lex Barker’s wife in the photograph above – in fact his first wife – was Constanze Thurlow

27 June 1942 – 2 November 1950) (divorced) (2 children)

She was a daughter of Leon Rhodes Thurlow, a vice president of the Decorated Metal Manufacturing Company. They had one daughter, Lynn Thurlow Barker (April 11, 1943 – 2010) and a son, Alexander “Zan” Crichlow Barker III (March 25, 1947 – October 2, 2012).

When they were first in Hollywood Lex Barker lived in large estate on Mulholland Drive, Laurel Canyon, with his first wife, Constanze Thurlow (Connie). His neighbour at the time was none other than Errol Flynn

Constance Thurlow then married her second husband, John Lawrence Adams, a descendant of John Quincy Adams in 1952 and they remained married for quite a few years but she sadly died in 1975 at the age of 57 – not too long after her first husband Lex Barker

Lex Barker as Tarzan BELOW – my own favourite of his Five Tarzan films and his first in the role – Tarzan’s Magic Fountain

‘Zan’ Barker BELOW

Zan Barker pictured with his famous father in England

Zan Barker, born in Los Angeles, CA, March 25, 1947 to Alexander “Lex” Barker and Constance Thurlow-Adams, passed away peacefully at his home in Marla Bay, Lake Tahoe, NV on October 2, 2012.

He is survived by his brother, Christopher; his sister, Gaye; nephews Michael, Daniel, Justin; and nieces Laura and Clarissa. He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Lynn.

Zan lead a remarkable life. As a child he spent much of his time on movie sets with his father, who played “Tarzan” produced by Sol Lesser at RKO Productions in Los Angeles from 1949 to 1953. His father went on to produce over 60 films in both the US and Europe. Zan was very proud of his father and shared stories of him and his travels around the world. One of his fondest memories was watching his father lead the 1952 Rose Bowl Parade on a large African elephant.

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Michael Balcon and His Family at Home

What an influential man he was in the British Film Industry in fact no other person is associated more with the era of British Film making just before and after the War than he was. He was the Head of Ealing Studios and later took charge of MGM British Productions – a most prestigious job. He had seen success and disappointment over his period at the heart of British Films.

Michael Balcon at Home Her bought this Farm in Sussex on the Kent border in 1946 at Upper Parrock. He spends the week in a suite high up in a London Hotel and returns to his home at the weekend.

Here he is with his son, Jonathan

Michael Balcon and family enjoying the view on a Summer evening

Michael Balcon with his Daughter Jill Balcon – with whom he later had a poor relationship because of the man she decided to marry.

Mrs Balcon at Home – formerly Aileen Leatherman – who comes from a well-known Johannesburg family. She was awarded and MBE for her work in the Red Cross during the War – not long ended when this picture was taken

Michael Balcon at Home with his family

Sunday afternoon relaxing ABOVE

ABOVE – Aileen is in charge of all farming matters

ABOVE – Otto and Gretel long haired dachshunds known in the household as ‘the two sausages’

Michael Balcon at Home in his library

Michael Balcon seeking advice of farming matters

Michael Balcon ABOVE – He says that he is posing trying to look intelligent about the corn, but as he admits all he knows about this field is that it was badly damaged in the 1946 harvest

Michael Balcon loved his home here and he died here in 1977, his 15th-century house set on a Sussex hilltop near the Kent border. He and his wife had lived there since the Second World War. He was cremated and his ashes buried there

BELOW – A Much Later interview with his Daughter Jill Balcon

When she wed the future poet laureate C Day-Lewis her parents disowned her, wary of his reputation as a womaniser. The actress has rarely talked about her marriage, but as a new biography of her husband is published, she tells of their love, their children Daniel and Tamasin, and the hurt she still suffers

Jill Balcon, clear-sighted and with an actor’s eye for the telling detail, is a thrilling repository of stories about a world that now only exists among the pages of  biographies. To her, WH Auden is better known as Wystan, Vaughan Williams as Ralph.

Jill Balcon rarley talked about her past for a long time. The last biography of her husband, poet laureate C Day-Lewis, appeared in 1980, eight years after his death from cancer at the age of 68. It was written by his son, Sean (by Day-Lewis’s first wife, Mary), and it caused his widow great pain (mistresses were alluded to and the poetry all but ignored). She vowed, thereafter, to keep her silence, though she and Cecil, somewhat to her discomfort, would occasionally appear in biographies of other people, those of Cecil’s lovers, mostly.

Now, though, she has helped another biographer, Peter Stanford, to write her husband’s life. ‘I’m very two-faced,’ she says, with a short laugh. ‘I love reading biographies.’ And what does she make of this one? It is good, meticulous and pays proper attention to the poems, which she longs for people to rediscover (difficult to believe now how admired Day-Lewis once was; in 2007, he is ignored, not even honoured in Poet’s Corner).

She fears it will again be his private life that is most picked over and she is right. Serialised in another Sunday newspaper, the headline is a gruesome: ‘The Laureate of Lust’. Oh, well. I suppose we still expect only two things of our poets: that they be poor, and that they have complicated sex lives.

In any case, these things are relative. Day-Lewis’s private life was difficult but only by the standards of the day; he would barely make the cover of Heat now. Stanford suggests that Day-Lewis had two illegitimate sons in addition to the four children he had in marriage (two sons by Mary, the daughter of his old school-teacher, whom he married in 1928, and then, by Jill, Tamasin, the famous food writer, and Daniel, the even more famous actor), but they were

Stanford also details the poet’s already well-known relationship with novelist Rosamond Lehman, with whom Day-Lewis set up home in London while still married to Mary. After marriage to Balcon in 1951, there were more infidelities of the heart – we’ll come back to the most serious of these – but some may have been unconsummated (he was close to the young AS Byatt, but Stanford doubts that they slept together).

It is not, with Day-Lewis, a numbers game: it was his timing that was scandalous. Liaisons would happen when his children were small, their mothers tired and distracted. Or, paralysed by indecision – Lehman called it his ‘aspen hesitation’ – he would try desperately to keep two women content and end up hurting both of them horribly.

Jill Balcon met Cecil Day-Lewis in 1948, in a studio for the BBC’s Time for Verse. She had recently made her screen debut as Madeline Bray in an adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby. She thought Day-Lewis had not noticed her – he was, after all, 21 years her senior – but he had. How could he not? The only daughter of Michael Balcon, head of Ealing Studios, Balcon was magnificent. ‘She looked like the sort of woman you only see on a Greek vase,’ says her friend Natasha Spender.

Later that year, after only a handful of meetings, they fell in love and Day-Lewis left both his wife of 21 years, Mary, and his lover of nine, Rosamond Lehman (the latter was furious – her sense of betrayal at what she regarded as an ‘infatuation’ was so deep it drove her half mad; she never really recovered). It was not the easiest start to a relationship: financially, Cecil was hard-pressed – he still had his children to keep – and Lehman was vilifying him to anyone who would listen. Plus, there was a divorce to be organised, a sordid business in those days. Then there was Jill’s father, who was implacably opposed to the relationship.

‘We started living together,’ says Balcon. ‘For a long time, we thought we’d never be able to marry. My father, who saw everything in black and white, was tremendously hostile. “There’s no reason why he’ll ever get a divorce,” he said. “What will she [Mary] gain?” Cecil was an older man, he was poor, and the idea that I should be working! My father thought Cecil was degrading me. The people who worked for him at Ealing, their private lives were in turmoil. But when it came to the hearth: the Jewish patriarch, the elder daughter who was rebellious … the fact that for one night I appeared on the front of the Evening Standard as co-respondent in a divorce was so shocking for him. He wanted some rich industrialist [for me], something I would have hated. He wanted to direct my life. When the war started, I was called up. He couldn’t control that. I’ve often thought that no matter how ghastly it [the Blitz] was – some things we went through were very frightening – at least it enabled me to get away.’

When she and Cecil were married, her father attended neither the wedding, nor the reception upstairs at the Ivy. ‘I still mind about that,’ she says, softly. ‘He was a powerful man. My mother met me in secret. We used to sit in her car in Hyde Park.’

Things went from bad to worse. After Tamasin was born, neither of Jill’s parents came near her: ‘No flowers, no message, no mother at the hospital.’ Her father took it as a deliberate slight that, when Day-Lewis placed a birth announcement in the Times, he did not put the words ‘nee Balcon’ after Jill’s name. Years later, they did not even come to Cecil’s funeral.

Still, she does not regret any of it. How could she? ‘Cecil was dazzling. Absolutely mesmeric. He had colossal magnetism. He was beautiful to look at and tremendously funny. So I was prepared to go through any kind of hell. I’ve got his letters and I discovered after he died that he’d kept mine. I don’t know if I have the courage to burn them; I think I’ll ask my son to do it.’

She spent the early days of their relationship feeling an odd combination of incredulity and anxiety. She had married her ‘hero’, a man she’d admired since 1937 when Day-Lewis judged the verse-speaking competition at her school, Roedean, but she was troubled by the circumstances of their meeting – Day-Lewis was emotionally exhausted by the years of shuttling between placid Mary and clingy Rosamond – and worried about money. ‘In those days, alimony was a third of your income.’ In August 1951, invited to join Stephen and Natasha Spender for a holiday on Lake Garda, she and Cecil had to sell two silver coffee pots, a present, in order to pay their fare.

Was she anxious about being a step-mother, too? ‘Of course. But they [Nicholas and Sean] were very nice to me. They couldn’t have been nicer. I think Sean may now feel resentful on behalf of his mother, who was a very good woman, utterly so. But she preferred women, as you probably read; the boys knew it, and Cecil knew it.’

She and Day-Lewis bought a house in Greenwich and tried to get on with life. They shared a love of poetry, their leftist politics (Day-Lewis was an ex-communist) and a sense of humour. But he had his dark side. ‘I’ve lived among writers and poets all my life and nothing is simple. They do tend to be melancholy. He was very often very depressed. Very low and full of guilt. But the thing that was wonderful was when he was composing – then he was happy. To be in another room, to hear him tapping and then for him to say, “This is what I’ve done.” It was so exciting. Like being in the sun. But I was also pitched into a world of older people of whom I was quite nervous.’

Gossip, mostly perpetrated by Lehman, didn’t help. When she was writing Lehman’s biography, Selina Hastings took Balcon to lunch. ‘She told me she thought she was going to be giving lunch to the Witch of Endor. She’d heard all about me from Rosamond.’ Balcon thinks now that perhaps she was naive. ‘Knowing his history [the tangled web with Rosamond], I thought he wouldn’t want to get involved with other people. I like attractive people; not just sexually attractive, but attractive. But if you do, other people are going to find them so, too.’

Balcon did not find out about her husband’s affair with her friend Elizabeth Jane Howard until after it was over, but it hurts her still. In 1954, Chatto & Windus, where Day-Lewis worked part-time as a reader, employed Howard, an actress turned acclaimed novelist, as an assistant. She and Balcon had known each other since their days at the BBC during the war. Howard was famously beautiful and, one night while Balcon was away – she had gone to a party to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Bristol Old Vic – Howard and Day-Lewis went to Dedham Vale on the Essex border to pay homage to John Constable (Day-Lewis recorded this in a poem, ‘Dedham Vale, Easter 1954’). ‘I tried, but I didn’t have the strength to resist him,’ Howard tells Peter Stanford. ‘I would defy any woman to resist him.’

Their affair lasted three months. It was Howard’s guilt that prompted her to finish it, a decision she claims dented her lover’s ego and made him angry and abusive. In her 2002 memoir Slipstream, Howard describes her betrayal of her friend as ‘one of the worst things I ever did’. Tamasin Day-Lewis, her god-daughter, was only a baby at the time. ‘It still haunts me,’ says Balcon, closing her eyes. ‘It comes back and hits me, often at night. I’m so appalled, even all these years on. I think: how could they? I’ve not gone off with my best girlfriend’s men. Ever. When she first told me that it was her who stopped it, that he didn’t want to, well, that was even worse, in a way. I don’t know if it’s the truth because I can’t ask him. It’s terribly painful because we were close friends from being teenagers.’

Balcon looks drained as she tells me this, which makes it even more extraordinary to me that her husband later died in the Hertfordshire house, Lemmons, owned by Howard and her then husband, Kingsley Amis. Balcon took the decision to move the dying Cecil there because it was near Elstree, where she was filming, and because a ground-floor bedroom, complete with nurse, was available (Howard’s mother, Kit, was also ill). But even so …

‘It was a practical arrangement,’ she says. ‘I could be at his bedside in 15 minutes from the studio.’ But why did Howard even dare to suggest it? ‘Part of it was guilt. She saw the state he was in, and … she felt guilt. She must have.’ Yet their friendship continued. They had lunch only last year. ‘Yes. She was Tamasin’s godmother. She had so many lovers, you see. The whole lot. She was so beautiful and charming and gifted and amusing, and he [Cecil] liked people to write good books, which I certainly couldn’t. She told Peter [Stanford] that he’d been in love with her for ages. I find that unbearable because it was not long after we’d struggled to get married.’ She hasn’t read Slipstream and never will.

Balcon was absolutely stricken at Cecil’s death, a widow at just 47. Daniel was still at school, Tamasin was about to take up a place at Cambridge. ‘Our doctor said, “You must never take away hope from a patient”, so he wouldn’t let me discuss what was happening with Cecil. That wouldn’t happen now and it was a terrible burden. I was desperate. I used to take the car down to Deptford Creek and just shriek! I didn’t know what I was going to do for these children. All widows worry about money whether they’re well off or not and I wasn’t. I knew we couldn’t go on living in our lovely house. I mind terribly that he never saw the children growing up. They were at their most tortured and teenage, a terrible time to lose a parent. I don’t think I was at all good with them. I was probably selfish in my own grief.’

What effect did his death have on them? ‘Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Tamasin’s face got smashed by a train door, Daniel took some migraine tablets that had a very bad effect on him and the school doctor put him in some hospital down in Portsmouth. But these things happen. I feel sorrier for women who’ve been overprotected by their men – you know, who’ve never written a cheque. That’s cruel. I’d written plenty.’

We go into the kitchen for lunch, passing a teenage self-portrait by Daniel – cheekbones like daggers! – and the cartoon Ronald Searle gave her as a wedding present. We eat at a table and chairs that Daniel made for her years ago. Stuck to a counter is a poster for his 1988 film Stars and Bars; by it is a pile of Tamasin’s cookery books. When I tell her that Tamasin’s recipe for lemon risotto is the world’s best, she lights up. But she’s not some sentimental granny.

What I like about Balcon is this: unlike lots of women her age, with aching bones and a too-long widowhood behind them, she has not given up. She’s still present. She’s still interested. We talk – about being single and how vile Couple World can be – and the years between us fall away. And whatever happens to her husband’s poems, however little or much they are read, they are a comfort to her. In this sense, she is luckier than most widows – he’s still around. ‘It sounds awful, but I’m the keeper of the flame. But I grieve when his name isn’t mentioned.’

There are consolations. ‘Daniel [who lives in Ireland with his wife Rebecca Miller, daughter of the playwright, Arthur] was asked to do a village memorial for people who fled the Great Hunger, and chose to read from The Whispering Roots [Cecil’s last collection]. He asked my advice, which normally I wouldn’t presume to give him. So, yes, we are lucky.’ In spite of herself, she smiles.

Michael Balcon at Hom

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Two Colour Plates from the films

The colour pictures of the day in the early fifties, were always very bright and equally glossy almost reflecting the Technicolor Films of that era, which had colour in my view unsurpassed

Errol Flynn with an unknown Indian in Rocky Mountain ABOVE

Although this is a great colour shot, the film was actually released in Black and White – it starred Errol Flynn and his wife Patrice Wymore – I believe he met her whilst working together on this film

It is possible to get hold of a colorised DVD of this one I am led to believe.

The Adventurers with Dennis Price filmed in South Africaagain this film was released in Black and White – and when you look at this wonderful colour picture above, it makes you wonder just why that was. It seemed to be in those days, that there were tight budgets and making a film in Technicolor was an expensive process – but surely it would have been worth it. After all King Solomons Mines was released at a similar time, filmed in Africa in Technicolor – and that film did very well indeed at the Box Officeand looked good.

Mind you another British film in Africa a couple of years before was ‘Diamond City’ again released in Black and White – and again that did not do well at all and lost money – as I expect this one did.

Dennis Price meeting local children in South Africa.

There was superb location work by veteran cameraman Ossie Morris; combining the inhospitable terrain – oppressively hot – with the squabbling amongst a small, ill-matched group searching for treasure.

Much of the South African filming was done in and around the Drakensberg Mountains

ABOVE – The Drakensberg Mountains

I did see The Adventurers described as a ‘Western set in South Africa’ but this is not a film that I have seen so can’t really comment on that – however a film made a decade of more later was given a similar tag – and that one was ‘The Hellions’ filmed in the country but not in this area.

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Princess Elizabeth Visits the Film Studios

I have always imagined that the Queen would be a big film fan and here she – when she was still Princess Elizabeth – is visiting the Studios – in this case Ealing Studios – to see something of the making of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ which was released here in early April of 1947 – so it would be fair to say that this picture was taken during the summer of 1946 – not long after the War.

Here is Princess Elizabeth as she was then, with her Sister Princess Margaret being shown round by Michael Balcon LEFT and Reginald Baker

BELOW – A similar Photograph from a different angle

I do know that she also visited Denham in the Summer of 1951 where she watched scenes being films of ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’ at Denham Film Studios.

In Richard Todd’s Autobiography – he played Robin Hood – he mentions that Walt Disney came over to Denham near the end of June 1951 and apparently he was very pleased with the way the filming was progressing.

Coinciding with Walt Disney’s stop over, the then Princess Elizabeth paid a visit to Denham Film Studios accompanied only be her Lady In Waiting and equerry. The future Queen was shown by Walt Disney and the Art Director Carmen Dillon around the outside sets and the costume department.  Perce Pearce the Producer of the film insisted that filming should continue as normal as that is what the young Princess wanted to see. So for about twenty minutes the young princess stood quietly in a dark corner, while filming carried on, then she gave a friendly wave and slipped out from the Sound Stage. We have no idea which scene she saw being filmed.

Filming The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men at Denham – summer 1951

ABOVE – maybe this is the scene she saw being shot – I don’t think it is because this was later in the film and for some reason I think that filming was probably in sequence rather than disjointed as it sometimes is.

Director Ken Annakin and Richard Todd seated look on Guy Green also there

It could have been this scene in Robin Hood’s camp ABOVE

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The Robe with Victor Mature

Victor Mature gives a wonderful performance in this film – one that in my opinion deserved an Oscar – and that would have probably been backed up by his Co-star Richard Burton who was very impressed by Victor Mature describing him as a ‘wonderful man’

ABOVE – a signed photograph of Victor Mature in the Robe

BELOW – a scene from the film

After this he played the same role of Demetrius in the follow-up ‘Demetrius and the Gladiators’ – both films doing extremely well at the Box Office.

Someone once commented that Producers liked Victor Mature because most films that he was in made money – you can’t say that of many actors.

My Dad loved Victor Mature in The Robe so much so that after this film, he went to see nearly every film that he was in. He was my Dad’s favourite actor. I do remember him going to see ‘Zarak’ – a film that was made in England and again one that did very well financially.

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