One remembrance I have during our rehearsals. There used to be a caretaker sitting in a cubbyhole at the entrance to the hall who would greet us every morning with a somewhat guarded smile. One day he doffed his cap to Dame Flora Robson and enquired after her husband, which caused a little flutter of embarrassment as Dame Flora had never been married or had any intention of being. If that wasn’t bad enough he then went on to tell her how much he enjoyed her husband’s rendition of Ol’ Man River. No one had the heart to tell him that Paul Robeson and Flora Robson were not an item.
British households were also beginning the rather expensive process of investing in their first colour sets, which caused the activity of viewing television to change completely.
When the film came out it caused a sensation. It also brought about a number of copy-cat gangs around the country, which so concerned Kubrick that he asked Warner Brothers to withdraw the film from British distribution; which it did for over 27 years. It was only after Kubrick's death in 1999 that the film reappeared in cinemas and later released on DVD.
Guinness took a kind of shine to me (whether it was because I was at the time startling blond and very pretty, I don’t know) but on several occasions he would invite me out for lunch, usually to rather glamorous restaurants. Though I was flattered and wanted to use these occasions to ask him so much about so many things, knew it would be deeply inappropriate. As a consequence, the two of us would often sit in shy silence. I did though take the opportunity to do a number of sketches of the cast, which intrigued Guinness though he declined to look at the likeness I did of him, saying, ‘I’m sure it’s horribly near the knuckle!’ Funnily enough several years later he chose my drawing as the cover to his autobiography, Blessings in Disguise. Another funny occasion took place in 1987 when Guinness was honoured at the Lincoln Centre, New York. For a banner to hang outside the Centre they chose my caricature, and there it hung for over a month. I was then asked whether I would like it sent to me as a memento; it was well over six-foot long. I said I would, not realizing that I would have to then pay an exorbitant price for shipping. One morning I was telephoned by a customs official explaining that a charge of over £200 had to paid, he then went on to say that it was absolutely filthy and really wasn’t worth it. I took him at his word, and back to the States the banner went. I told this story to Guinness one day as we lunched at the Garrick Club. ‘What on earth would you have done with it,’ he asked. ‘I don’t know,’ I said. Probably used it as a bedcover. Then I could say to all my friends that I slip under Alec Guinness every night.’ The look on Alec’s face said enough, and I quickly changed the subject
I knew I was about to appear in something rather special from the moment we started rehearsals. Frank Finlay, Joan Plowright and Edward Woodward’s performances were quite dazzling. Sharp, moving, funny and brilliantly observed. Thanks to the wonders of DVD, it’s a production I often show young actors, so that they can witness first-hand the sheer guttural finesse that the whole production brought; it was mesmerising then as it is now, and I’m sure will always remain so.
Italians, as we know, are well known for expressing themselves through body language and hand gestures, as though the feelings bubbling up inside them can’t be expressed in any other way. During rehearsals an Italian was brought in to illustrate some of these hand movements. He overloaded us with any number of finger and hand gesticulations, of which he said to pick a few. Frank of course was very economical with what he chose, whereas, Laurence Olivier, in the small part of Antonio, the hat maker, went for the lot!
We were put up in the magnificent Rambagh Hotel, which in its day had also once been a magnificent palace. I played a doctor called Rose Kelly who tried desperately to save the life of Sir Louis Cavagnari. As the great man passed away I had to slowly close his eyes and each time I did Gielgud would giggle, apologising profusely for stopping, but said I was tickling him!
Again I had the chance of working with Harriet Walter and the definitive Lord Peter Wimsey. Edward Petherbridge.
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