The other evening, after a long meeting of the Prison Service’s Chaplaincy Council, I was visiting Christopher Fettes, one of the remarkable men who taught me over fifty years ago, first at the Central School of Speech and Drama and then at Drama Centre. I told him that among the presents I got for my recent 70th birthday was a copy of a new biography of Laurence Olivier that the monks of Amaravati Buddhist Monastery gave me. One evening I happened to be leafing through it and glanced at the Index and to my amazement saw my old name. I quickly went to the page and there there were a couple of lines quoted from a letter that Olivier had written to me on May 30th, 1969. I’d never kept the letter and had completely forgotten about it. Well, that led on to us talking a bit about my life long ago at the National Theatre with Sir Laurence and Christopher’s remark that I’d had such an interesting life. And I have, and I’ve met and worked with some wonderful and remarkable people, and so people do say to me from time to time that I ought to write it all down but I’m not much of a writer and anyway I rather deplore the modern passion for recording everything instead of living it.
But inevitably I have memories and the death the other day of Lauren Bacall took me back to one evening sometime in the summer of ‘69 when I went to see Sir John Gielgud in Alan Bennett’s play ‘Forty Years On’ at the Apollo in Shaftesbury Avenue. It was marvellous and a joy to see Sir John reborn and enjoying himself after that dreadful and wholly uncreative experience of Peter Brook’s production of ‘Oedipus’ at the National that he and I and others had had to endure through the summer of ‘68. Afterwards I went round to see him in his dressing room. He received me with his customary courtesy and I remember him saying that the year before at the National he thought he just couldn’t do it anymore. We chatted for a few minutes and then the door opened and in stalked Lauren Bacall. Sir John introduced us and we shook hands. She had her daughter, Bogie’s daughter, with her. She was icy and imperious and after a few minutes and with the likelihood of more visitors for Sir John, I said goodnight and withdrew.
I was pleased she left plenty of money to ensure her little dog will be looked after.