Joan Collins

An Actor’s Life

Joan Collins lives an actor's life

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Joan Collins lives an actor's life

Channel surfing on a rainy afternoon, I zeroed in on an old black-and-white movie that looked quite interesting, and with a wonderful cast too — Stanley Baker, Gloria Grahame, Laurence Harvey, Robert Morley, Margaret Leighton, John Ireland, Freda Jackson and Richard Basehart — a veritable Who’s Who of wonderful 1950s movie actors. Then on sashayed a zaftig teenager in a tight sweater and a bun — both on her head and in the oven (in the film). ‘My God, it’s me!’ I squealed, then settled down to watch the long forgotten The Good Die Young. Three good men — a broken boxer (Stanley Baker), an American veteran (Richard Basehart) trying to win back his mother-dominated wife (Me), and an air force sergeant (John Ireland) married to a faithless actress (Gloria Grahame) are corrupted by Miles Ravenscourt (Laurence Harvey), an amoral ‘gentleman’. Because they need money, they let Miles lure them into his scheme to rob a postal van with a large cash cargo. (A recent reappraisal of the movie on IMDB notes ‘The young Joan Collins is ravishing as the wife any man would rob a dozen banks for...’ — how kind!) By the end of the movie I realised, with a shock, that I was the only one of the many players who was still alive! I got goose bumps and even though I was at least ten years younger than anyone else, it gave me a sense of my own mortality.

Sadly the good often do die young. I was upset to learn of the death of the trendy Mayfair tailor Doug Hayward. We’d been friends since the mid Sixties when with my best pal Evie Bricusse we invaded his tiny tailoring establishment in Shepherd’s Bush, shocking him by crowding into the fitting booths with our respective spouses to oversee their fittings. In the decades since, Doug, who moved into more upmarket quarters in Mount Street, became a sartorial wizard and something of a legend as well as a close mate of Michael Caine, Peter Sellers, Michael Parkinson and Roger Moore, to name but a few. They formed a club called The Mayfair Orphans (no women allowed), meeting for lunch each week and regaling each other with jokes and anecdotes. Of course, since it’s hardly unusual to be an orphan in your sixties and seventies, people made quite a lot of fun of the group, which Doug put down, jokingly, to envy. In the 1970s and ’80s his fame grew and practically every Hollywood actor eventually found his way to Doug’s cosy grey-flannel-walled salon, where he held court. John le Carré based the character of Harry Pendel in his novel The Tailor of Panama on Doug (made into a Pierce Brosnan film in 2001 with Geoffrey Rush playing Harry) for his charisma and wicked humour, which showed in his innocent blue eyes. Doug’s clientele also included aristocrats, businessmen, tycoons and royals, but he never lost his common touch and treated everyone with the same cheery insouciance and sly sense of fun. I last saw him a year ago when we chatted in his shop. I was sad to see that his old spark was starting to dim, as the dreaded Alzheimer’s took its toll. Mayfair will never be the same now that the popular ‘Buddha of Mount Street’ has gone — and I, as one of his many friends, know he will be sorely missed.

As one who has spent most of their adult life on a sound stage, I was feeling quite blasé about visiting the set of Dr Who. The thought amused me because of the intense excitement of nine-year-old Miel and Weston, four, my daughter Tara’s children, who had barely slept the previous night in breathless anticipation of not only seeing the shooting but of meeting their idol, David Tennant. Percy had printed out a dozen photographs of the good Doctor from the internet, so armed with those we hit the set on Monday morning, a nondescript studio in Cardiff. Beth and Edward, from the production team, greeted the five of us warmly and immediately escorted us to the set, where the Christmas special was being filmed. Dozens of children in Dickensian costume were toiling away in the Dr Who version of a Victorian sweatshop factory, and the atmosphere looked totally sinister and threatening. ‘When’s David Tennant coming?’ asked Weston, impatiently waving his 8x10 glossies. ‘He’s on his way, let’s go meet him,’ said Beth. Then, without any fanfare or entourage, there was the fabulous Time Lord in person, resplendent in his trademark brown suit, with hair well spiked.

I have seldom met an actor more gracious and charming to visitors to a film set, particularly when he is soon needed to be on it and has masses of dialogue to spout, but for 15 minutes David Tennant patiently answered all the children’s questions about the show, even showing Weston where the key to the Tardis was hidden. He signed all their pictures and was just about to leave when Weston piped up with, ‘Doctor! Doctor! When’s David Tennant going to be here?’ The children were then shown the prop rooms, all over the costume department and the magic room, where all the creepy alien heads are stored, then on to the make-up department, where they had mysterious tattoos applied to their hands and Weston’s hair was gelled and spiked into a facsimile of Dr Who’s. Frankly they had one of the best days of their lives, as did I. Can’t wait now to see David Tennant give us his Hamlet this summer at Stratford.