Sunday, February 10, 2019

An Imperfect Life

Stills and Movies

Chapter 34

“Paula phoned whilst you were out.  She wants to see you in the office ASAP.”

 “Did she say what it was about?”
“She said it was important.”

I groaned and thought back over the last few weeks.  I could think of at least three instances when I could have upset my agent.  Recently I had called on a large studio – Carlton where there were lots of excellent photographers.  They were about to do a campaign for MacLean’s toothpaste and were keen to look at my photograph and my teeth.  With my ’talk first – think later’ habit I told them that my teeth weren’t perfectly straight and they all lined up to have a look.  Feeling like a prospect for the Grand National I submitted to the examination and the consensus of opinion was that a slight imperfection would be charming and I did the job and all were pleased.

They were having a large party for models, agents and clients and I was invited.  Paula said it was important that I should appear, that I should look my best and she also would be there.  No pressure then.

  Obviously I had to buy a new dress and went to Harrods where their new department was said to be way out.  Unfortunately it was entitled ‘Way Out’ and I mistook it for an exit before the penny finally dropped.  The result was a red lace dress which I adored.  It had a tiny waist and a billowing skirt and made me feel like a million dollars.

  At the party I started off with Paula and some of her best girls - much more glam than me – and then got caught up in an intoxicating whirl – dancing – meeting new people – drinking the odd glass of wine and having a ball.  The truth was for the first time for ages I was having fun.  Married life was quite serious and earnest and something seemed to be missing.    One of the chaps I met at the party escorted me to the station after the party – it was all jolly and nice and nothing untoward. But what did Paula think?

When I walked in her office she was on the phone – as usual – and motioned me to sit down.  When she had finished she looked at me thoughtfully and said,

“At the Carlton party I had people coming up to me asking who was the girl in the red dress - where did you get it by the way?”

“Harrods at Way…” I started…

“And also I’ve been getting feed back from the studios.”

I wondered what was coming and took a deep breath.

“I’ve decided to put you under contract – that’s if you accept of course and quite frankly you’d be mad not to.  I have only one other person under contract and that’s Marta and if you work hard and do exactly as I say there is no reason why you couldn’t be an international star.  Talk it over with your husband- here is the contract – try not to lose it – and you can tell me when you phone in tomorrow.”

Bloody ‘ell!

William and I talked it over.  Paula would have complete control over me and my work and I could not work for any other agent without her permission.  In return she would guide my career and ensure I had a certain amount of money each month.  As our plans were to start a family when I had earned enough money we decided to accept it.   Lots of photographic work was coming in but Paula thought I would have more chance of being ‘spotted’ on a film set so I became a ‘special’ which is a step up from an extra and required auditions until you were known.  I had worked with lots of ‘resting’ actors on photo shoots and they were in a cleft stick – not able to get an acting job until they joined Equity and unable to join Equity until they had a job.  Here was I made to join and given the precious Equity card.  Ironic, because I had always been against unions.  The thought of a nurse going on strike- especially a sick children’s nurse was abhorrent to me and unheard of in my day.  Thing have changed a great deal in the last 60 years – not always for the better.

The first film job was as a ‘glamorous sixth former’ in one of the St Trinian’s films.

We spent ages in make- up having false eye lashes applied and were dressed in skimpy gym slips and black silk stockings.  My hair was short and curly so I was dubbed ‘Bubbles’.

We were given boxes containing our lunch and I was the last to leave.  The grounds were very pretty – I think it was Shepperton –and I could see a group of people sitting outside a summer house so I thought I would have a quiet lunch on my own.  I settled under a tree and opened the box full of goodies.  No sooner was my mouth full of salmon and cucumber than the whole group seemed to be shouting and gesticulating and one of them came running towards me.  It seemed all had been ready for the shot for some time and they were just waiting for Bubbles to pour the tea.  By the time I had teetered there on my high heels the whole set was rocking with laughter which helped to calm my nerves.  Maybe they should have named me Dopey

  The scene was outside the summer house where a group of teachers were being served tea by sixth formers.  Having been trained over the last few months to freeze for the camera I found it odd at first to actually move whilst being filmed.  There would be a little bit of action and then long, long periods of hanging around.  At one time I felt Joyce Grenfell staring at me and started twisting my wedding ring around.

“That’s telepathy!” she proclaimed with her lovely brilliant smile.

“I was just thinking – Bubbles can’t possibly be married- she’s far too young.”

One of the sixth formers said “She ought to be in films with that bone structure.”

“Oh she’s not interested,” said another.

I realised I should be careful what I said – Paula would not be pleased to hear I wasn’t interested in a film career.

  During another quiet spell the male masters Leslie Howard’s brother and - I think - Guy Middleton were content sitting quaffing the tea I had poured whilst Joyce was advancing towards us using her hockey mistress walk which kept her in character.

“Oh God!  Not that walk again,” said one of them.  Who said women were the bitchy ones?

I was starting my ‘fifteen minutes of fame.’  I was interviewed as me by various magazines and asked to judge competitions.  ‘Bonniest baby’ comps were to be avoided.  One made a friend for life and at least thirty enemies.  Even Mum was interviewed by the local rag and managed to find a photo for them to use which made me look 50.  Thanks Mum.

  I enjoyed having money to spend and bought our first fridge, (we never needed them in Rossendale – the stone built houses had north facing larders as cold as any fridge,) a food mixer and whilst visiting a large store heard ‘A Lark Ascending’ played on a radiogram so I bought that – the radiogram and the record.  Then I pulled my horns in and started saving.

One day I was modelling for a brilliant artist illustrating short stories – I think it was Rex.  He was good company and encouraged me to prattle on about my life and marriage.  Finally he put down his brush and said, “You sound as if you’re bored witless.”

  William said we had both been working very hard and deserved a holiday I must book myself out from the agency and we would go on a sailing holiday.  I thought this an excellent idea.  William was a different person on a sailing boat- contented, relaxed and happy to pass on his expertise.  When Paula agreed to my two weeks leave I began to get excited. William chartered a small wooden boat from Maldon in Essex.

Two weeks of being able to slob around without makeup or stilettos.  Lovely!

We were both ready for a holiday.  William had been settling into his job with BISRA and I had been scuttling round studios getting established in modelling and now film work.  Two weeks with no pressure for either of us.  Bliss!