I was trawling through YouTube this week when to my utter surprise I came across a link to a little-known 1983 film in which I appeared with Julie Christie.
Well, when I say I appeared with her, along with half a dozen other burly gents I spent a whole night in the rain outside the Bank of England endlessly carrying her up and down a grand flight of steps. We were dressed as bankers and she was ensconced in an elaborate canopied paillasse.
Since Ms Christie’s costume was actually stapled to the portable platform, it fell to me to fetch her tea and biscuits at regular intervals throughout the night, a duty which I undertook with great enthusiasm, having not many years previously been to see Dr Zhivago five times!
The film, which is called The Gold Diggers, has been variously described by critics as ‘ninety minutes of excruciating tedium’ and ‘a seminal but flawed anti-capitalist feminist masterpiece.’
That should of course read ‘mistresspiece’ as the entire crew was made up of women. Everyone was paid the same (including JC I believe) and the budget was a minuscule £250k. Lovers of Busby Berkeley dance extravaganzas should not be taken in by the title. This was no glittering Hollywood piece of froth. On the contrary, much of it was filmed in the half-light if the Icelandic tundra. In monochrome.
However, there was a ballroom scene and I was chosen to descend a curving staircase, take the gorgeous Julie in my arms and waltz off across the room while beautifully befrocked and betailed couples whirled around us. At the end of the scene my starry dance partner would throw me to the ground and ride off on a white stallion which somehow appeared from nowhere. As you can imagine, I was practically gaga with excitement!
Except I had no idea how to waltz. Or to do anything one might describe as dancing apart from jiggling about to the latest Beatles number. In the lunch break I frantically sought out the choreographer and persuaded her to give me a lightning lesson in the terpsichorean arts behind a shed. But to no avail. Despite my chance to dance with someone who at the time was regarded as the most beautiful woman in the world, both feet remained resolutely of the left persuasion.
And sadly, as the cameras were lined up for my life-changing shot and the orchestra sat poised to give it their all, I had to step forward and own up. Collapse of stout party, as they say.
I was replaced and demoted to patrolling the edge of the dance floor, like a kind of gold waist-coated bouncer.
I wasn’t able to attend the London premiere, but someone went in my stead. They told me afterwards that the film was so gloomy and dark, so laden with shadowy unspoken meanings and long unflinching stares (this was pre-The Killing) that when I sailed into view with my mutton-chop whiskers and stately gait, the whole audience burst out laughing.
Well, all I can say is that I’m glad that in my small way I helped the advancement of feminist cinema. And I did get to feed Julie Christie biscuits.