Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Forwood valiant and brave

‘Day of triumph! F. walks round Serpentine with strength and a stick and enjoys the air, the Brent geese, and the snowdrops in the Dell.’ This is from a diary kept by Dirk Bogarde, the English matinee idol and memoir writer, during the period when his partner, Anthony Forwood, had been hospitalised and was recuperating. A week or so later, when the two of them were returning to France, Bogarde writes in the same diary, ’Wheelchair, stick and the rest of the paraphernalia. Forwood valiant and brave.’ These are rare diary extracts from Bogarde in the public domain. Although Bogarde, who died 20 years go today, kept diaries for much of his life, he destroyed a good part of his personal archive, wanting his autobiographical legacy to be limited as much as possible to his published memoirs.

Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde was born in 1921 in West Hampstead, London. His father, of Flemish ancestry, was the art editor for The Times and his mother was a former actress. As a teenager, he was sent to live with his mother’s family in Glasgow, but returned to London in 1937 where he enrolled at the Chelsea School of Art. By 1939, however, he had dropped art studies in favour of drama, making his stage debut that year, and taking a small part in a George Formby film. During the war, he joined the Royal Corps of Signals first and then, in 1943, was commissioned into the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey). Mostly, he seems to have served as an intelligence officer, working with the Air Photographic Intelligence Unit, and eventually achieving the rank of major. In April 1945, he was one of the first Allied officers to reach the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

After being demobilised, he returned to acting, and his agent re-christened him Dirk Bogarde. In 1947, a London stage appearance led to both praise from Noel Coward and a contract from the Rank Organisation. Having been included in the cast list for Sin of Esther Waters, due to star Stewart Granger, Bogarde was given the lead when Granger dropped out. But it was only in 1950, when he starred as a young villain in The Blue Lamp, that he really made his name as a matinee idol. And the 1954 film Doctor in the House turned him into one of the most popular British stars of the 1950s. After leaving Rank in the early 1960s, he undertook more challenging roles, in art house productions, for example, and in films tackling homosexuality which was still a taboo subject at the time - indeed, he only acknowledged his own homosexuality much later. In 1963, he won the first of two best actor BAFTAs for his lead role in Joseph Losey’s The Servant; the second came two years later for his role in Darling.

In 1968, Bogarde moved to France with his manager Anthony Forwood with whom he had been living for many years; and in the early 1970s they bought a property near Grasse. He continued to star in memorable films, such as Death in Venice and The Night Porter, but he also started writing autobiographical memoirs which were critically acclaimed, as well as novels. In 1983, the couple returned to live in London so that Forwood could undergo treatment for cancer. Forwood died in 1988, and Bogarde retired from acting after his last film in 1990. He was knighted in 1992. He himself died on 8 May 1999. Further information is available from The official Dirk Bogarde website (built as a tribute to his uncle by Brock van den Bogaerde), Wikipedia, Bloomsbury, Readers Digest, and IMDB.

Bogarde was a keen recorder of his own life, so much so that, in his own lifetime, he published seven memoirs and a collection of letters. He certainly kept diaries; however little is known about them. This is because late on in life he destroyed much of his personal archive - clearly wanting to control his autobiographical legacy. However, John Coldstream in Dirk Bogarde: The authorised biography (which can be previewed at Googlebooks) also makes significant use of what he calls ‘the diary’. He explains this in his introduction as follows.

‘There was also the Diary. It exists only from 1955, seven years after Anthony Forwood moved in with Dirk, and it was in the main kept by the former. Yet if Tony lopped off the tip of a finger in a gardening accident, or was confined in hospital, Dirk would take over. There are some prolonged periods when no entries are made by either - for example, in the watershed year of 1961 and towards the end of Tony’s life; the volume for 1956 is missing. The Diary is at its fullest from the mid-sixties to the early eighties, and it has proved of incalculable worth in the preparation of this book. Apart from providing a record of the ‘who, what, when and where’, it gives indications of the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. Every now and then, too, like a lighthouse beam momentarily picking out a white sail, it reveals the strength of the bond which united these two men in a relationship that was admired by their friends and by the most casual of acquaintances as more secure than many a marriage.’

At least one of Bogarde’s memoirs (I haven’t been through them all) contains a significant section of extracts from a diary (this might, of course, be the same diary referred to by Coldstream): Backcloth: A memoir (Viking, 1986, and more recently Bloomsbury, 2013). The book can be previewed at both Google and Amazon. The Publisher’s blurb states: ‘Filling the gaps left between his previous memoirs, as well as highlighting new episodes, Backcloth explores the patterns of pleasure and pain that have made up Bogarde’s extraordinary life. Based on personal letters, notebooks and diaries and covering many aspects of a celebrated life, we share experiences from his family home in Hampstead through to his farmhouse retreat in Provence. This memoir highlights the people, emotions and experiences that made him into the man loved by so many. Written with all the honesty, wit and intelligence that made Bogarde such a popular writer, Backcloth is both eloquent and touching.’

The last chapter (10) of the memoir is largely concerned with the period in Bogarde’s life when his partner, Forwood, fell ill and was hospitalised. The chapter begins with the single word ‘Diary’, and, without any other preamble, Bogarde then provides many dated diary extracts (unlike in any other part of the book). Here are several of those extracts.

13 February 1983
‘Walk to Edward VII in bitter cold. Buy champagne-splits, toothbrush, soap. F. wants a bath. No soap provided, apparently.

Back to Connaught: interview with rather smooth young man, pleasant, and possibly friendly, but won’t know, as usual, until I see his piece printed. Many a slip between Interview and Article. Take the risk because it is for The Times.’

F. asked for a print or picture to have on wall of his rather spartan room. Wants a ‘Country scene: fields and things, summery: something I can tell myself stories about while I’m lying here. You understand?’ I do. But where to go? Probably Medici tomorrow.

National Film Theatre Lecture. Theo Cowan collects me early at four-thirty. Show sold out with no advertising, which pleases me, but am still terrified. Good audience, clever, alert, good reception as far as I can make out, on stage for two and a quarter hours, which seems quite long, but as always am far too nervous to register anything.

Norah there, John Charlton and wife Susan, Olga (my French agent) comes from Paris, Margaret Hinxman, Gareth F. and many others. All have drinks in gloomy black Refreshment Room, but feel happy all went well. Olga Horstig Primuz amazed, and moved, by the long clip shown from Neal Story which closed show. She can’t imagine why it has never been shown as a film; it looks fantastic on Big Screen.

I can’t imagine why either. Ho hum.’

19 February 1983
‘Dull. Bitter. Walk to hospital. F. stronger, more alert. Buy enormous tin of candies for the nurses, all of whom are incredibly kind and caring. Nurses should get two thousand pounds a day. Not one. Cold starting, I think. Bugger.

Lunch Elizabeth and Sarah at very noisy restaurant (their choice not mine) at end of Kings Road. Ear-splitting noise, plates crashing on tiled floor, food fairly oily, masses of Sloane Rangers, ‘Hooray Henrys’ plus ‘Hooray Henriettas’, with too many children, all shouting and eating pasta. Proof they’ve all ‘done’ Italy at some time, I suppose. Rupert [nephew] and pretty girl, Portia, arrive for coffee. Three bottles of wine. Elizabeth insists on paying with her Barclaycard. Never had one in her life before . . . showing off! Cost a bomb too, silly girl.

Rupert drives me back to Connaught in clapped-out car, very fast, very expert, a really super chap, at least six foot four. Where does he get the height in our family of ‘ordinary measure’?

F.’s room massed with flowers like a mobster’s funeral parlour. Remove most into the corridor, he’ll suffocate. Stay longer than normal: a good sign.

Boaty Boatwright, Diana Hammond, Kathleen Tynan call from N. Y. A lot of love flying around.

Meet Kathleen Sutherland in Hall. Sad, growing old. She was so vivid and glamorous when she taught me fashion design at Chelsea Poly in ’37-38. Misses Graham terribly and says she is just waiting to join him. Why did he have to go first?

No answer to that.’ 

2 March 1983
‘Hounded practically all day by Press who want statement on David Niven (ill in the Wellington). I don’t know David Niven, and wouldn’t speak to Press anyway even if I did. Strange race, journalists, strange country; hounding a dying man to the grave.’

3 March 1983
‘Walk with F. very, very slowly ‘round the block’ (Grosvenor Square). But he’s stronger. I walk all afternoon round the Serpentine. Brisk, sunny day. Masses of people about, not one English voice among them. It’s like Central Park.’

5 March 1983.
‘Day of triumph! F. walks round Serpentine with strength and a stick and enjoys the air, the Brent geese, and the snowdrops in the Dell.’

14 March 1983.
‘Elizabeth and George arrive to accompany us to airport and home. She will do the housekeeping, George the land which has been neglected for so long. I'll need help. Wheelchair, stick and the rest of the paraphernalia. Forwood valiant and brave; anyway, it’s better than walking at terrible Heathrow. I push him and no Press near because we are flying Air France. So that’s a relief. Flight on time, easy, specified seats (booked in advance . . . why can’t you on ‘The World’s Favourite Airline’, BA?) and land at Nice about four. Fine spring rain, car waiting, arranged by Arnold (my ex stand-in for many years) and we drive home with anxious, and not very good, driver who is terrified of the narrow lanes, sounding horn at every bend.

Marie-Christine [guardian] has meal ready for evening, house spotless, flowers in Long Room. All smells of strong ‘shag’ (her husband rolls his own cigs) but all serene. Bendo slightly hysterical. Settle F. and then discover that I have left his suitcase down at the airport. Typical. I’m so bloody capable. But we are back at home.

For the time being, at least.’

5 July 1985.
‘It’s 3.35 a.m. and I can sleep no longer. They say that as one grows older one needs less sleep. Perhaps it’s true?

I’m writing this at the oval table in the bow window of my opulent suite in Rusacks Hotel overlooking the 18th hole of the oldest golf course in the world. It is already quite light. I had forgotten how short the nights are here.

I’ve got two fat armchairs, settee, coffee table with a wobbly leg, a vitrine full of tarnished silver cups for long-forgotten matches played on that course below, a vase of dried leaves and grasses on the mantelpiece, the colour of mashed turnips, a large, dark print of anemones in a bowl, parchment lampshades hanging high on the ceiling.

There is a thick sea-mist and I cannot see the waves, only hear them sighing lazily along the beach, and only then when I open the windows. Close them because it is bitterly cold.

Last night was fun. Graduation Dinner with tables at herring-bone angles, a piper to play us in. Me at top table with silver candelabra, apricot roses, crystal and silver. Very elegant, rich apparently, established. Scowling scholastic faces in heavy gilt frames on the panelled walls, stained glass, speeches, a loving cup passed from one to another. Altogether moving, ancient and perfect. Kindness has overwhelmed me all day. 

Later the Graduation Ball, in a giant chiffon-draped marquee on the lawns. A Tissot painting. Girls in long dresses and tartan sashes, some of the men in the kilt, the rest in tails with white buttonholes. Everyone young and gay, and alive, and I an unbelieving part of it all.

Walked home to Rusacks with Rosalind through a silent St Andrew’s. I suppose, after so many centuries, the town takes all this in its stride? I can’t, quite, yet.

This morning - or was it yesterday morning? - a television man said: ‘Doctor van den Bogarde, would you move a wee bittie to your right... you’re too far apart for the camera.’

I turned in surprise to see which of my relatives it could have been.

I am a mutt. I’ll get used to it.

Perhaps back to bed: it’s so damned cold my fingers are white.

Across the brilliant green of the 18th sacred hole, coming wanly through the mist, a young couple, she in a long dress trailing a negligent scarf, he in crumpled tails. They are wandering slowly; her head on his shoulder, through the meandering spume and fine rain, arms around each other.

In no hurry. Life before them. Or is it only breakfast? Which they are serving at four o’clock.

No matter: a new day has begun and it is as beautiful a way to see it start as any I can imagine.

A billow of mist rolls in from the ocean, drowning the ancient Club House, swirling across the pampered green below, dimming the light about me.

The tarnished cups in the vitrine look like lead; the chairs, the settee, the wobbly-legged coffee table become dark looming shapes, like fat scattered cushions; and the dried grasses on the mantelpiece are ghostly, still, spiky as sticks of incense; the lamps above me hang in shadow, shrouded in the gloom.

It’s very cold; back, I think, now to bed. The maid is bringing tea at eight o’clock.’

No comments: