By 1968, Dirk Bogarde thought his film career was drawing to a close, as his days as a matinee idol were long over, and the offers of work had slowed. With his partner Tony Forwood, he moved to France, and started a second career as a writer. Bogarde proved to be an exceptional writer, producing 15 bestsellers, including volumes of autobiography and fiction. He was also a dedicated correspondent, penning letters to his many friends and fans. Bogarde’s letters are filled with gossip and back-biting, sketches and scintillating tales of his life.
This first letter was written when Bogarde had finished work on Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far, with Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neil and Michael Caine, and was also re-dubbing his voice on Alain Resnais Providence.
Though Bogarde was a prolific writer, he could not spell (ahem…rather like Nigel Molesworth), and the following is presented as was written.
To Bee Gilbert, Clermont, 13 September, 1976
What a lovely long letter to cheer me up on my return, three days ago, from a hellish week of looping in Paris. I got there to find that I had to loop the entire fucking film… 200 loops. The sound engineers were dreadful (from Telly natch) and the birds, dogs and airoplanes which scattered across the locations screwd us up even more. Well… it is done now. Am home again for a couple of weeks before returning to Old Father Attenboroughs Disney-Arnhem. Which I dread. Ah well. It will make a bomb, with all those Stars how can it fail? Adored Sean C and worked very happily indeed with him… and made a surprising new mate in Ryan O’Neil who could not be nicer, jollier and brighter! That WAS a surprise. Tote says it was because he was so bloody respectful to me all the time… but I just liked the bloke. And he’s good too. And THAT was a surprise. Gene Hackman was a bit Methody and got cross if the camera operator was on the set while he was rehearsing… but was very pleasant to me and quite good, not more, when it came to the Acting.
Mike Cain pulled the Movie Star bit a bit much… the big cigar, black glasses and fat Cadillac… but he was pleasant if dull and has to have the ugliest voice in the business… and pop eyes. And that was a surprise too. I dont think I could go through it again for anything. Even the lolly. A woman from The New York Times ruefully mumbled that doing something as crappy for so much loot left ‘a kind of stain.’ I wonder if she was right. Holland was hell. Apart from the van Goghs, Rembrants and the Vermeers it is all a lot of crappy horror… We stayed in a ‘dainty’ little hotel in a wood where dinner started at 6.30pm and was off at 8.45. THAT went down like a cup of cold sick as you may imagine. Especially as the prices were identicle to the Lancaster in Paris! However we had three weeks there and flew back on a beastly Caravelle, which bounced all the way to Nice…
We have had, unlike you, a soaking summer… everything green and lush… while the great trees in the Luxumbourg Gardens are all dead. And now Tote is out mowing acres of white daisies and autumn crocus and I think I’d better go and help him… regretfully. I am so lazy and full of reaction… odd.
God bless you, pretty Sno… all love as ever for ever… as you know.
Bogarde did not have worry too much about his cinematic career, as the 1970s saw him working with Luchino Visconti on Death in Venice, Liliana Cavani on The NIght Porter, with Rainer Werner Fassbinder on Despair and Bertrand Tavernier’s Daddy Nostalgie.
In 1983, Bogarde’s partner Tony Forwood was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and cancer, which led the couple to leave France for England in 1987. Not long after their arrival Bogarde suffered a stroke, and the following year Forwood died. Bogarde was devastated, only his writing kept him from suicide. He maintained his various correspondences, including one to Penelope Mortimer, whom he had written to since 1971.
In this letter from 1991, Bogarde responds to Mortimer’s gentle cajoling, and gives a portrait of his life after Forwood’s death.
To Penelope Mortimer, Cadogan Gardens, 24 September, 1991
Bloody hell, you are difficult. I TOLD you that you would find my letter nausiating, people like you, those who see everything in dusk-tones, would. I AM a sort of Pollyanna… and after years of just keeping away from people on account of millions came to me to watch my cavorting, living a secluded life in my small-holding I suddenly got shoved into FULL LIFE with no protection and in a Foreign Land.
After a time of, shall we say reflection?, I decided that having had one stroke and not much liking the effects, I could very well have another, had to live in filthy UK… had to live in London… where better to be than where I started off at 16 as a Student at Chelsea Poly? Parents had been students there too. And the Slade. I felt ‘right’ in the area. Coming to terms was difficult. To terms with walking quite unprotected in streets jammed with curious people.
‘I think it is. Look!’
‘You ask him. Go on. He cant bite you?’
‘Were you Dirk Bogarde?’
‘Left France, have you?’
‘I remember your face but not the name? Humphry someone… ‘
I ducked into my anorak and tried to walk, as I told you, only at dusk or just when shops had opened. Fewer people. No standing with curious, autograph hunting, housewives in lines at the Check Outs. Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose were soon abandoned. People followed one.
‘He’s buying tinned tomatos.’
‘Thinner than I imagined.’
‘And balding… see?’
‘Pity. But after 50, you know… ‘
‘Could you sign this? Not for me, for my neice, grandmother, wife, son, sister, baby-sitter, cousin Agnes, Eileen, with two e’s please, Anne with an “e”...’
No one, ever, in France behaved like this. Not even in Paris… unless they were British. I felt, all the time, as if my cock was hanging out of my pants: I hunched my shoulders, wore a Purdy cap, scuttled (as far as I could scuttle with a wonky leg) and my doctor thought that it might be ‘obesessional’. Might it? I’d never had an obsession before, save for lizards, frogs, birds, and those kinds of things. So I decided to either go mad or face up to it. I faced up to it. Took off the cap… walk INTO the Check out… smile at everyone because they SMILE at me! Memory jogs them… of some time in which I must have figured in their private lives somewhere… at any age from 10 to 70. My films are always on TV on Sunday. I am counted as a friend. OK. I’ll settle for that. It is far better than hiding in this flat wondering what to do, how to die gracefully.
RAGE. Yes. You make the error of thinking that RAGE has to be manifest, that one shouts and screams with what you call ‘fury’. Balls. RAGE is sometimes inside. Heard of a Rage To Live?
You react to one puny sentence in my letter about 50 years and body-bags on a too small stair-case. But RAGE did’nt remotely come NEAR the thing. Acceptance, humility, fear of ‘what now’, relief that three years of almost unendurable suspense, of desperate distress physically, of loss but relief that it was over. Knowing is so much better, I promise you, than wondering: and hope is pretty hollow when it leaves.
No sense of injustice. Helplessness, yes. To a point. But one is forced by distress and need to rally. No fury. At all. Why? It happens; we are born to die. When Anna, the Night Nurse, and I tried to turn the patient [Tony Forwood] he said, and I could only hear by putting my head against his chest and ‘took’ the vibrations, ‘If you did this to a dog they’d arrest you’. Right. He was being ‘jokey’. But he was right. Which is why I am now the Vice President of VES… and sticking my neck out against Catholics and British Manners and Members of the BMA. IN public. But no Rage. I had the most wonderous 50 years of my life. So did my partner. WE both knew that we’d have to pay. And did. OK?
I have come to terms with my life, I only have an active 10 years reasonably left. Christ! Why waste them? I have just written to Radio Drama. TV [sic] and refused, politely, their kind offer to write a play, or a series, for them. I have quoted the things I watched for homework. ‘Tittmuss’, House of Elliot, Trainer and some dire thing, they adored, which starred my (once) deeply respected Tom Courtney. Impossible to believe any of them. Lowest-Common-Watcher. I’d rather stay with my Telegraph Readers. At least they write back intelligently. I’m off to do a bit of Auschwitch again: then there is RAGE. Then, my love.
Will that do? Hope that you are not vexed that I shoved R. Fox the Handle? It’s only a nudge of course. But he’s bright, clever, and very sharp. Also his track record is amazing, and his wife is to die [for,] she is so adorable, tough, beautiful and can act! Wow!
Dirk Bogarde‘s letters are collected in the volume Ever, Dirk, edited by his biographer John Coldstream.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Dirk Bogarde: Never screened on TV interview from 1975
Dirk Bogarde: Still Cool
HT to the Telegraph