Author Archive

How to make an Errol Flynn

09 Apr

O to be in England, now that April’s there. I doubt Errol yearned his living like Browning, but for once Browning would be right as it is presently 7pm, 25 degrees (about 76 F) and ne’ry a cloud in the sky. This turns a girl’s thoughts to cocktails.

When Errol and Pat were in Rome in the 50s they met a charming young English girl called Diana Naylor-Leyland. She was not only charming but had a laser like intelligence and great poise and beauty. I can vouch for this because she was to become a beloved friend of my family.

Diana used to spend summers with us in Italy, and when I was old enough to drink – I think I was about 12 (only half joking) – she taught me how to make a fabulous and lethally ‘refreshing’ cocktail.

Diana, below, snapped by me in Italy


After I had expressed my appreciation, at both the taste and the effect, Diana informed me she had been taught to make it by Errol – and that it was his own invention. Naturally, yours truly fell at her delicately sandaled feet.

All those years ago, Errol had taken quite a shine to Diana. She lunched with him at various restaurants in Rome for about four months. However, Errol never once made a pass at her (she was a very well brought up, elegant and educated girl).

I asked Diana what she had though of Errol and she said, ‘He was not at all what I expected. Nothing like the ‘image.’ ‘

She remembered him as being rather shy, very polite, sweet and keen to Errol on about books and the Classics.

Pat liked Diana, too, and she was asked to become their social secretary. When Diana told her father, however, he reacted as most fathers would have done – boringly – and forbad it. But she continued to see Errol, before returning to England to get married. She was later to become the Countess of Wilton.

On to the drink. Errol’s aforementioned cocktail – which he had created himself – was a variation on the classic White Lady (he favoured variations on white ladies, as we know). Errol dispensed with the egg white nonsense and invented a cleaner, tarter and more masculine drink which was served in a martini glass.

Diana, who, like me, had been introduced to liquor at an early age  – used to imbibe it with him, and asked him for the recipe. After some coercion, she not only passed it down to me, but wrote it down. I blessed the piece of paper, and immediately christened the drink ‘The Errol Flynn.’

Below: Errol at a drinks party in Rome (with La Lollo), but with the wrong drink!

This is a cocktail to be taken very seriously. It is like being handed the original recipe for Nectar by a friend of Ares or Apollo. Making an Errol Flynn is an historic ritual and takes time, love and effort. But I promise that the results are more than worth it.

So here is Errol’s very own invention.

Ingredients (makes enough for two people)

3 large and juicy lemons and 1 small lime

Gin (Beefeater’s or Tanqueray)


You will also need Martini glasses that have been in chilled in the freezer, a measuring jug and a proper cocktail shaker.



Squeeze lemons and lime and strain the juice. Pour the juice into the measuring jug.

Add an equal amount of Gin to the jug and stir.

Add an equal amount of Cointreau and stir.

Fill the cocktail shaker with ice and pour in the mixture. Shake until the shaker is so iced over that you are screaming in pain.

Pour the contents of the shaker (without adding any ice) into the chilled glasses and drink immediately. Then have another (preferably with a cigarette).

Do not ever add an olive or a twist. This cocktail, like Errol, is a Rolls Royce and needs no embellishment.

However, pistachio nuts, Sicilian olives or wild boar salami go very well with this drink as nibbles.








— PW


Errol, David Niven, ‘Objective Burma’ and the English.

10 Mar

Per corollary of the ‘Objective Burma’ controversy, it is sometimes alleged that Errol harboured anti-British sentiments and vice versa. In fact, he was an ardent admirer of Churchill, and, as we know, the King and Queen.

This erroneous impression arose from two things, neither of which were Errol’s fault. The first was press speculation as to why he did not join up when Britain declared war on Germany (he was, after all, Tasmanian), and a few years later, why he did not join up when the US entered the war.

I am afraid that ‘anti-Errol’ prejudice was fuelled by his former friend, colleague and housemate, David Niven.

Niven came from a military background and had been educated at Stowe House (England’s first ‘progressive’ boarding school, but not quite progressive enough for the young Niv ,who was as sexually precocious as Errol).

After leaving Stowe he joined a Scottish regiment, before deciding on a career in acting. In Hollywood, however, he remained very ‘British’ and never took out US citizenship.

Deeply patriotic, when Britain declared war on Germany, Niven returned to England at once to take up his commission. He also let it be known, in private, that he believed ‘others in Hollywood’ – it was easy to guess to whom he referred – were guilty of dereliction of duty. Errol was Australian and in those days, when Australia was still part of the Empire, it counted as being British.


Lieutenant-Colonel Niven with his first wife, Primula Rollo.

Later, after Errol’s death, the usually affable Niven returned to the subject in his rather brilliant memoir of Hollywood, ‘Bring on The Empty Horses.’ .

This was the sequel to the bestselling ‘The Moon’s A Balloon’ , which vies with Errol’s ‘My Wicked, Wicked Ways’ as the best autobiography by an actor. I will stick my neck out here and say that Niven, stylistically, was a better writer – though less profound. I am judging this not on ‘My Wicked, Wicked Ways’, as we don’t know how much was written by Errol and how much by Earl Conrad, but on ‘Beam Ends.’

Niven devoted a whole chapter to Errol. Most of it is affectionate, yet because of this one incident when Errol seemingly ‘chose not to fight for his country’, there is a sour note and the general reader not versed in Flynnography would have had the impression that the lovable, good-eggish Niven regarded Errol as as a highly amusing 18-carat shit.

Sadly, very few people in the US , and probably no-one in the UK at that time, were aware of how desperate Flynn had been to enlist. Had Niven  known the truth, he would have behaved quite differently.

But it is indubitably true that the controversy surrounding Errol’s ‘war record’, had not been helped by ‘Objective Burma’.

The film, as we have noted, had Winston Churchill and other senior politicians, as well as the British press and public foaming a la bouche.

It matters not one hill of beans if politicians or newspaper editors are upset. It is part of their job. Ordinarily, little upset Churchill – at least not in public. But what got under his skin – and he was a quarter American himself – was the very real anguish felt by British soldiers and the families of British war dead.

It has been asserted again and again, by both British and US military historians, that Burma was a British and Australian theatre of war, not an American one, and that the British incurred heavy losses there. The majority of Allied forces in Burma were British, South African, Australian, Indian and Chinese. The film caused offence not only in Britain, but in Singapore. Nor did it go down well with the Australians.

But the film was not banned in Britain and Singapore, as I originally and mistakenly suggested. Warner Bros pulled it from release in the UK after one week, horrified and dismayed by the offence it caused. The film was re-released in Britain in 1952, but only with a grovelling disclaimer.

Of course the British press was quite wrong to take its ire out on Errol. All blame lay with Warner Bros, but it is always more profitable to be iconoclastic – especially when the icon to be toppled had made his career out of portraying action heroes in the cinema.  Errol was an easy target, already notorious in his personal life, and a ‘shirker’ to boot.

A leading English newspaper printed a cartoon with the line: ‘Excuse me, Mr Flynn, but you are treading on some graves.’ From what I have heard and read, Errol was very distressed by this, and as a result, turned a bit sour on ‘Objective Burma’ (though he did regard it as one of his best dramatic performances), but was, of course, unable to defend himself.

Over ‘ere, Errol was ‘rehabilitated’ a long time ago. He is also taken very seriously as an actor. The Guardian newspaper recently ran a piece praising  Errol as a man, a writer and an actor, and six months ago there was an Errol Flynn season on the BBC with commentary by some very distinguished people.

Christopher Lee, shortly before he died, narrated a very good documentary on Errol, commissioned by British television, which set the record straight and shows Flynn in an almost shining light. In fact, Flynn has never been so ‘In’.

And how can Brits not love him? No other film star personified English ‘chivalry’ the way Errol did, not to mention what is called ‘English Exceptionalism.’

‘Objective Burma’, however, cannot be rehabilitated as a ‘factually based’ film on any level, and was, to put it mildly, a little impolite to America’s Allies.

The Guardian, which is a left-leaning broadsheet, and if anything, tends to mock or denigrate British military achievements, wrote the most balanced, recent article on the subject of the film. Yes, it was a great war movie, but it was horribly insensitive and should not have been released so quickly, when British wives, mothers, and children were mourning the loss of their men.

(An interesting note. Lester Cole, who co-wrote the script, became notorious himself a few years later when HUAC accused him of ‘Un-Americanism’,  and he became one of black-listed ‘Unfriendly Ten.’ Perhaps ‘Objective Burma’ was jinxed?)

Here is a link to the article…

— PW


Posted in Main Page


Graham Greene, Errol and Underaged Girls

22 Feb

To answer your question, GT, Michael Korda, who was Graham Greene’s friend and editor says that Greene and Errol did meet in Havana, for drinks at the Hotel Inglaterra.

They would have had much to discuss aside from politics. Greene knew a great deal about Hollywood films. Moreover, both their careers were nearly destroyed by infamous encounters with underaged girls.

In Greene’s case, however, his actions were quite calm and premediated and he was fully aware that the girl in question was nine years old.

From 1935 to 1940, Greene worked as the film critic for The Spectator magazine, one of the publications for which I write. In total, he reviewed 400 films, including two of Errol’s, (the notices of which I am trying to find in the archives.)

In 1937, in the supplement, Night And Day, Greene chose to review ‘Wee Willie Winkie’, the new Shirley Temple vehicle. I reproduce the article below. Please bear in mind that Greene was a humourist with a penchant for irony.


Night And Day, October 28th, 1937

‘Wee Willie Winkie’ (20th Century Fox)

by Graham Greene

‘The owners of a child star are like leaseholders – their property diminishes in value every year. Time’s chariot is at their backs: before them acres of anonymity. What is Jackie Coogan now but a matrimonial squabble? Miss Shirley Temple’s case, though, has peculiar interest. Infancy with her is a disguise. Her appeal is more secret and more adult. Already, two years ago, Miss Temple was a fancy little piece. In ‘Captain January’, she wore trousers with the mature suggestiveness of a Dietrich.

Now, in ‘Wee Willie Winkie’, wearing short kilts, she is a complete totsy. Watch her swaggering stride across the Indian barrack-square; hear the gasp of excited expectation from her antique audience when the sergeant’s palm is raised; watch the way she measures a man with agile, studio eyes, with dimpled depravity.

It is clever, but it cannot last. Her admirers – middle aged men and clergymen – respond to her dubious coquetry, her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire. ”Why are you making my Mummy cry?” – what could be purer than that? And the scene when dressed in a white nightdress she begs grandpa to take Mummy to a dance – what could be more virginal? On those lines in her new picture, made by John Ford, is horrifyingly competent. ‘



In those days, film critics did not write articles accusing studios and child stars of catering to paedophilia. The bien pensants failed to see the funny side and created an uproar. Fox sued, and, as a result, night descended on Night And Day and, for a few months, Greene’s career as a critic.

Greene was not a very nice man – well, let’s be fair, he was a bit of a shit at times, but after ‘Wee Willie Winkie’, one can forgive him everything. Besides, in all seriousity, he may have had a point. (Just being ironic again, of course. Gosh, Americans, though I love you all, can be so damn literal.)


— PW


Swashbucklin’ like Flynn – The Duellist

16 Feb

In an otherwise definitive round up of non-Errol swashbucklers, I  am surprised no-one has mentioned the ‘The Duellists’ (1977), which was winner of The Cannes Festival Best Film Debut. It starred Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel and was the first movie directed by Ridley Scott.

‘The Duellists’ is notable for containing the longest duel in film history. Only Errol wouldn’t have been Flynned alive in this picture.  The story is based on a Joseph Conrad novella, The Duel, which in turn was based on an incident reported in a French newspaper in the 19th century.

It concerns two officers in Napoleon’s Hussars, Lt. Armand D’Hubert (Carradine)and Lt. Gabriel Feraud (Keitel), who first meet in 1800 and fight an inconclusive duel with rapiers. Their rivalry intensifies as they find themselves on opposing political and romantic sides, and whenever they chance to meet they take up their duel where they left off. This continues for fifteen years, until Carradine finally decides to spare Keitel’s life.

Errol would have loved the film poster’s stand first: ‘Fencing is a science…loving is a passion….duelling is an obsession.’

Below, Carradine and Keitel (it’s only just beginning…)

— PW


Flynnian actor?

15 Feb

As we are still sitting on the fence, as it were, I thought I would pose this question? Who is this sword-handy Flynnian-looking actor, and what was his real Christian name? (Clue: He appeared in a film that included a memorable fencing scene.)


— PW


The Nevers Attack (Fencing around Flynn 2)

12 Feb

One of the greatest films made about fencing, and a must for all Flynnianados, is the 1990s French film, ‘Le Bossu’. I always give the French credit when it’s due, because it hardly ever is.

Based on the 1858 historical novel, Le Bossu by Paul Feval, set in 18th Century France, there are two adaptations. The first was made in 1959, with Jean Marais, Andre Bourvil, and Sabina Selman.

Le Bossu, 1959

But the film to which I refer is the second, superior adaption of 1997, starring Daniel Auteil, Marie Gillain and Vincent Perez. (See film poster, below.)

Above right, Auteil and Perez (Perez is wearing the splendid red tricorn).

The plot concerns a swordsman, Henri Lagardere (Auteil), who challenges the Duke de Nevers (Vincent Perez) to a friendly duel in the hope of discovering the secret of the lethal ‘Nevers Attack.’ The opening scene is set in France’s premier fencing academy and is one of the most exhilarating and diverting beginnings to a film since Errol unbuckled his swash.

The two men become friends and the Duke teaches Lagardere his fencing manoeuvre. Soon after, Nevers marries his pregnant mistress, Blanche, but, on the day of the wedding is murdered by his evil cousin, the Comte de Gonzague.

(The Comte is a villain to rival Basil Rathbone in sheer malice, and is played to the hilt, as it were, by Fabrice Luchini, who adds his own dash of sexual perversion.)

As the Duke dies in his friend’s arms, he makes Lagardere swear to avenge him and to care for his infant child, who, to the latter’s consternation turns out to be a girl, Aurore.

Perez demonstrates the Nevers Attack. Below, the deliciously evil Comte de Gonzague.

Errol would have loved this film, for it incorporates so many of the elements of his best swashbucklers – a period setting, witty dialogue, good old fashioned villains, beautiful and aristocratic maidens and the perpetual fight for justice in a world ruled by the rich and high-born.

There is also a touching romance – between Aurore, as she grows into a beautiful young woman, and a wary Lagardere. Played by the classically lovely Marie Gillain, here is a heroine in the spirit of Livvie, who can use a sword almost as deftly as the hero.

(Marie Gillain as Aurore, pictures 1 and 3, and Olivia on the set of ‘Captain Blood’, picture 2.)

‘Le Bossu,’ which means ‘the hunchback’, (I won’t spoil the film by explaining how the plot turns) had its name changed to ‘On Guard’, when it was released in America. Don’t ask me why. There may have been a hunchback protest, as Monsieur le Comte has a bit of a thing for them. Perhaps hunchbacks are le vice Francaise? I know they are not le vice Anglais, because the French always claimed that was spanking. Neither are they le vice Allemande, which the French said was buggery.

Nonetheless, The New York Times praised the movie’s ‘unabashed gusto’ and another prominent critic calls it ‘one of the best swashbucklers in movie history.’ Auteil’s performance is ‘simply wonderful’… ‘his compact build and the precision he has always brought to his physical movements make him particularly suited to the elegant brio of the fencing scenes.’

I first saw ‘Le Bossu’ when it was released in the UK and I revisit it again and again, as I do, though not as much, of course, ‘Captain Blood.’ It has a similar joyousness about it, leavened by tragedy, and Auteil, in my view, is one of the most engaging and complex actors of his generation.

It’s a shame he doesn’t look like Errol, but he has a sex appeal that is all his own. And you know what they say about men with large noses.

Here is a taster….enjoy!

— PW


Posted in Main Page


Fencing around Flynn

11 Feb

I started taking fencing lessons five years ago, a neophyte to its beauty and tradition. What an elegant and civilised ritual of redress, and how perfectly Errol personified this on screen.

Sadly, real fencing is not nearly as graceful or enthralling. The position of the body is different, the silhouette less pleasing. I was asked why I held my left arm behind me? ‘I’m copying Errol,’ I replied. (See his left hand as he duels in ‘The Sea Hawk’, below.)

There was a moue of distaste from my teacher:’ Your left arm should be in a sideways position, and the hand should hang forward, as if you were resting it over a stool.’ Swordplay in films, he went on, is ‘incorrect.’ It is ‘overly broad and filled with anachronistic and idiotic techniques.’

I gave up my fencing lessons in the face of such unromantic realism and myopia. To compare film fencing with real life fencing is like comparing a Rembrandt with Instagram.

Film fencing is designed to create a beautiful and exciting effect. And when it is done well, that itself is enough. Nonetheless, the greatest celluloid fencers knew what they were doing, and some studied under masters. A certain amount of technique was a requisite.

There has already been some debate amongst us Flynnsters as to whom was the greater fencer – Errol, Basil Rathbone or, principally because of the climactic duel in ‘Scaramouche,’ Stewart Granger?

If the duels had been real, Basil Rathbone would have killed Errol and Granger, probably at the same time. (Rathbone could have fenced professionally and was taught by both Felix Grave and Leon Bertrand.)  He knew how good he was, and once remarked that though Errol would always get the girl, he would always be able to skewer Errol through the heart.

But let’s not forget Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr in the first and best film version of ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ (1937). Like his father, Doug Jr had a wonderful insouciance and agility that made him a mesmerising swordsman on film. Ronald Colman is equally good in a ‘quieter’ fashion.

Doug Fairbanks Jr and Ronald Colman in ‘The Prisoner of Zenda.’

Then there was Robert Donat, whose whole look and style was curiously similar to Errol’s. He was even intended for the lead in ‘Captain Blood.’

Donat was a beautiful actor and a beautiful man. But, like Errol he was prone to illness from a relatively young age. Alexander Korda, who discovered him, used to send Donat to a London specialist, who also treated my grandmother. Donat had chronic asthma and could not complete action scenes, though he uses a sword very gracefully in ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ (1934), and sometimes whole films had to be halted.


Also noteworthy, though of a different era, is Daniel Auteil in ‘Le Bossu’, a 1990s film that revives the traditions of the swashbuckler. Auteil’s duelling is highly dramatic, particularly when he executes a secret and lethal manoeuvre called the ‘Nevers Attack.’

Yet there is one major star we haven’t mentioned as a nominee for the title of greatest film fencer. And it may be a glaring omission. This actor is of a similar vintage to Errol and Stewart Granger and is deceased. So let’s have some fun and try and guess who he was. In esse, this is a quiz question. Clues below.

Clue 1: Basil Rathbone said he was the greatest fencer he had ever worked with in his entire film career, remarking, ‘after a few weeks of instruction, he could completely outfight me!’

Clue 2: The man in question was not known for playing swashbuckling roles.

Clue 3: He reached the peak of his fame in the 1950s. His co-stars, aside from Rathbone, included Paul Henreid, Boris Karloff and Yul Brynner. Leading ladies included Gene Tierney and Barbara Bel Geddes.

Clue 4: He often performed on stage.

Clue 5:  Women’s hats.

— PW


Posted in Main Page


The perfect Flynn Girl?

08 Feb

I sometimes make mental lists of which actresses I would have liked to have seen play opposite Errol, and at the top is Eleanor Parker. The Canadian Parker was a classical, almost aristocratic beauty, given spice by her incredible slanted eyes, the colour of Anatolian waters, and her tumbling hair that reminds one of a winter sunset. She could dance, fight, play a queen or a serving wench with equal aplomb, was a fine comedienne and with her curves like the hull of the Zaca, looked sensational in a period costume, even when it bordered on the camp.

She starred in only one swashbuckler, a film we have been discussing –  Scaramouche – as the fiery on-off love interest of Stewart Granger. Able as Granger was in this picture (and in my view it was his best; with the exceptional six minute fencing match), he was a bit of a one-note as an actor and never quite did it for me in the boudoir department. How I wish it had been Errol sparring with Eleanor in glorious technicolour and exaggerated 18th Century costumes.

Eleanor Parker in Scaramouche

As a performer, Parker was streets ahead of 50s bombshells like Ava Gardner and Janet Leigh. A very distinguished actress, Parker was Oscar nominated more than once. She should have won for Interrupted Melody (1955), in which she played the crippled soprano Marjorie Lawrence, opposite Glenn Ford and a young Roger Moore.

Interrupted Melody

It is the best operatic biopic ever made, in my view (aside from The Great Caruso), and she gives a stellar and harrowing performance. See it if you can. I think it is on DVD.

Eleanor as Isolde

Parker also played Kirk Douglas’s troubled wife in Detective Story, a mid-50s noir – sadly, it was more grey than noir. She was also put in a second-rate Egyptian ‘adventure’, with an ageing Robert Taylor, called Valley Of the Kings (how very original.)

Had Eleanor been born ten years earlier she would have been a major star, but the more simplistic, epics with a moral, family-orientated Hollywood of the 1950s didn’t really know what to do with her.

It’s a shame that she is chiefly remembered now for playing the Baroness in The Sound of Music.

As the Baroness, with Christopher Plummer


What a gorgeous pair she and Errol would have made….


— PW


The real inspiration for Bond?

05 Feb

As we have been Bonding – as it were – I thought I would pose a quiz question.

Although Errol embodied Bond is so many ways, Fleming, sadly, did not seem to make that connection. This was probably because he was too myopic and snobbish. In fact, he was a social mountaineer; the Edmund Hillary of social climbers.

So my question is, what is the name of the man Fleming most admired and wanted to be (and that includes physically)?

In public, Fleming often gave contradictory answers when asked upon whom he had modelled James Bond. In private, however, he frequently named my ‘mystery man’  (pictured below). I know this is true because Fleming used to stay with my father in Wiltshire, and the ‘mystery man’s’ late wife was my Godmother.

Coincidentally, he bore a striking resemblance to Errol, and the two actually met at a dinner party in Italy.

Mystery Man



Clue 1: My ‘mystery man’ wasn’t a member of the Intelligence Services, a Government official, a writer, an ornithologist, an actor or any of the people usually mentioned. Fleming first met him in 1951 and later attended his wedding (below). (Interestingly, his wife, according to one of Fleming’s letters, was ‘my ideal of what a girl should look like, and how she should act’, which qualifies her for the distaff side of all the Bond novels published after 1955.)

Clue 2: In ‘From Russia With Love’, Fleming pays tribute to my ‘mystery man’ and his wife. When Bond and Tatiana have to flee from SMERSH, they are given false names. The names Fleming chose were their names.

Clue 3: A well-known sport was named after the ‘mystery man’s’ house.

Clue 4: The man is still living and has been called ‘the handsomest …. in England.’

So, what is his name?

My ‘mystery man’ outside his family house, and at the horse trials


— PW


The Hell Fire Club, Errol, Patrick and Rex

31 Jan

The original Hell Fire Club (Errol was a member of a watered down Hollywood homage, which he doubtless regretted, as he would have vastly preferred the original) has been the subject of books and films. Its first meeting took place in 1747, under the auspices of Sir Francis Dashwood, rake and dilettante, in the cellar of the George & Vulture Inn in London. The George & Vulture, which in the City, is still open as a restaurant. Shakespeare is said to have stayed there, and Dickens wrote parts of the Pickwick Papers while in situ.

The George & Vulture


The best screen ‘portrayal’ of the Hell Fire Club – which revives its 18th Century ethos – is in The Avengers episode, ‘A Touch of Brimstone’ (1966), starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg as Steed and Mrs Peel.

The episode caused outrage when it was shown on television, including protests in Parliament, and was banned in America. It concerns a degenerate aristocrat, The Hon. John Cleverly Cartney, who revives the club, its period dress, its orgies and its anarchic spirit. He takes the anarchy a bit far however, when he tries to blow up three visiting heads of state.

Cartney is played by one of the most interesting actors of the period, who also appeared in ‘The Innocents’ (1961), with Deborah Kerr. His name was Peter Wyngarde and despite his on screen roles as a homme fatale, he was gay.

Peter Wyngarde as John Cartney

What made the episode so infamous, however, was the orgy scene, in which Diana Rigg is dressed in a leather S&M outfit, with boots and a dog collar, pictured below.

It is not all orgies. Patrick Macnee does some very fine fencing in order to foil, as it were, the dastardly plotters.

The incomparable Patrick, who would have made the second best James Bond after Errol, was a sort of cousin of mine, his maternal grandmother Frances being the granddaughter of the 12th Earl of Huntingdon. So back we go to Robin Hood!

Patrick worked with Christopher Lee, who was also a friend, and Lee, of course worked with Errol. Patrick never met Errol, but they had certain similarities, apart from being dashing, charming, erudite, gentlemanly and able to carry off period costumes.

They both had very difficult relationships with their mothers. Patrick’s mother, Dorothea, decided to become a lesbian, which, not surprisingly, led to the breakup of her marriage. Patrick was raised by Dorothea and her ‘partner,’ Evelyn, whom he called ‘Uncle Evelyn.’

He was then sent to Eton, but expelled for selling pornographic photographs and acting as a bookie for his classmates.

Macnee appeared in a minor role in Olivier’s film of ‘Hamlet’. His big film break came with a rather mediocre musical comedy called ‘Les Girls’ (1957), in which he played a barrister. The highlights were Macnee and the wonderful Kay Kendall, who was married to Rex Harrison and already ill with the leukemia that was to kill her at the age of only 32.

Kay Kendall in Les Girls

Interestingly, two years before, Kendall had co-starred with Robert Taylor in ‘The Adventures of Quentin Durward’, which was supposed to have been a vehicle for Errol.

Kay made two films with Harrison, the British comedy ‘The Constant Husband,’ and ‘The Reluctant Debutante,’ which also featured American teen queen, Sandra Dee.

Harrison remains a contentious figure. Yes, he could be astoundingly rude and unpleasant, but he could also be heroic in private. Kay Kendall had been his mistress, and though he was in love with her, he remained very attached to his then wife, Lili Palmer.

When Kay’s doctor told Harrison she was dying, he and Lili had a discussion. It was agreed they would divorce so he could marry Kay and look after her during the time she had left. He did this devotedly and never told Kay she was ill, which must have been a great strain on him. When she died, he was genuinely devastated.

Of course he spoiled it slightly by telling people what a marvellous and selfless thing he had done, but he did it just the same. Rex went on to marry a friend of my father, Elizabeth Harris, the former wife of roistering actor Richard Harris. The marriage was not an unqualified success, with Rex reverting to hype. One day Elizabeth came down to breakfast and Rex said: ‘That’s a fine cavalry moustache you have this morning.’

Notwithstanding his lack of tact, Harrison was a joy as an actor, with his astringent rasp of a voice and sheer panache. (He even made cardigans look sexy, though not as sexy as Errol did.) He would have been a major Hollywood star in the 1940s, had it not been for the Carole Landis scandal.

Carole Landis

Yet was his behaviour towards Landis as deplorable as all that? Rex was married to Lili when he met the blonde actress, and Carole was no blushing innocent, having been thrice-married herself and rather generous with her favours, as well as being mentally unstable. Or, as we say over here, a complete basket case.

When she started her affair with Rex, she must have known he was not going to leave Palmer. Almost a year later, in 1948, she took an overdose. Rex found her while she was still alive, but there was a delay in calling an ambulance. Apparently, he had been searching through her address books hoping to find the telephone number of her private doctor in order to avert a scandal.

Shocking as this was, there have been other cases of famous men doing the same – even when the women who had overdosed were their wives! Greek tycoon Stravros Niarchos acted in precisely the same manner when his wife Eugenie overdosed and then died, and John Paul Getty Jr likewise, after spouse Talitha Pol ingested too much heroin.

Rex had signed a contract with Fox, which was dropped ‘by mutual consent.’ Perhaps this made him bitter and thus increasingly choleric. I wonder if he ever met Errol? He certainly knew Errol’s chum David Niven, who was very dyspeptic about Rex in his memoirs, but kept inviting him to dinner, just the same.

— PW