21st Festival

21st Festival Nimes

A homage to Dirk Bogarde with the screening of four films selected by Nicolas Botti.
“Doctor in the House” 1954 – The film is relatively unknown in France and the film that made Bogarde a star. The French audiences perhaps more aware of his later career, which is not rich in comedies! Directed by Ralph Thomas, the director with whom he worked the most. The best movie they made together is probably “A Tale of Two Cities” but the “Doctor” series was key in his career.
“Victim” 1961 – This is undoubtedly one of Dirk Bogarde’s most important movies. It was quite a game-changer in British film history and Bogarde’s career. Directed by the brilliant Basil Dearden, one of the most unfairly and unsung directors in the UK. Victim dealt with the subject of blackmail and homosexuality. The film helped to change public attitudes and contributed towards the passing of the Sexual Offences Act, legalising sex ‘in private’ between consenting adults. An award winning performance by Bogarde which confirmed him as a serious actor
“Providence” 1977 – One of his “intellectual” movies, directed by Alain Renais, and shot in France with a sublime cast. Written by David Mercer.
“Daddy Nostalgia” 1990 – Technically it’s a french movie directed by Bertrand Tavernier (who has done a lot in France in recognition of British cinema). It is Bogarde’s last movie. A moving and rarely shown film, even in France.
Nicholas Botti 2018

Novelist whose Doctor in the House books were turned into popular comedy films, starring Dirk Bogarde as Simon Sparrow

Doctor in the House 2

Muriel Pavlow with Kenneth More, right, and Dirk Bogarde in Doctor in the House, 1954.

Dennis Barker Tuesday 15 August 2017

Gordon Ostlere, who has died aged 95, was a real-life doctor until 1952, when he left medical practice so that his alter ego, Richard Gordon, could pursue what he considered the more congenial occupation of writing. That year Doctor in the House, the first of Gordon’s breezily good-humoured series of stories with a medical setting, appeared, with a film adaptation following two years later.

The movie was a great success, making a star of Dirk Bogarde as Simon Sparrow, the hapless medical student with matinee idol good looks. He is the innocent who falls in with three already established students at St Swithin’s hospital (Kenneth More, Donald Sinden and Donald Houston), devoted to dating, drinking and sport. Authority came in the form of the fearsome chief surgeon, Sir Lancelot Spratt, realised with aplomb by James Robertson Justice. For Doctor at Sea (1955), Justice became the equally irascible captain of a cargo ship, and Bogarde as its medical officer was fortunate enough to have Brigitte Bardot on board as a passenger. Five more Doctor films followed, with Leslie Phillips starring in three of them as Dr Tony Burke.

Playing Simon Sparrow for BBC Radio’s Doctor in the House (1968) was Richard Briers, and the series has since resurfaced on Radio 4 Extra. Gordon’s cheerful refusal to be overawed by the world of healthcare was very much of its time, notably in its crass sexism – but it was also one component of a general postwar melting away of deference.

ITV revamped the format with versions of Doctor in the House (1969-70) and Doctor at Large (1971) starring Barry Evans, and with scriptwriters including Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie, Graham Chapman and John Cleese. Doctor in Charge (1972-73) and Doctor at Sea (1974) starred Robin Nedwell.

Gordon wrote much else, including a biographical novel, The Private Life of Florence Nightingale (1978), which suggested that the great pioneering nurse was a lesbian. If the aim was to create attention, he certainly succeeded. Some members of the medical and nursing professions were unimpressed, and the contretemps ended in Doctor-esque comedy when a press conference that Gordon had called at St Thomas’ hospital was cancelled by the indignant district nursing officer and the author had to hold it outside on the pavement.

Richard Gordon 2

Richard Gordon was a qualified doctor, but left his medical life to become a full-time writer in 1952. Photograph:Rex

In The Private Life of Jack the Ripper (1980), he came to the conclusion that the Victorian killer and mutilator of prostitutes was not only a doctor, because of the surgical skill he displayed, but also an anaesthetist – as he himself had been at the start of his career. His reasoning was that because no one had heard any of the victims screaming, the Ripper must have used chloroform, which would require specific medical knowledge.

Gordon loved to let his mind roam all around the discipline he had started from: in the 1990s, his Alarming History of Medicine contained “amusing anecdotes from Hippocrates to heart transplants”, and other Alarming Histories covered famous and difficult patients, and sex. He also edited The Literary Companion to Medicine (1993).

Born in London, Gordon studied at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and St Bartholomew’s hospital medical school in London. He was an anaesthetist at St Bartholomew’s and at the Nuffield department of anaesthetics in Oxford, and with Roger Bryce-Smith wrote a textbook on the subject.

After a stint as assistant editor of the British Medical Journal, he took a job as a ship’s doctor on a freighter bound for Australia. In the Indian Ocean he realised that the crew were almost entirely healthy and likely to remain so, and that the only things he could do were drink gin and whisky with the ship’s engineer or use the purser’s typewriter to start writing about his medical experiences. The latter seemed to promise a longer life, so he arranged all the anecdotes he could remember around Simon Sparrow, and Doctor in the House and its successors sold in their millions.

Doctir in the House Poster 2

The poster for the 1954 film Doctor in the House. Photograph: Rex

In 1951 he married Mary Patten, a fellow anaesthetist whom he had met in Oxford. She supported him during his change of career, and they moved to Bromley, in south-east London.

Though he certainly wrote for popular consumption, Gordon did not seek publicity for himself. However, in 1974 he unknowingly received the ultimate accolade of the world of entertainment – being lured into a situation where he could be invited to appear on This Is Your Life, hosted at the time by Eamonn Andrews. Guests had been secretly assembled for the live show, but when Andrews approached him with his big red book to tell him, “This is your life”, Gordon did not, as intended, graciously go to meet his assembled family and friends in front of the cameras.

Instead, he snapped, “Oh balls!” and stalked off. Screens suddenly went blank and another programme was substituted. The only other person to have jibbed up till then was the footballer Danny Blanchflower. Unlike him, Gordon relented after persuasion from his wife, returning a few minutes later to record a programme that was shown later. His initial reluctance he put down to being “pathologically shy”.

He is survived by Mary and their two sons and two daughters.

– Richard Gordon (Gordon Stanley Ostlere), doctor and writer, born 15 September 1921; died 11 August 2017

– Dennis Barker died in 2015

Basil Dearden’s gay-blackmail drama, which helped to change the law on homosexuality in the UK, is back in UK cinemas in a restored digital print. On its first release in 1961, Sight & Sound contributor Terence Kelly praised its groundbreaking candour and a first-class performance by Dirk Bogarde.

Terence Kelly 22 July 2017


from the Autumn 1961 issue of Sight & Sound

Victim (1961)

In a time-honoured tradition, Victim uses the framework of a thriller – and rather a good one – to investigate a social problem. The only innovation is the problem itself: for the first time, a British picture concerns itself largely with the lives and problems of homosexuals. Understandably its plot deals with blackmail; and the film unequivocally condemns the way this is encouraged by the present state of the law. An elaborate blackmail racket is described, leading to the death of a young man, until a barrister friend of the dead youth hunts down the blackmailers and gives evidence against them, at the cost of probably wrecking his own career. His investigations allow for a tour of the more respectable parts of the London homosexual underworld, with glimpses of the ways in which different men cope with or are destroyed by their abnormality.

UK 1961
Certificate PG 96 mins approx
Director Basil Dearden
Melville Farr Dirk Bogarde
Laura Farr Sylvia Syms
Calloway Dennis Price
Phip Nigel Stock
UK re-release date 21 July 2017 (2K digital version)
Distributor Park Circus

► Trailer

At first the scriptwriters (Janet Green and John McCormick, writers also of Sapphire) conceal their theme in a melodramatic haze, though only the most innocent will fail to penetrate it. The cranes and scaffolding of a gigantic building site, the restless camera, Peter McEnery’s nervous performance, build a feeling of suspense which, unfortunately, the picture fails to regain later when it most needs it.
Further, it relies overmuch on the improbable or the dubious. Thus, who is going to blackmail a young clerk, even a wages clerk, when he has richer, if wilier, game like a barrister at his mercy? And is suicide quite so easy in a police cell?


Victim (1961)

Almost as unlikely are two of the four shock revelations which punctuate the last half-hour, gaining their impact by borrowing from the conventions of the detective novel rather than the screen thriller. The other two coups de theatre, with their cleverly contrived anti-climaxes, provide a big share of the film’s somewhat sparse humour. Its more abundant wit is for the most part sardonic or self-pitying, as the ‘victims’ comment on their condition and its unrewarding perils. The dialogue is slick and to the point, leading smoothly if obviously into didactic passages in which the pros and cons of the law are argued. Most of the obvious pitfalls are neatly circumvented, though at the cost of giving every character an over-explicit attitude to ‘the problem’.
Basil Dearden’s journalistic method works well in these circumstances. With reservations about Sylvia Syms’ portrayal of a judge’s daughter, one can give his casting and control of actors high praise. Among the relatively unfamiliar players, one notes Peter McEnery, Donald Churchill, and particularly Derren Nesbitt, giving a striking presence to the blackmailers’ courier; of the older supporting actors, Hilton Edwards, Charles Lloyd Pack and Norman Bird impress in varying homosexual roles. Dirk Bogarde offers one of his best performances as the barrister, wavering between guilt and resolution. But with this character the script inevitably compromises: he is homosexual only by inclination, never by act. Yet even such equivocation is a big step towards candour, and casting a star in such a part demands courage.


Victim (1961)

The half-world through which the action moves is portrayed with deliberate tact: there is none of the actors’ camp talk or behaviour which would repel or bewilder most audiences; many an everyday British comedy contains far more risque jokes; physical relationships are never more than obliquely implied. In short, with the tragedies of death or ruined lives on one hand, and sadism and blackmail on the other, the emotional argument is heavily weighted.
It is easy to sneer that Aunt Edna will have no trouble in being high-mindedly tolerant here. But allowing for public opinion – even after the Wolfenden plea for tolerance, which is not mentioned here – and allowing for industry attitudes and for censorship, could Victim in fact have been more frank than it is? It is only fair to say that it could not. As far as those who made it are concerned, the challenge to their skill and integrity has, for the Britain of 1961, been successfully met. The tougher challenge will come when the case is put with less sympathetic characters in unflattering circumstances, and still presented convincingly.
Sunday Times Review

Radio Choice Sunday Times

BBC3 July 9th 21:00 – 22:30

Sarah Wooley’s BBC3 radio play about the making of Victim, the first British film to address homosexuality seriously. BBC Three Drama of the week. Listen here…

Ground-breaking movie

Review by deano-10 (El Cerrito, CA)

It would be easy to view this movie as nothing more than a somewhat dated film. However, for it’s time, this movie was ground-breaking, for any number of reasons, including its superb acting. Dirk Bogarde and Sylvia Syms, in particular, were perfect in their parts. What many don’t realize is that this movie is credited with helping to decriminalize homosexuality in Britain. When “Victim” was released, it started a nationwide discussion about homosexuality and associated blackmail. At the time, approximately 90% of all blackmail cases involved homosexuals, and Bogarde’s character was a classic example of a blackmail “victim”. The point of the movie wasn’t that all homosexuals were victims, but they could only be victims so long as the law permitted it. The blackmail wasn’t merely because they were homosexual, but due to the harsh prison sentences a homosexual could (and often did) receive. How often does a movie get the opportunity to help create such a profound change in society?

The Vision - released by NETWORK on the 12th June - DVD Region 2

The Vision – released by NETWORK on the 12th June – DVD Region 2

Dirk Bogarde, Lee Remick and Eileen Atkins head an outstanding cast in this stunning drama from the creative team behind Shadowlands. Originally screened as part of BBC2’s acclaimed Screen Two strand and featuring an early TV role for Helena Bonham Carter, The Vision is a disturbing reflection of an era of televangelists, burgeoning satellite channels and ruthless media manipulation. Bogarde plays James Marriner, a faded, unhappily married former TV presenter who is persuaded to front the People Channel – a right-wing, evangelical satellite network poised to launch in Europe; determined to recruit “Gentle Jim” as a reassuringly familiar anchorman, the network’s steely, seductive boss Grace Gardner (Remick) proves hard to refuse. As the network’s first live transmission looms, Marriner, whose personal life is now under surveillance, has become deeply uneasy about its aims. But Gardner makes it clear that any attempt to alert viewers to her organisation’s true agenda will bring about a devastating retribution.

The Blue Lamp, digitally restored, available 12th December 2016 on DVD and Blu-ray.

The Servant has been included in Barry Norman’s Best British Films of All Time.

According to Mr Norman, he made his selection based on what people would want to watch again and again, with youngsters today enjoying them as much as when they were first made

See the full list here.

Radio Times – Dec 8th 2001

The Private Dirk Bogarde: Part One

Handsome, charming and worshipped by women, Dirk Bogarde was Britain’s first screen idol. But, unlike today’s film stars, his private life remained a mystery. This Christmas, an Arena Special, made with the co-operation of family and friends, will look beyond his public persona. Nicholas Shakespeare, writer and narrator of the Arena film, tells how the truths that have emerged since Bogarde’s death in 1999 help to explain his greatest achievements as an actor

The heart-throb we never knew

Imagine a fine, early-summer afternoon in 1960, the lawn of a country house in the Home Counties. The scene comes to you through the lens of a home-movie camera. Whoever holds the camera is intimate with the world it records: the gleaming Rolls-Royce, the corgies on the terrace, the couple fooling around by the flower beds. One is the stunning French actress, Capucine. The other is her host, Dirk Bogarde. He walks up behind, laughingly kisses her on the head and strolls off, drawing on his cigarette.

The scene suggests to the innocent viewer that Bogarde, “the idol of the Odeons”, has, at 39, at last found love. The couple look like newlyweds.

It is hard to grasp just how famous Dirk Bogarde was in an era when television was in its infancy and people went to the pictures three times a week. There is no one in British cinema who was his equal: he was our first, and possibly last, screen idol. The success of the 1954 comedy Doctor in the House, in which Bogarde played the charming intern Simon Sparrow, was such that the film made back its money from the Leicester Square Odeon alone. A number of sequels included Doctor at Sea, in which Bogarde became the first British actor to play opposite the new French star, Brigitte Bardot. In the words of Gore Vidal, who met him at this time: “He was the heart-throb of all England. The whole public of an entire country knew who he was.”

According to his American agent, “Boaty” Boatwright, Beel House, near Amersham, became a stopping-off point for anyone visiting London from Hollywood. Those captured on the home movie include Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, Jean Simmons, Gregory Peck, Michael Wilding and Elizabeth Taylor. “I don’t go to the Caprice,” said Dirk. “The Caprice comes to me.” His younger brother Gareth observed how Dirk craved an aristocratic respectability: “There were butlers, lots of Georgian silver and vast tables, and everything was incredibly properly done.” On occasion, the trappings could go to his head. “There was a time when he suggested I really ought to call him ‘sir’.”

Bogarde’s fame and what he called his “little-boy-searching-for-God” looks had bought him this luxurious lifestyle, but it was attended by much inconvenient adulation. At Beel, he was driven to erect a huge mound, known as Bogarde’s Bastion, to protect himself from harassment by the neighbouring girls’ school. Every time he made a public appearance he had to put on special trousers, flies sewn up, so as not to be ransacked by admirers. His nephew Mark Goodings recalls how once, in Crowborough, while Bogarde queued for cigarettes, a woman stuck a hat pin into his side and took it out, tipped with a little bit of his blood: “Good God, he’s real.” As a contemporary magazine put it: “Ask any film fan between 15 and 20 whom she considers the most attractive man on the screen and she’s almost bound to say Dirk Bogarde.” And yet, unknown to his admiring public, this fantasy world was unravelling.

The home-movie camera leaves Capucine splashing in the swimming pool with Bogarde. It enters the house. On an antique table a stack of magazines includes the latest edition of Mirabelle, in which Bogarde’s life story is told in pictures under the heading: “Britain’s most eligible bachelor – will he ever find True Love?”

“‘I do my best to entertain the public, but I want to keep my private affairs to myself,’ he says firmly.”

The comic-book tells of heart break with a number of leading actresses, such as Jean Simmons. They suggest that somewhere beyond Bogarde’s Bastion the right woman waits. “‘One day,’ says Dirk, ‘I may open the door to a girl selling brushes, and … wham!’ Perhaps Britain’s most eligible bachelor will have found the future Mrs Bogarde.” Most telling is the caption on the page opposite: “And now let’s meet Rock Hudson, another star who has found heartbreak and love are seldom far apart … “

What no reader of Mirabelle can suspect is that there already exists a “Mrs Bogarde”: the person controlling the camera. His name is Tony Forwood. For the past 12 years Forwood, a former character actor once married to the actress Glynis Johns, has been Bogarde’s manager and companion. He is the one who chauffeurs him in the Rolls-Royce every morning on the 20-minute drive to Pinewood studios, the home of Rank. Between them they have constructed the public image of the matinée idol, a construct no less hollow than the fibreglass Rank gong.

Dirk does not despise the films he has made: “Anything I do, I do to the depths of my gut.” The problem is that after 13 years of playing “swoon bait” parts such as Dr Simon Sparrow, his career is at a standstill. By nature volatile and fiery, he wants nothing more than to wrench himself out of the Rank straitjacket and apply himself to more serious, intelligent work. “You’re not talking about some twit who came up through drama school and was being a luvvie,” says Michael York, who was to act in Bogarde’s favourite film, Accident. “No, this is someone with a pretty substantial emotional background.”

For the first time since his death in 1999, it is possible, with the co-operation of family and friends, to go behind the image that Bogarde presented to the public all his life. At a time when homosexuality was illegal, Bogarde had, with Tony’s support, built for himself a persona. It was skilfully done and, even in seven volumes of autobiography, he chose not to deconstruct it. Instead, he continued to promote a heterosexual image that never explained the nature of his relationship with Tony.

And yet the true story is crucial to an understanding of Bogarde’s achievement. Only by mining the tension that existed between his public image and excessively private life did Bogarde mature into the serious actor – and, later, author – of his ambition.

As a child he had learnt to create his own world. He likened this impulse to a hermit crab making a shell. Once formed, he could not tolerate a crack. When the television interviewer Russell Harty famously had a go in 1986, Dirk thwacked him aside: ‘I’m still in the shell and you haven’t cracked it yet, honey.”

Under the surface lay a lot of terror. In 1950, Dirk’s brother Gareth had lived with Dirk and Tony in London. “I remember Dirk ranting and shouting. Once he reduced me to tears. I asked Tony: ‘Why did he do this?’ and Tony said : ‘Have you ever seen anyone chew the carpet? Your brother will from time to time.'” Tony was one of very few able to rein him in. “Like a cat has a particular sofa arm to scratch and to tear,” says Gareth, “Tony was that. He absorbed a huge amount of Dirk’s fury.”

At the heart of Dirk’s fury, believes Gareth, lay his fear of being found out – and not just sexually. “Because the whole point was that it was a mystery. What you have with him is an immensely mercurial, brilliant character who, I believe, had no personality of his own. What he had was what part he chose to be for the day, rather like putting on a tie in the morning. What shall I take out of the cupboard today; what shall I be?’ And I think without being able to do that he was adrift. He had a horror of all the bits of the jigsaw coming together.”

The jigsaw began with his parents. Dirk’s father was a respectable, remote figure, the first art editor of The Times, where he hoped Dirk might one day join the staff. Ulric Van den Bogaerde was from a Belgian family. He had fought on the Somme and watched a friend disappear beside him in the mud, the shell leaving only a hand. Throughout Dirk’s childhood, his father was prone to suffering attacks of shell shock.

Dirk’s mother, Margaret Niven, was opposite in character, a Scottish extrovert who spoke in a gravelly Glaswegian accent. As a young woman she had acted on stage with her father, an alcoholic cartoonist. She bitterly resented that her theatrical career had ended with her marriage and drank to quell her bitterness, frequently disgracing herself in public. “When I was five,” says Gareth, “she would be sent away for two or three weeks because ‘her vocal cords were strained’. Actually, she went away to dry out.” Dirk’s desire never to be out of control himself – “In control is what I like to be” – came in reaction to his mother’s alcoholism. He could be vicious about her, but they were close. Dirk’s sister Elizabeth, or Lu, remembers their closeness as “ridiculous”, bordering on worship. “When my mother would go out to the theatre, he’d always have something under his pillow belonging to her, even if it was a shoe.” The intensity of the relationship worried Ulric.

Out of his desire to satisfy his parents – the insecure, drunken mother who never quite made it on stage and the aloof, desk-bound father who wished him to join The Times Dirk’s twin careers as actor and author were honed.

“When my mother would go out he’d always have something under his pillow belonging to her, even if it was a show”

Bogarde’s sister, Elizabeth

During the holidays, Ulric installed his wife out of harm’s way on the Sussex Downs. While he worked in London, she stayed with the children in a rented cottage near Alfriston. Left largely to himself, Dirk – or as he was christened, Derek – sought refuge in a tight nucleus formed by his sister and their nanny, Lally Searle.

After his family and Tony Forwood, Lally was the most influential figure in Dirk’s life. Under her supervision, he collected the milk from the neighbouring farm, cleared the night-soil buckets and treated the garden frogs as if they were friends “He’d sit and have long chats with them,” says Lally, who is now 90. “To him they weren’t an animal, they were a person. And he’d think up all sorts of little stories about what they were going to do.” A frog became his life – long mascot, a potent image of his fugitive spirit: camouflaged, slippery, hopping out of reach.

As a child he liked to act with Elizabeth. He hogged the female parts and then robbed or murdered her. “It was always something that ended up horribly,” recalls Lally. “Once I had a neighbour knocking on the window. ‘You ought to go down to see what that boy’s doing with Lu!'”

Lally was a precursor to Tony Forwood, a benign shoulder to lean on and to protect him from himself. Her brother was a policeman. She’d warn Dirk: “You behave like that and I’ll box your ears and give you to George.” Elizabeth says, “He needed her strictness in a peculiar way.”

Then, in July 1933, when he was 12, calamity: Gareth was born, Lally’s attention diverted and the nucleus shattered. Gareth’s birth provoked a jealous, cruel streak in Dirk. “He was quite horrid to me. I remember having my fingers shut in the sash of the window that he’d brought down on top of my fingernails and I screamed, and my mother said: ‘What on earth are you doing to that child? Why is he screaming?’ and Dirk was saying, ‘I’m just taking a thorn out of his finger with a needle.’ He was a great one for pulling off the wings of flies all his life.”

Their father watched Dirk’s unfriendliness towards Gareth with mounting concern. In 1934, he made the ill-judged decision to separate Dirk from both mother and brother and send him to school in Glasgow.

The three years Dirk spent billeted on his mother’s Scottish family he regarded as the most important period of his life. The dismal house in Bishopbriggs, a Glasgow suburb, could not be further removed from the idyllic cottage in Sussex for which he hankered. This is where his shell was formed. Much later,in his first volume of autobiography, he wrote an account of the childless couple, Uncle Murray and Aunt Sadie, who had replaced Lally in loco parentis. In a letter to a cousin who accused him of being “vengeful” in the autobiography, he summarised his hurt: “My life with them was far FAR worse than anything I wrote in my book. The scars that the time there, three years, burned into me never heal. But without those awful years of bigotry and loneliness I would never have got through life. Those years made me strong, determined to save myself and get away from all that was ‘dainty’, ‘false’, and ‘genteel’ and no need to put too fine a point on it, cruel. Uncle Murray was deadly cruel. He falsified my school reports, censored my letters home every week, watched me with curious intensity when I took my weekly bath…”

Family lore has it that one of his Scottish uncles seduced him. By the time he was called up for the army, it would appear that his sexuality was determined. “A war finds you out, I’m afraid,” he wrote in his autobiography. But just how much he never told. According to his brother and sister, he omitted from his accounts of arriving in liberated Belsen or serving as an aerial reconnaissance officer in Normandy a number of affairs with fellow officers, among them a hero of the D-Day run. In a will made on 30 May 1944, he leaves to Tony Jones, a lieutenant in the RNVR: “The picture in my room of the cloth tower in Ypres, and my silver ring from my left hand.” As Gareth says, “In the army he had a treasure trove of a way of life in which he could indulge and after the war that needed to be regulated.” Another Tony rescued him.

Dirk Bogarde and Tony Forwood had met at the start of the war. On 28 October 1940, Dirk was playing at Amersham rep in Grief Goes Over when Tony, who couldn’t get in to see Edison, the Man at the local cinema, went to the theatre instead. He worked as an agent for the West End management firm HM Tennant’s and, impressed by Dirk’s performance, gave him his card. Six years later, demobbed and looking for a job, Dirk knocked at Tony’s door in Chesham Mews and, as he tells it, a flu-ridden Tony dropped the key from an upstairs window. Within a year Dirk had made his first Rank film and Tony, now separated from his wife and young son, had moved into Dirk’s house in Chester Row. Forty years later they were still together. “I don’t think there was a night they were apart,” says Elizabeth.

Confusion surrounds their partnership. “I was aware that his relationship with Tony in the early days was a homosexual relationship,” says Gareth. But what began as a sexual affair probably developed into a commonsensical one. “Dirk called it a marriage blanc,” says Gore Vidal. “I assumed it was that. I’ve known a great many of those. If you’re wise, you do not have sex with friends.”

When in 1947 Dirk was signed up by Rank, it was Tony who took care of the business deals, signed cheques, cooked, drove. “He was the balance in Dirk’s life, without question of a doubt,” says his nephew Brock (the son of Gareth), who was to inherit Dirk’s estate. “He stopped the fear and the excess from boiling over. He smoothed the path. He helped Dirk in every way have a clear path to his craft.” He even thought up Dirk’s new name: Dirk Bogarde, who became famous not only for the Doctor films but for pictures such as The Spanish Gardener and A Tale of Two Cities – as well as for shooting Jack Warner (Dixon of Dock Green) in The Blue Lamp.

For Dirk, who could not happily live on his own, Tony operated as a sort of super-Lally; for Tony, who was never going to be successful as an actor, it meant being able vicariously to enjoy and manage a life of stardom without the pressure. Whatever it was, says the actress Jill Melford, it was a very good setup. Like everyone else, she called Tony “Tote”: “He was totally divine.”

But by 1960, the career they had contrived was faltering. Dirk’s latest film was the absurd The Singer Not the Song, in which, in an effort to revive his flagging status as a heart-throb, he minced about in black leather cowboy pants; a year before, he had starred in a serious cinema adaptation of Bernard Shaw’s Doctor’s Dilemma, a howling disappointment to his fans since it had nothing whatever to do with the Doctor films; Rank had also pulled the plug on a cherished project to star as Lawrence of Arabia, a part that was eventually played by the young Peter O’Toole. A return to the stage after a three-year absence had petered out unhappily at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, with illness and recurring stage fright. (“He would vomit in a bucket,” says Gareth.)

And recently, a bid to exchange Pinewood for Hollywood had resulted in another fiasco, Song Without End, in which Dirk played Franz Liszt opposite the striking but wooden Capucine. He tells readers in his autobiographies how he proposed marriage more than once to Capucine. On one occasion, in a scene described by his siblings as unlikely, his father then gets down on his knees and begs Capucine to do the decent thing. Exactly how much Dirk’s proposals were calculated to resuscitate his reputation as a screen lover, how much the outpouring of genuine emotion, is impossible to fathom. Perhaps Dirk himself didn’t know. The engagement never happened.

How much Dirk’s proposals to Capucine were calculated to resuscitate his reputation as a screen lover is impossible to fathom

It was in these circumstances that a script arrived about a married but secretly homosexual barrister that would chime directly with Dirk’s own predicament. After discussing it with Tony, he took a calculated gamble.

Victim came out in 1961 at a launch attended by Princess Margaret. It was the first time the word “homosexual” had been uttered in a British film. According to Sylvia Syms, who played his wife, he not only insisted on the celebrated speech in which he confesses his love for a young man: he wrote the lines. (“I stopped seeing him because I wanted him. Do you understand? Because I wanted him.”) Syms says, “He was adamant that it was important. He thought the rest of it was just pretending. He wanted to show the enormous pain that it caused.”

Dirk flourished again as an actor after Victim to become, in the opinion of Gore VidaL “one of the best film actors of our time”. Since 1947 he had avoided the very things that made him most interesting because they were allied to what might be perceived as a terrible truth. Now, on screen at least, he played his age and advanced towards his demons.

After Victim, he sought out Joseph Losey and, through Losey, Harold Pinter, to become part of the forefront of the New Wave of British cinema. Victim opened the gate to King and Country, in which Dirk drew on his shell-shocked father; The Servant, which, in the opinion of his co-star James Fox, strangely mirrored his own relationship with Tony; and Accident, in which, as his co-star Michael York observes, “The smooth glamorous Dirk gave way to the wild tormented Dirk, with booze on his breath, gravy on his tie.”

Dirk’s critical success cost him his lavish lifestyle. These were great movies, still taken seriously today, but not great crowd-pullers: “No one queued up to see Accident.” He and Tony, who liked to live well, needed to economise under the stringent tax laws of Harold Wilson’s Labour government. In March 1969, they felt forced to leave England. At Dover, Arnie Schulkes, who worked as his stand-in for 22 films, followed the Rolls-Royce on to the ferry in a Simca, carrying the Rolls’s two spare tyres and smuggling £2,500 in cash at a time when £50 was the limit for taking abroad.

As they motored towards Rome, where Dirk had grudgingly agreed to make an advertisement for Foster Grant sunglasses, he had little inkling that his best work lay ahead.

© Nicholas Shakespeare 2001

The BBC2 Arena Special, directed by Adam Low and narrated by by Nicholas Shakespeare, will be shown in two parts over the Christmas period

Next Week: The role he was meant to play.

Dirk’s portrayal of the composer Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice was a revelation. It would transform “the idol of the Odeons” into a respected European cinema actor.