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Dirk Bogarde Letters Revisited

6 minutes read

Dirk Bogarde – Ever Dirk: The Bogarde Letters

In The Guardian, Simon Callow reviews Ever Dirk: The Bogarde Letters, a collection of letters written by Dirk Bogarde and edited by John Coldstream, former books editor at the Daily Telegraph:

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

“The collection of letters (a mere eighth of his surviving epistolary output, and who knows how much was lost and destroyed?) reproduces all these effects. It is charming, enraging, funny, touching, baffling, but is also unexpectedly substantial, a sort of apologia pro sua vita – though, old trouper that he was, he firmly embraces the pro’s mantra: never apologise, never explain. The tone is startlingly different from the demure and polished tone of the published books. This is partly a matter of orthography, partly of typing. […] Oddly enough, both the staccato, dot-ridden style and the misspellings give the book a huge propulsive energy and immediacy that is to me more congenial than the more kempt style of the rest of his oeuvre, and counteracts the frequent pomposity and sententiousness; he is revealed as altogether quirkier and madder than one had realised.”


Christopher Fowler in The Independent:

“It’s likely that a sizeable portion of the population has never seen a Dirk Bogarde film. His heyday as an actor ended four decades ago, and in later years he turned to biography, fiction and journalism. In addition, he crammed hundreds of postcards and letters with gossip, complaints, indiscretions, generous praise and venomous opinions. Not bad for someone with the primary career of a screen icon; but it’s gratifying to see how deeply Bogarde cared about the quality of his work and his friends rather than his public status. His enduring popularity is probably down to his likeable vulnerability.

“Coldstream wrote the actor’s definitive biography and has now completed the picture with these letters, or rather, partially completed, because Bogarde was famously ‘private’ in a time when the word was synonymous with ‘homosexual.’ For such an honest man – his writing is seamed with the frankest opinions – it is uncomfortable to be aware of his public denials concerning his life-partner, Tony [Forwood, former husband of Glynis Johns], but this was an act of self-preservation. As a Rank star he was making three films a year, and became Britain’s most popular actor at a time when the government was conducting a series of high-profile gay prosecutions. He was intelligent enough to be careful, so no letters of any frankness survive.”


Actually, Bogarde – who comes across as a prissy, arrogant, reactionary prick in his myriad (excruciatingly dull) autobiographical tomes – went on denying the type of his relationship he shared with Tony Forwood long after his stardom was over.

Paradoxically, Bogarde was the star of Basil Dearden’s seminal 1961 drama Victim (right, with Sylvia Syms), the first British film to focus on Britain’s anti-gay laws. Though dated, Victim remains a powerful socio-psychological drama, and Bogarde is excellent in the title role. He also played a gay character in Luchino Visconti’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novel Death in Venice (below).


A book reviewer in the [London] Telegraph:

“At his best, when he is writing excitedly about working with Visconti or [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder, or finding the right clothes to play Roald Dahl [in the 1981 made-for-TV movie The Patricia Neal Story], his letters are engaging and informative.

“But more often they are claustrophobic and self-absorbed. He makes the usual expat complaints about how England is going to the dogs, being taken over by Jews, Arabs, Japs, ‘nig-nogs,’ socialists etc, and his interest in the wider world is zilch.

“He told Dilys Powell in 1989: ‘Letters, I think, unless they are brilliant, can be a bit of a bore. And mine are not brilliant. Amusing, perhaps, light, and loving but they aint Intellectual!’ Quite – and not that amusing either.”


Bjorn Andresen, Dirk Bogarde in Death in Venice

Here’s one Bogarde quote found in Fowler’s review:

“’I have decided to give the Movies a rest,’ he says – a sentiment rephrased frequently – ‘I DETEST the work … and most of the time I detest the people. The fact that I have been chosen by [Alain] Resnais, or Visconti, or Fassbinder helps tremendously … but really, when all is said and done, it is what my Father always said, ‘No job for a man.'”

And here are a couple found in the Telegraph review:

“I HATE the work now. Honestly … during my fifth simulated orgasm on the film with [Liliana] Cavani in Rome [The Night Porter] I suddenly wondered what the hell I was doing at 53 with my back on the floor, my flies undone, being straddled by beloved Miss [Charlotte] Rampling.”

“Miss [Glenda] Jackson [Bogarde’s co-star in The Patricia Neal Story], surely a plain girl, with feet like a goat-herd, hands like a bricklayer, bad teeth; has an inner magnificence I have only ever seen matched by Edith Evans.”


The Telegraph published several of Bogarde’s letters (on page 1, there’s also a picture showing Bogarde, Kathleen Tynan, and Tony Forwood). Here’s one more quote:

In a 1984 letter to Tynan, in which Bogarde discusses his presidency of the 1984 Cannes Film Festival jury:

“We were, or rather I was, (as President) informed long before that we were to award prizes to ‘commercial films and players, not to Art Subjects or players who are un-known generally. This must be a Family Festival, not a political one’. So much for my personal brief; coupled with the vague suggestion, most delicatly [sic] put, that John Huston had been PROMISED the Palme d’Or for Under the Volcano, [Albert] Finney Best Actor, and Jacqueline Bissett [sic], (not half bad, but not good enough) was to be best Actress.”

“Finally the Festival Organisers were appalled when we voted Best Actor to two brilliant Spanish gentlemen [Alfredo Landa and Francisco Rabal]. And Helen Mirren [Best Actress] sent them into a sort of foaming fit! ‘Who IS she!’ they cried, ‘What film is she in?’ The final announcements, made by me, in frog, on the stage to an audience of 3,000 on the final night, were recieved [sic] with cheers and shouts of joy! They were quick to catch on that $25 million dollars does not, nescessarily [sic], mean a good film has been made. The reverse. Have you seen The Bounty by any chance?”


John Crace’s “digested read” of the Bogarde letters in The Guardian.

Dirk Bogarde’s website.

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