I think this interview’s alternative title should be, “Can Anneke Wills forget Klaus Kinski and find a copy of Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness??”
The answer to both questions is yes.
I met Anneke Wills towards the end of last year at a convention in London and I thought I would take the chance to speak with someone who had worked with our (anti)hero Klaus Kinski on one of his British made films, Gerry O’Hara’s The Pleasure Girls (see the Du dumme Sau! film review here). That said, I always knew that there were no direct scenes between Anneke Wills, who played Angela, and Klaus’ character Nikko, but I guess I had always assumed that people working on films together might have some contact anyway or at least have met; it seems that this was not really the case for Anneke Wills and Klaus Kinski, so it didn’t take long for me to realise that there would not be much Klaus talk to be had during this interview. But, never mind, Du dumme Sau! took the opportunity to talk to the lovely Anneke Wills about Anthony Newley and Alan Bates instead and I hope that you enjoy this as much as I did.
A little background on Anneke Wills for those of you who may only have seen her in The Pleasure Girls, Anneke is probably most famously known as the Doctor Who companion, Polly, for the first and second Doctors (William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton) – and she was therefore present for the first regeneration, which is probably more exciting in hindsight than it appeared to be at the time. She was also in two episodes of Anthony Newley’s cult TV series The Strange World of Gurney Slade; in two films directed by Clive Donner, Some People (with Kenneth More, David Hemmings and Ray Brooks) and Nothing But the Best (with the gorgeous Alan Bates and, well, who cares who else? Alan Bates is enough for anyone!); she also appeared in The Likely Lads, The Saint, The Avengers, and the wonderful Strange Report amongst many other things. Anneke left the film and TV industry in 1970 to devote more time to her husband (Michael Gough, as seen with Klaus Kinski in Piers Haggard’s Venom – see the Du dumme Sau! review here) and their family and she has lived a wonderfully strange and exciting life.
You can read about Anneke’s life in her two autobiographies – Self Portrait and Naked– both of which are still available through Anneke’s website. I particularly enjoyed Self Portrait as it covered her life and work in the sixties and seventies, but without further ado – the Du dumme Sau! interview:
DDS: Thank you so much for agreeing to do the interview, Anneke. It’s very exciting because for me you are a 60’s icon, appearing in so many wonderful cult TV shows. Firstly, I should explain that this website Du dumme Sau! is about the films and life of Klaus Kinski, so I will need to ask you a few questions about The Pleasure Girls but other than that there’s so much more I want to ask you and we can move onto other parts of your career.
What do you think of The Pleasure Girls? Did you enjoy working on it? I know you didn’t mention Klaus in your biographies but do you remember working with him? And if so, what was he like?
Anneke Wills (AW): Cos the thing is about Klaus that I actually never really met him! No, I didn’t meet him because he was doing something different in his part in The Pleasure Girls. I was sort of in the house, with the guys… Francesca Annis and all the others, and then he was off in a different part of the script so I never actually came across him.
DDS: I did wonder because there weren’t any scenes with you and Klaus, but I thought that you might have come across each other in the firework party scene or that you might have just met off the set and behind the scenes…?
AW: Yes, the awful thing is I can’t remember. I watched it about 6 or 7 years ago, I can’t really remember. So that’s not very good for you because I can’t actually remember very much about him!
DDS: Were there any stories about him being naughty on set even?
AW: That’s the awful thing, I can’t remember anything about it…
DDS: In terms of that film though, you did say something which interested me – you said in your autobiography that originally Clive Donner was directing the film and then he left and Gerry O’Hara took on the direction work. That’s of interest to me because I’ve never heard that mentioned by anyone else before – neither in books about Klaus Kinski’s films, nor on IMDB, and it’s not mentioned in the booklet that came with the BFI Flipside BluRay/DVD. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
AW: The thing is this, that I can only say what I remember, what I remember was that I had already worked with Clive Donner on Some People  and he was a good friend and a marvellous director, and so when he called up my agent and said he wanted me in a movie I dropped everything and said, “Yes, please, I would love to work with him again!” So then the script was sent and it was very much like the way that Clive Donner always used to work, which was, erm, you know, on location, getting right into the whole [thing]; he was unique in that way, actually, it was the same with Some People we went down to Bristol and we integrated with all the people and we rehearsed and then we started shooting. And he was going to do the same thing [with The Pleasure Girls], we would all be in the house together and we would, as it were, live together and work together. So that’s what was happening and then the team of people, you know, Francesca Annis and Ian McShane and Tony Tanner, I mean, wonderful actors to work with; he got a very good bunch of actors to play out this interesting little story and then in the middle, all of a sudden, what is going on? They’ve seen the first rushes, they don’t like it! They don’t like what he’s doing, it’s not sexy enough they want to put it out, as far as we know, they’ve got a sort of, what’s the word, the venues where they want to show this film, it’s not cinéma vérité that they want, they want tits and boobs (sic). So then, terrible upset, Clive is walking, we are left stranded, are we going to get paid? Bottom line for an actor, always very practical, oh crumbs are we going to get paid?! Was it Gerry O’Hara – I don’t remember – stepping in and saying, “No, no, we can do this, we’ll just have to change the scenes slightly. Here’s a scene with you, Anneke, in a telephone box, well, I tell you what, we’ll put that in a bedroom instead.” So we were all kind of, “OH GOD! This is pathetic and actually rather annoying,” and it seemed like to us that the whole script was getting unbalanced and nobody was happy. Nobody was happy, we weren’t happy, but we kind of scraped through, we finished it and then we heard that it had gone deeper into, y’know, turning into a sex film, so in a way I think there was a premiere, we none of us went to it and we were kind of slightly ashamed of it really. And we moved along in our careers, that’s the whole story.
DDS: That’s interesting… but despite the fact that I have issues with the film trying to do too many things at once, I still believe it’s a very good, enjoyable film and well shot; I think it’s aged quite well.
AW: You see, it’s no good asking me because being an actor, I mean I’m not a film judge or a film critic and I just did my part in the film, and I was getting on with the guys, and that was nice, and, y’know, that’s what I remember. I look now and I think, mm, to me what’s interesting is when I saw it some years ago, I thought goodness it’s telling a story of a different London – London was very different then – y’know me shouting down, “Hallo, milkman!” Y’know that was so sweet, actually, and the sort of the innocence of it all, we were all so kind of innocent really.
DDS: I thought Paddy, the gay character, was the nicest character in the film…
AW: That’s right, yes, and you see that was very early times for all that, I mean, I don’t know when the laws all came through but all that was supposed to be, erm… it was illegal so you just had to be careful! So those poor people they all had to, y’know, well, hide in the cupboard. I mean, but on the other hand, gay people had been in the arts forever! We all knew that, it’s just that the laws hadn’t caught up with us yet!
DDS: Going to your other work – what do you remember about Toddler on the Run?
AW: Well, erm, actually I have got a photograph from Toddler on the Run that emerged and if you’d like and if I can find it I’ll get it off to you. Well, of course, it was a Play of the Week, wasn’t it?
DDS: A Wednesday Play.
AW: Right, I was very happy to get it cos it was a very good part – a nice big fat part – and too bad that that’s one of the ones which got lost.
DDS: I’d love to see it, so I’m going to keep an eye out for it and hope that it becomes one of these Lost and Found items. I’ve read the book by Shena Mackay and the story has been something that’s been in my life since I was a child when my mum told me about it and I remember having nightmares after that about being chased across a golf course by a dwarf wearing tartan trousers; I’ve had a phobia of dwarves ever since but at the same time I am also fascinated…
AW: I’m not surprised you had horrible nightmares, I mean anything to do with dolls… and I mean I have to tell you some of the Doctor Who episodes lately have been so frightening that I’ve been hidden behind my sofa because I can’t watch!
I don’t think I ever remember reading the book [Toddler on the Run]. Didn’t we go to the seaside? And then what happened for me was that I think we were running on the beach and I fell over and I hurt my arm and then my whole location work there was very difficult because I couldn’t move my arm and we were staying a pub and I couldn’t put my trousers on because I couldn’t get dressed on my own and so that was what I remember! You know, you see, the trouble is you’re talking to an actor and we don’t have great judgements of what the work is [laughs]… y’know, you go along, you go to rehearsals, you do your job and then you go home!
[Morris Todd] was just a smaller man, erm, I don’t remember him ever being called a dwarf [Du dumme Sau! note: in the book he was supposed to be 4 foot 6 tall]… [Ian Trigger] was a very lovely actor with a lot of charisma, so then it would work, y’see, cos that’s why he would be together with me!
DDS: Yes, he was supposed to be very attractive to the ladies! I am hoping that it will turn up one day so I can see it…
AW: Well, keep your eye out. I’ll tell you the other one I want you to keep your eye out for, let me know, well, if there is any way we can get hold of Mercy Humppe. I don’t think it’s available…
DDS: Well, you’re in luck, Anneke, because I’ve got it [Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?, dir Anthony Newley, 1969] recorded from a TV screening and I can send it to you!
AW: You’re kidding me! Okay, we’ll do a swap – I’ll send you the Toddler on the Run photo and you send me Mercy Humppe! The thing was that I went to see Tony before Mercy Humppe and he said, “I’ve written a part for you, but you can’t play it cos Joan’ll kill me.”
DDS: And was it the Mercy Humppe part?
AW: I think so, yeah.
DDS: Yes, because I thought it was you anyway.
AW: And I never saw it.
DDS: O my gosh, well, the reason I thought it was you was after reading your autobiography I could see that you were the lady he was dating before he got together with Joan Collins and he played it beautifully, you see, you were the character he could not forget and when she turns up it’s almost like a fairytale and it’s soft focus and lovely – in the film, the character of Filigree Fondle seems to be his first wife, the lovely Ann Lynn; Mercy Humppe, is the sweet love child with blonde hair and enormous eyes [Anneke Wills maybe?], who Hieronymus leaves when he gets together with Polyester Poontang, Joan Collins, played by Joan Collins herself.
[Du dumme Sau! note: No wonder Joan Collins divorced Anthony Newley after making the film! He even had their two children playing their two children in the film too. A bit too close to the truth, maybe? And since the most dreamy and romantic sequences are reserved for Mercy Humppe, and he appears to be saying he cannot forget her and find true happiness, well, it’s a recipe for marital disaster really, isn’t it?]
AW: You see, he’d written it all. The thing was that, at the time, as you know, I was with Mick Gough and he wasn’t too keen on me seeing it so I pushed all that aside because I had my life and my children and I didn’t want to sort of go back into the past and unpick unhappy memories. So I never really knew that – isn’t it amazing, Raechel, that at this time these things would come back to one so that then there’s a massive healing. And it’s like a sort of message from Tony up there in the clouds saying, look, here, I did love you. Aww!
DDS: And can he ever forget you and find happiness and, y’know…
AW: That’s sweet!
DDS: Yes, very. I saw the film and then, oddly, a couple of weeks later I met you at the convention and then I got your book and read the story and put two and two together.
AW: Oh gosh! And isn’t it interesting that I led my whole life and I never even knew? I never knew how he’d written it.
DDS: Well, I just thought, “That sounds like Anneke!” And there’s some lovely songs in it as well – the best one he kept for you, “Sweet Love Child”
AW: Now I can’t wait to see it! And, y’know, it’s interesting too because this year Network found [The Strange World of] Gurney Slade, and remastered that and put it out there.
DDS: Then there was that dreadful warehouse fire…
AW: Yes, and they’re slowly recouping them and getting them out there.
DDS: Do you know what Gurney Slade was about, cos I’ve watched it and I liked it a lot but I’m still not entirely sure what it was about, even after seeing the entire series! In one of the trailers Anthony Newley says something along the lines of, “What is it about?” as if he didn’t know either!
AW: Yes, I think he’s being disingenuous when he’s saying that…
DDS: Yes, he’s probably saying it because that’s what the audience would have said or thought – especially at that time when it would have been even more unusual than it is now…
AW: Absolutely, when I watch it, it just makes me laugh because that was what was going on in his head all the time. He did have this kind of inner dialogue which was always going on; that’s what made him so extraordinary to be with because he was VERY creative and VERY quirky and so he got together with these writers and together, well, off they went. Well, when you know that he’s lying on his tummy talking to ants and this was pre anybody taking any drugs and we hadn’t reached psychedelics yet, when we all laid on our tummies and talked to ants! [Laughs] Y’know, this wasn’t happening yet, so it was very interesting, I thought, to see that this was just how Tony was, y’know, off he would go, talking about politicians and so on and he would have a great old go – he knew EXACTLY what he was doing, which is why when they trashed it, he was terribly hurt by that.
DDS: That wasn’t a one-off because Mercy Humppe is a very odd film too…
AW: [Laughs!] He was very odd, and he loved The Goons, y’see, as did Leslie Bricusse [Du dumme Sau! note: Bricusse was Newley’s songwriting partner] too – we were all completely mad about The Goons. And so he loved the idea of, y’know, stepping up beyond the camera and trotting off and having magic adventures.
DDS: Yeah, and talking directly to the camera quite a lot too – which is fairly unusual and a bit disconcerting with a kind of alienation effect. It’s a very strange sense of humour, but you get into it and I particularly enjoyed the episode about the countersunk screws, which is just one very long joke about screws with a great punch line, I thought!
AW: Yes, you can see how influenced he was by The Goons, you can see it there. But that was the strongest influence around at the time. Don’t forget, y’know, we hadn’t seen Monty Python, we hadn’t seen any of this screwball humour; it was only The Goons around at that time that were doing this kind of serialistic kind of pieces of madness, and the other one was Marcel Marceau although he did it in mime… In a way, [Anthony] was given this series as a little treat and he came up with that and they didn’t know what to make of it, ha ha!
It was absolutely lovely, because y’know they were expecting a piece of “Anthony Newley”, which is why they also even advertised it with Tony sitting there with a whole load of gorgeous 60’s ladies draped all over him. But, no, that’s what he was going to produce so that’s why I think they were really angry and fed up, ha! …because they didn’t get what they were expecting.
But you see, there are people out there of my age who remember it clearly and remember it as being very special and very unique and it stuck in their heads. And I just spoke with a dear old friend up in Norfolk who I haven’t seen for many years and he said, “Gurney Slade, I remember because he was talking about this ant carrying the equivalent of a grand piano on his back,” he said, “I’ve never forgotten that.” You see, it strikes chords with people and now, you see, what’s happening is my younger friends, my Doctor Who friends, and all my sort of science fiction friends, are calling me up and saying, “My goodness me! I’ve just seen Gurney Slade for the first time and I think it’s MARVELLOUS!” [laughs]. Well, there you are, you see.
DDS: What are you up to these days? Are you going to do any acting or are you still keeping yourself quiet in the countryside?
AW: There’s lots going on, so at the moment I’m making soup to freeze in case I get frozen in again like last winter! For six weeks I was completely frozen in! So I’m busy getting my food stores together, and getting the weeds out of the vegetable patch cos if I don’t do it now they’ll be MUCH worse in the spring. So, working hard on the garden because I’ve been SO busy this year and it’s been actually the MOST amazing year for a decade, at least, Raechel. It’s been incredible, y’know, I’ve just turned 70.
DDS: NO!!! [Du dumme Sau! note: Remember, I met her recently, so I know what she looks like and she is AMAZING!]
AW: I’ve just had my 70th birthday and it was so wonderful and so my little cottage is smothered in lovely cards from people, which is just a treat, and I had a really very, very special sparkly few days; really, really lovely. So that was a culmination of lots of lovely things, like the 50th anniversary of The Avengers happened this year  and so that was very lovely meeting, and meeting Paul O’Grady, which was a treat. Then there was the 40th anniversary of The Go-Between [dir Joseph Losey, 1970], which I wasn’t in, but Michael Gough was in it and so I went up to Norfolk and they made a beautiful film about the making of The Go-Between and that Norfolk summer that we all remember so well. So that was lovely.
DDS: Anneke, I LOVE Alan Bates [Du dumme Sau! note: I truly believe that Alan Bates was the most handsome man ever to have walked this earth]
AW: Oh, Alan Bates was GORGEOUS! …And, then, you know Michael Gough died this year and that was the beginning of it all actually, and it was really very special. He always said he’d like to go on St Patrick’s Day and he did! So my son and I gave a little party for all the old friends from the 60’s, and that was very special, and so it’s just been the most amazing year. …For my 70th birthday, I gave myself the lovely book of John Craxton [by Ian Collins and David Attenborough, published by Lund Humphries, 2011] and I’m reading it and falling in love with him all over again! He was a magical person.
DDS: The Craxtons sounded lovely – I don’t know how you get taken in by a family like that, and get looked after by them but it sounded amazing! [Du dumme Sau! note: Anneke spent a lot of time with the Craxton family – a family of classical musicians, composers, artists – when she was attending acting classes in London]
AW: Well, ya see, I’ve got guardian angels looking after me as you can read [in the autobiographies]! I’ll tell you what was really good about writing the book – I’d decided I’d write them by hand cos I think it’s very important, at least for me, to use your right hand, because your right hand is connected to your heart. So when you actually write with your right hand and you’re in the right space and you’ve lit a candle, and you’re doing this, you say you’re writing a story of love; it’s actually a love story. Because I’m writing looking back, I’m writing about all these extraordinary and wonderful people – and I mean some of them who absolutely hurt me and, you know, that was my life lesson. And how much I learnt from that! But still, I look back and I love them all.
DDS: I did wonder how you could be so nice when I was reading it because there were some quite awful bits really…
AW: AWFUL! Yes, they were, and I mean it’s been a life lived and I didn’t just fall into forgiving them all straight away [laughs] – no, no… But you have to live it, you have to suffer it, and it’s when you come out the other side and you can say “I forgive you” and you’re free then to move along. So that’s when I was ready to write the book. I didn’t want to write one of those books that people write that are, “O! POOR OLD ME! Everybody’s been so horrible to me, poor old me!” How boring is that?! [Laughs] No, you’ve got to live it and you’ve got to let go of it and then you can write it and say this is what happened; this is how it was.
DDS: I loved reading your stories about how you knew and worked with all these people, like David Hemmings and Sarah Miles, who I’m sorry to say sounds like an awful friend. But, I can tell you that Klaus got her back for you, because he gave her hell when she was in Venom with him, which Michael Gough was in as well. And that was odd because I was watching the film and thinking, “This is the kind of film Mick Gough would appear in”, and then he popped up playing a reptile handler!
AW: [Laughs] I know, he did do some dubious work actually but I understood that because before I came to be in his life, he told me that he was in New York and he and his first wife were incredibly broke; absolutely starving. They’d gone over there, they were in a play and the play folded. They got stuck over there and they didn’t have the money to get home to England and they were starving. That freaked him out. I think that really deeply frightened him and so at that point he decided, “I’ll do anything, any job that comes up, I’ll say yes to”, so that’s what he would do. And acting came first; we would all come second. Acting was his life. And so he never said no to any job at all and it used to drive me mad sometimes because sometimes, y’know, you knew that they weren’t worth him putting his energy into them but he’d always say “Yes, because I have to pay the bills”.
DDS: Don’t you regret leaving acting?
AW: Well, y’know, I don’t regret any mad mistake I made because, y’know, if I hadn’t done that then, who knows, all this other wonderful stuff might not have happened! I really think I followed my spirit; I did listen to my spirit. And sometimes you wake up and your spirit says, “Right! Let’s pack up and move!” And, o no! But you’ve got to pack up and move right now! [Laughs] So that’s what I’ve done when spirit is moving me, I followed it even though you’re stepping into the unknown, in fear and trepidation, but what can you do? That’s what I’ve always felt, y’know, and you’ve just got to do it. [Laughs]
DDS: How is life for you these days?
AW: I tell you what, this is how mad my life is at the moment, I’m going to be 70, I’m in Earls Court (that’s where I met you, isn’t it?) and there’s lovely, sexy Paul McGann [the 8th Doctor] and David Tennant [the 10th Doctor]. And they both said, “You can’t be 70, what are you going to do?” And I said, “I’m going around collecting hugs”, so I got hugs from them, how lovely is that? And a day or two later, I’m having lunch with Doctor Who number 8 [Du dumme Sau! note: actually the 7th Doctor], I think it is, Sylvester McCoy, at The Troubadour where I hadn’t been since the 60’s and I walked in and said, “Oh my god, look at this place – how long it’s been!” And the lovely manager guy said, “Ooh, let me show you around!”, and it’s been magic.
DDS: I hope my 70th birthday is that exciting!
AW: But now what I want to say is we’ve got a super new interesting up-to-date website [http://www.annekewills.co.uk/] where lots of things can be found [Du dumme Sau! note: There’s an online shop where lovely signed items can be purchased]. And the other thing is that I am doing two more books, they will be picture books and I’m doing them with Fantom Films, and we’re in discussion about that. So one is me in the 60s and we’re in negotiation for another book, so there’s possibly two…
DDS: Photo books will be great because I have to tell you that I loved your outfits, some of them in Strange Report – I wanted them, especially the long turquoise boots!
AW: Aw, sweetheart! I didn’t make all my clothes – I made some pieces but I was mainly wearing Ossie Clark, and Alice Pollock, and mainly designer clothes. And that was my argument with them [the producers of Strange Report] cos they had a deal with Harry Fox [to provide the costumes] and he had a tatty old shop in Carnaby Street and all the other actresses had to wear his clothes. [Du dumme Sau! note: I think the shop was called Lady Jane and I actually had a rather lovely mini dress from there myself!]
But I didn’t [wear his clothes] and I tried to make a fuss and in the end they said, “Look, if you want to wear your own clothes, wear your own clothes,” so I was wearing all my own clothes!
DDS: Such lovely clothes, lucky you! Well, thanks so much for doing this interview, Anneke, and I hope everything goes wonderfully well with the new books, which I will look out for in 2012.
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For anyone who wants to meet the lovely Anneke Wills, she will be appearing at The Big Finish Day 2 on 11 February 2012, where other guests include Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Katy Manning, David Warner, Shane Rimmer, Nick Briggs, Paul Darrow and David Richardson. Find out more here.
As a postscript, following the interview Anneke sent me the photograph from Toddler on the Run (see above) and I sent her the Mercy Humppe film, which I hope she enjoyed. Regarding Anneke’s comments about Clive Donner working on The Pleasure Girls, I did a bit of detective work which involved contacting Sue Harper, Professor of Film History at the University of Portsmouth, as she wrote the essay about The Pleasure Girls for the BFI Flipside DVD. Professor Harper was very helpful but knew nothing about Clive Donner’s involvement and, like me, thought that the idea sounded interesting but odd. After trying other avenues and getting nowhere I finally made contact with the film’s director, Gerry O’Hara, and did a great interview with him this morning. I will write this up very soon and it will form Part Two of The Pleasure Girls interviews, so watch out for that…