The writer and director of The Pleasure Girls, Gerry O’Hara, very kindly agreed to do an interview for Du dumme Sau! I have to admit I was very excited about this interview as he has had quite a long and varied career with credits on some very impressive films and TV shows.
His film work started back in the mid 1940s when he worked on documentary films but by the late 1950s he was working regularly as an Assistant Director on big budget films with big name directors. He continued as Assistant Director into the 1960s (with one brief foray back into AD work in 1984 on Terence Young’s The Jigsaw Man), working on films as diverse as Richard III (Dir Laurence Olivier, 1955); Cleopatra (Dir Joseph L Mankiewicz, 1963); Exodus (Dir Otto Preminger, 1960); Our Man in Havana (Dir Carol Reed, 1959); The L-Shaped Room (Dir Bryan Forbes, 1962); Tom Jones (Dir Tony Richardson, 1963), and many more. He moved into directing work in the early 1960s but has also worked very widely as a writer for film and TV, including writing The Bitch (with Jackie Collins!), and various episodes of quality TV series like The Professionals (for which he was also Script Editor), Bergerac, and C.A.T.S. Eyes.
DDS – Gerry, what an impressive career! Your start as an Assistant Director working with an amazing list of directors must have been exciting?
GOH – That was my university. Those directors taught me how to do it all! [Laughs]
DDS – Aside from the much larger films you worked on as AD, the one I really enjoyed was The Clouded Yellow [Dir Ralph Thomas, 1950]
GOH – It was nice, yes… I was assistant on that; it was directed by Ralph Thomas. We shot [it] at Sydney Box’s house in Mill Hill, a place called Moat Mount; we didn’t shoot it all there but we shot some of it there and then I think we went up to Newcastle and shot some scenes there on the River Tyne at night, with Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons.
DDS – Did you direct any of it?
GOH – I didn’t direct any of The Clouded Yellow. The thing is, you get to be a Third Assistant Director, and then you go up to Second – the Third does all the running about, the Second does the sort of administrative work for the First Assistant. The First Assistant Director… he’s like a Stage Manager , he’s the one who runs the crew and gives them orders on behalf of the director, so he really, if it’s done properly, he protects the director. It’s a very interesting job; quite frankly it was a better job than being director. I enjoyed it more because… I went all over the world, and… actually, I was probably better paid as an Assistant Director than I was sometimes as Director; quite a lot more. I was one of the best… I was regarded as the most sought after Assistant Director in London and abroad.
DDS – Yes, I’ve read that somewhere
GOH – I worked in all of those places. I was the first Assistant Director to have an agent! They all have them now. The agent used to call me, I might be in Paris and he would say, “Do you want to do a film in Austria starting next month?” and, you know, we‘d discuss the terms and I’d probably go from Paris to Vienna without even going home. I was not married in those days and I had a little flat in Chelsea and I used to leave it empty for months on end!
DDS – You managed to get into the film industry fairly easily really, didn’t you?
GOH – Well, I got in during the war, you see – I was 17 then and wasn’t due to go in the army for another year, but I think I had my medical and because I had a kidney problem, which I had to have operated on many, many years later, I was Grade III. So when all the men were at war, I got this job at a documentary film making company, Verity Films, making propaganda films. And that was where I met Sydney Box and he was the guy who helped me most in my career. Sadly he became ill and had to retire and went to live in South Africa and that was a great loss for me. He was one of the few producers I had worked with who I really got some support from. And of course all those directors they were really helpful – Carol Reed virtually taught me how to direct! When I was working with him on Our Man in Havana and The Key with William Holden and Sophia Loren, he and I used to have a drink at the end of the day and he used to literally take me through the day’s work, saying why did I do so and so? And I had to know why he did it, so I learnt a hell of a lot from him.
DDS – Carol Reed sounds great! [Du dumme Sau! note: Aside from being a truly great film director, Carol Reed was also uncle to a DDS favourite Jane Birkin and the legend that was Mister Oliver Reed]
GOH – Yeah, yeah. Well, they were all great… the bigger the director, usually the better they are, you know, to work with. Preminger was very difficult but that was only because he was a sort of jumpy kind of guy… he used to shout an awful lot but privately, and with me personally, he was generous. He never quibbled about anything and he took me everywhere with him; we used to have lunch and dinner together and you know, everything. And it was a great way to learn about life at the top! [Laughs]
DDS – But in the 1960s you began directing in your own right and the wonderful BFI Flipside have been championing your work in recent years, it seems, releasing 3 of your films in their fabulous packages (All The Right Noises; That Kind of Girl; and the one the Klaus Kinski fans are interested in The Pleasure Girls). I’ve got all three of them but the first one I saw from Flipside, before I even saw The Pleasure Girls, was That Kind of Girl.
GOH – That was the first one I did for [Michael] Klinger.
DDS – And then a couple of years later you did The Pleasure Girls, also for Klinger. But All The Right Noises was not produced by Klinger…
GOH – Well, that, I think, is my best film and you know I had a free hand with that and nobody was allowed to screw around with it.
DDS – That’s what I wanted to ask you, with The Pleasure Girls you were left out of the edit, and I’ve heard stories that Michael Klinger and his business partner Tony Tenser were up to no good trying to insert other scenes in the film behind your back, and it was the same with That Kind of Girl…
GOH – Well… if you go back to the beginning, That Kind of Girl was my first attempt at directing. …about that, there was a fellow called Robert Hartford-Davis who I knew slightly. He used to be a studio electrician but he’d sort of risen in the world a little bit, and he got hold of me and said would I like to shoot a film, you know, direct a film. And I’d never even thought about it before, and it was what they call a three-week quickie. We shot it in 17 days – 3 five day weeks and one weekend of the 3. We shot at St Thomas’ hospital, it could only be shot on Saturday and Sunday, that was the medical bit about the venereal disease. So that was 17 days. Now that deal was very simple, he said, “Look, we want you to direct it but we don’t want you to edit it or cast it or, you know, any of the starting stuff or the ending stuff…” I had nothing to do with the music and so on. So in those days I suppose I was a bit cocky and I thought, “Well, why not?” I got paid very little for it; it was a few hundred pounds. Cos The Pleasure Girls cost £34,000 [to make] and That Kind of Girl cost £23,000… I’ve got a funny feeling I got about £500 for it.
Anyway, I undertook to do it and really it became a bit of a burden because I was the Assistant Director on Tom Jones which was a lovely film with Albert Finney and Susannah York, directed by Tony Richardson. Unfortunately I had to leave Tom Jones about two weeks before the finish, which they were very nice about. Tony Richardson said, “Look, it’ll do you good,” because he was also very keen on me having a go at directing and so he was very supportive. And anyway I left Tom Jones two weeks early, I shot the film and on the night that we finished shooting, five or six of the crew – we were in Earl’s Court – we went to a pub and had a couple of drinks, shook hands and that was the end of that!
I went back to my flat and I was just sitting quietly having a drink, thinking, “Christ! That was hard work!” and the ’phone rang – extremely corny this story – and it was Otto Preminger on the ’phone in New York. I had assisted him on Exodus, you know, a very big film, two or three years before that. And he said, “Gerry, what are you doing?” I said, “Well, I’ve just directed a film!” He laughed and he said, “Well, are you going to go on directing?” I said, “Oh hell, no! It was only a little cheapo. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” And he said, “Great, I’m doing a movie called The Cardinal,” and he said, “I want you in New York right away. We won’t do a deal over the ’phone, you know I’ll take good care of you.” He said, “Go to Columbia tomorrow in Wardour Street, pick up a first class return ticket to New York and I want you here on Monday night.” And that’s what happened.
I went to Columbia the next day, and I was in trouble with Columbia because I’d walked off the Lawrence of Arabia set. [Du dumme Sau! note: apparently this was because Gerry didn’t like the way things were going on the production and also a long shooting schedule in Jordan meant he would not be able to see his Jewish girlfriend who would not be able to come out to Jordan]. They hated me, and the fellow in charge insisted on seeing me. I said to his secretary, I said, “Look, I don’t want to see him, I’ve come for my air ticket.” So she said, “I know but he wants to see you.” So anyway I went into his office… his name was Bill Graff… and of course he played me a lot of nonsense, pretending to read papers and to sign things. I was standing there like an idiot and he eventually looked up and he said, “I suppose you think you’re clever?” and I said, “No, Bill, I don’t think I’m clever at all, I’ve come for my ticket, please may I have it?” He literally threw it across his desk, he said, “There you are!”, and that was it. The next day night I caught the familiar plane to New York, there used to be one from Heathrow called the 501 and I was met by Otto’s people, you know, and that was it. I then spent probably six or eight months flying between New York, Boston, Rome, Vienna… We shot The Cardinal all over the place in cathedrals and all that sort of stuff. That was the life I used to live! (laughs)
DDS – Moving on to your work on The Pleasure Girls, I interviewed Anneke Wills, who played Angela in the film, and she told me something interesting, if it’s true, and I’m really not sure that it is. She said that originally Clive Donner had been directing the film and he walked off when he didn’t like the way the film was going and you picked up the direction when he left. What can you tell me about that?
GOH – Well, obviously, her memory has gone a bit rocky. Clive Donner, at that time, wouldn’t have touched a low-budget, skid row movie, because he was doing big pictures then, around about that time. He was doing What’s New, Pussycat?, which was a big hit. He did a film for David Deutsch called Nothing but the Best, which was filmed by my old friend Nic Roeg. So he wouldn’t have touched anything like [The Pleasure Girls].
I knew [Clive Donner] slightly, he was the film editor who became a director, and I think he was David Lean’s editor very, very early on in Lean’s directing career. I think that might be right… Clive died about 5 or 6 years ago [Du dumme Sau! note: Clive Donner died in September 2010], but I never worked with him. I certainly met him a couple of times. But it’s just that…it’s a long time ago and [Anneke] is thinking about something else.
DDS – I think that Anneke is mixing it up with Nothing but the Best, the film that Clive Donner made with Alan Bates…
GOH – Yeah, well, that was made with my friend Nic Roeg…
DDS – …Cos she was in Some People which was directed by Clive Donner in 1962 and then in 1964 she was in Nothing but the Best and I think she’s kind of got part of Nothing but the Best mixed up with The Pleasure Girls…
GOH – I think so, yes. I didn’t know her as well as Michael Gough, now was she married to Michael?
DDS – Yes, she was
GOH – He was a smashing bloke. I directed him in a little quickie [Game for Three Losers], at Merton Park Studios, and he was lovely. And I used to meet him in Chelsea occasionally. I think I was in Hyde Park one day and Michael was sat on a bench in the sun and I sat with him and we had a long chat. A very, very, very nice man. And she was lovely, I really liked her. It’s very sad, she should have done really well because she was an unusual girl, she was quite a sort of, what they called in those days, kooky. She was kooky, and quite pretty and a very nice girl.
DDS – Yes, she could have been a much bigger star if she hadn’t turned her back on it all. Going back to The Pleasure Girls, Anneke also said that the producers had wanted to spice things up a little in the film, she said: “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.”
(Above photograph shamelessly stolen from Mike’s Movie Projector blog: http://osullivan60.blogspot.com/2011/03/pleasure-girls.html)
GOH – Well, it was a long time ago but actually Francesca [Annis] came to it because she was my girlfriend at the time. There was a rather trivial little opening at a lousy cinema in Oxford Street called the Cinephone. Yes, you know, it was treated badly and there was some trouble about sex scenes.
What happened there is that after I’d finished the film Michael Klinger and Tony Tenser without telling me went behind my back and hired a small crew and shot an orgy scene, right. Now, I went to John Trevelyan the censor and said that if he okayed that scene I would sue the British Board of Censors, which of course was pretty outrageous and caused quite a lot of, you know, fuss. Trevelyan was quite a nice man, he was the Head of the British Board of Censors. But the only reason I knew about this sex scene was that I was in a pub in Soho one day and I ran into a young film technician, a camera lad, and he said, “Hey! I was on your film the other day and we did some, you know, some real naughty stuff.” And I said, “What are you talking about?” So he told me what had happened and, of course, being pretty experienced even then, I was in my thirties but I knew all about the dirty tricks and so on, so because of that I went to the censor and Trevelyan thought it was a great joke. But I said, “Look, it is funny, I know, but I’m gonna do it, you know, if you permit those scenes to go out under my name as writer and director it’s going to ruin my career.” And actually he was very nice, he said “Gerry, leave it to me.” And he spoke to Klinger and co and those scenes were removed. Now whether they were ever put into a foreign version, I haven’t the slightest idea. They were capable of anything.
Michael Klinger was quite a funny character and I knew him quite well and I’d worked with him again. I wrote a script for him several years later and he actually bought an option on one of my other stories but he didn’t make it. He was an ex-barrow boy from Soho and he ran a very famous sex club in Soho – I can’t remember the name of it now – it was a very well known sort of place where you went to hire ladies of the night and all the rest of it [Du dumme Sau! note: I think it might have been called the Heaven and Hell hostess club]. Lots of people went to it and a lot of famous people would be in there, the name… it just slips my mind. But the one I really didn’t like and he’s still alive in fact they tell me he’s in a home now was Tony Tenser [Du dumme Sau! note: Tony Tenser actually died in December 2007]. He was again, you know, a Soho spiv but he was so cold, he was a…, I could tell with him that he would quite literally put the dogs on you if he thought he could get away with it. I never spoke to Tony after that, we didn’t fall out but I just never encountered him again.
And, you know, having done that film I got onto slightly better films; I don’t know whether it’s on the records but the notices were marvellous, the reviews… and I put all the best bits on a single sheet of paper, you know, “dripping with talent” and all that sort of stuff and I went to the trade papers in those days – one was called Kine Weekly and the other one was called Today’s Cinema, which is now Screen International – now, I bought a page in each of those trade papers, put the notices in with my agent’s name at the bottom implying that the agent had done it. But I didn’t say that he had. That trick earned me… for doing The Pleasure Girls they paid me £650 for the script and £650 for directing and I was to get a percentage but they cheated me out of the percentage. My agent did succeed in getting another £650 out of them, so all I made out of it was about £2,000. But I invested something like five or six hundred on these two pages and within 7 days I’d picked up contracts worth over £20,000. In those days, that was like over £200,000.
DDS – Going back to John Trevelyan, I read that he was a founder member of Klinger and Tenser’s Compton Cinema Club…
GOH – Well, that’s more than possible! It was a very shifty business in those days; it probably still is as far as I know. I mean I do know because I’m still associated with a film company, I’m an advisor with a company, you know, reading scripts occasionally and things like that. Anything’s possible; they were all a bunch of crooks!
DDS – I read an interesting thing in the booklet that comes with The Pleasure Girls DVD, it said that one person had complained about it saying it would incite violence at holiday weekends, what did you think of that?
GOH – I hadn’t read that before, it wasn’t particularly violent – well, there was a bit of violence with the guy who owed money to the gamblers… But that was based on a true story that actually happened to a fellow I knew, his name was Litvinov, I can’t remember his first name. But he actually got into trouble with a bookmaking outfit and he couldn’t pay and they slashed him; he had a scar on his face, nearly took his top lip off. I mean, it was a true story.
DDS – Yes, because you’d been told that it was a good idea to write about what you know and…
GOH – Yeah, that was what Raymond Stross had said.
DDS – …with The Pleasure Girls in the booklet it said, I’m not sure if you said it or not, that Klinger and Tenser had brought Klaus Kinski in to bring “an air of European sophistication to the film”, is that true?
GOH – No, I wouldn’t use a word like that. I don’t know if it had anything to do with Michael [Klinger], it could have been. It wouldn’t have been anything to do with Tenser, he wouldn’t know an actor from …
DDS – No, it seemed to be Klinger who was interested in the European side of things, didn’t it?
GOH – Well, Klinger was the guy who brought Roman Polanski to London, but that was a fluke. Michael wouldn’t even know who Polanski was but there was a German producer who was a hustler, you know, he was a typical Wardour Street hustler and I think his name was Gene Gutowski [Du dumme Sau! note: Gutowski was actually Polish]. And Gene Gutowski went to Klinger, you know, they met somehow or other, and he sold him the idea of this brilliant young Polish guy who directed a black and white film called Knife in the Water and that’s what started Polanski’s career, he was a film student in Poland. He was a brilliant guy, I met him, he was very nice; I had a long chat with him. But that’s what happened there, it was a fluke.
DDS – I understand Klaus Kinski was over here anyway for Doctor Zhivago…
GOH – That came afterwards.
DDS – I interviewed an American director called David Schmoeller, he worked with Klaus on a film called Crawlspace and Klaus was a real nightmare for him. Afterwards David made a film called Please Kill Mr Kinski because Klaus was so bad… [Du dumme Sau! note: I was about to tell Gerry the story that David Schmoeller had recounted in his interview about how the prop master on Doctor Zhivago asked David Lean: “Mr. Kinski is still chained. What do you want to do?” and Lean said: “Leave him,” because he had caused so much trouble…]
GOH – [Kinski] did become a bit of an oddity. Actually, I didn’t know him terribly well but he was easy… when I directed him in The Pleasure Girls, he was a relatively unknown German character actor and we got him for £900 for ten days, which even in those days was hardly a fortune. Presumably we paid his hotel bill, I actually don’t know, but I didn’t know anything about him.
I’d written the script, I knew the famous Rachman – Peter Rachman – because I used to have coffee with Peter Rachman and his girlfriend, the famous girl from the Keeler scandal, what was her name? The one who said, “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”
DDS: Mandy Rice-Davies?
GOH – Well, a pal of mine, he and I when we weren’t doing anything used to go and sit in a coffee bar in the King’s Road, it’s long since gone, it was a place where King’s Road layabouts and actors and people with time on their hands would go and sit and chat for most of the afternoon and drink 2 or 3 cups of coffee. One day we sat at the table and Mandy and Rachman came in, he left his big white Bentley outside in the street, and we knew who they were. My friend was a bit of a scamp, you know, he would talk to anybody. And we just started to talk and so we had a very funny hour or so with Rachman and I knew all about him, I’d heard all about the terrible things that they did, how they’d cut off the water and the gas and how they’d threaten people and, you know, have Alsatian dogs and all that sort of stuff. I knew about that subject because they were all real, so I just wrote what I knew.
That was when the producer [Raymond Stross], he’d read a couple of my scripts and didn’t want to make them but he liked the dialogue, and he did, this is absolutely true, he said “Gerry, you’re in Chelsea, you’re out and about, you’re in the night clubs, the discos and all that sort of stuff, that’s what you should be writing about.” And to tell you the truth, I was rather annoyed and I went back to my flat which I shared with this guy – we weren’t gay, we were both after the ladies – and he said, “How did you get on?” and I said, “Oh, crap! He said I should be writing about Chelsea.” And he said, “You are an idiot, a producer’s telling you what to do and you’re so bloody clever you won’t do it!” And that annoyed me!
But I sat at the typewriter the whole of that weekend and I bashed out what we call a storyline, you know, it’s like a framework for a possible story or play or script. And then I showed it to the producer, and he advised me, and I wrote scenes and half wrote the script and, you know, practically finished with it. And he said to me, “Gerry, I’ve got some bad news – I’ve got a film in Canada, I’m working on it in America”, and he made this film [The Fox] with Sandy Dennis and Anne Heywood. Anyway, he went off to America and he never actually worked in England again after that. But he said, “Gerry, you know, I’ll write a disclaimer saying I have no rights over this story whatsoever and it belongs to you”, which it did, and so I was left with a script and I was back where I started from.
But what I did, I played a trick – I played quite a few tricks, I suppose, in my time – I sent out the script to everybody. You know, in those days you got a company to type a script and to print out 25 copies for I don’t know £50. Well I sent most of the 25 copies out to, well, any name I could think of and everybody totally ignored it. And one of the people I sent it to was Michael Klinger at Compton-Tekli in the Compton Cinema in Soho, in Old Compton Street, and… no reply. And then somebody told me that another outfit might look at it, so I wrote a letter to Michael which was a complete bluff. No, I didn’t, I rang his secretary who I knew, she was a very nice woman, and I said, “Look, I need my script right away, I think I can place it and I haven’t got a spare copy. I’m going to come by your office, I won’t have time to come up, leave it at the box office,” you know, on the ground floor of this little fleapit cinema, “and I’ll pick it up and I’ll go.” So, anyway, I did that I got the 19 bus up to Piccadilly, jumped into a taxi to make it look as if I was in a hurry and went by taxi to Old Compton Street, leapt out, ran to the box office, had they got an envelope for me, yes, here it is, ran back to the taxi got in, told the driver to head off to Shaftesbury Avenue, opened the envelope and there was my script and a letter from Michael Klinger, saying “Gerry, don’t do anything with this until you’ve talked to me.”
I thought, I’ve got you, you bastard! And I went to a club in Shaftesbury Avenue which was run by Gerry Campion, who used to play Billy Bunter, and I ordered a large gin and tonic and, of course, that was it! The next thing, I had a meeting with Michael, he bought the script and that was it.
DDS – You have to be quite tenacious in the film industry then?!
GOH – Oh, well, I don’t know what it’s like now but it was terrible, terrifying. I mean, I was out of work for weeks, and months sometimes.
DDS – What was it like to work with Klaus on The Pleasure Girls? How did you find him as an actor?
GOH – He was lovely. He was very pleasant, he didn’t make jokes particularly but he did everything I asked him to do; he never argued, he seemed to be quite a nice guy. In fact I met him many years later at Elstree Studios and he was doing a British film, I can’t remember what it was called [Du dumme Sau! note: possibly Venom as it was shot at Elstree], and somebody told him that it was my birthday and he sent me half a case of champagne.
DDS – Aw! I like him even more now!
GOH – He was alright but you see probably something got to him, you know, same thing with Preminger – eventually Preminger, poor man, died of Alzheimer’s. It’s the pressure that they’re under.
DDS – Yeah, I think he took his work very seriously and he always said he wasn’t acting that he would become the character and I think that ends up taking over in the end, doesn’t it?
GOH – That’s happened to plenty of actors…
DDS – So what did you do after The Pleasure Girls?
GOH – I got a contract with Sydney Box, which ran for about 2 or 3 years. I got a contract with Rank directing commercials and I picked up two Avengers out of it as well. I was hired to direct two [episodes of] The Avengers and that was about £1,500 and The Avengers still pay me; this was in 1964, and even now in 2012 I still get cheques for The Avengers. Very little, you know, two or three hundred pounds, maybe five hundred a year but I’ve been getting it all that time. And for the first twenty years I should think I picked up about £2,000 a year, it was like a pension! And then of course I wrote for Bergerac and the BBC still pay me for that, which was again about 20 or 30 years ago. And I also, you know, much later directed for The Professionals, Man in a Suitcase, Hammer House of Horror, and you know now and again I get a little cheque; it’s my pension, ha ha!
DDS – You said that after The Pleasure Girls you were still on okay terms with Klinger at least and worked with him again?
GOH – Yeah, I didn’t speak to him probably for several years but what happened was I’d wrote a script – it was called Restless – and I think I sold options on it 5 or 6 times. The company would approach me, like Hammer, Michael Carreras, who was the son of the head man Sir James Carreras, well, Michael didn’t really like the horror film world and he tried to move Hammer a little bit towards different stuff. Well, he read my script and he bought a year’s option, he took it to MGM in Paris and MGM in Paris said, “Fine, we’ll do it.” So they paid for me to go to France to work in Paris and somewhere in the South, I forget where it was now, and I rewrote it to base it in France, then that fell through. I think I sold the option about five times.
Eventually, I sold it to a friend of mine called Dennis Lewiston who was a cameraman in Hollywood, well in London and Los Angeles, and an occasional director. But I got him a job as a director with The Professionals. One day he came to my office cos I was the story editor on The Professionals – I wrote 6 of them but I was in charge of all the other scripts which was a hard job actually; not a very nice job – and we were sitting in my office and he was saying how badly he wanted to direct a script, a film, you know, a real film but he couldn’t find a project. So I said, “Well, I’ve got one in my bottom drawer. If you like you can have a look at it. I’ll let you punt it around if you want.” And this was only because I liked him, you know.
So anyway he got in touch with an English producer living in Melbourne, Australia and an Australian producer. And they grabbed it; they said “Hey! We’ll do this.” So Dennis came to me and said, “Look, I’ve got a deal but they won’t pay much for the script”, it was the usual thing, you know. “What will they pay?” And he said $25,000 – that would be in those days about £15,000. And I said, “Sorry, Dennis, look it’s a good script, one day I’ll find a backer for it myself,” I didn’t want to give it away. And he was very upset, you know, and he said would I take $35,000 and I said, “No!” It sickened me, you know, they were going to make a movie which would probably cost, you know, $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 and they were going to pay me a lousy $35,000 and I wrote the bloody thing!
Anyway, what happened was that I got a job in Australia through The Professionals being such a success. There was a company in Australia, a very successful company in Melbourne, and they in effect wanted to re-do The Professionals in Australia under another name; it was called Special Squad. So they were cunning, they hired the producer of The Professionals and they hired me, the story editor, because they knew that if they got us two we would be people who knew how to do this particular sort of show, you know.
So I went to Australia under a year’s contract. Now, while I was there I had a part-time secretary in London… she was taking my messages. And she rang me the first week I was in Australia, she said, “Gerry, there’s something funny going on, somebody’s calling you from Australia!”, and she gave me the details and of course it was a Melbourne telephone number so I said I’d call them. So I rang and they didn’t know I was in Australia and they said, “We really want to talk to you,” and I said, “Well, I’m down the road in studio ten”, or whatever it was, and they couldn’t believe it. So they said, “Look, let’s meet for dinner.” So they took me out to dinner and they tried all sorts of moves on me and gave me lots of drink and a beautiful supper, and I realised while I was having supper with them, I thought they’ve done something with this script!
They’d put it in a system in all the various countries where you can get a tax break if you make a film in their country. Now what they’d done, they’d put it through – I’d guessed this – they’d put it through the New Zealand tax break people; they’d put 2 or 3 projects in, the others were probably more expensive than mine, and I know it did happen because I learnt afterwards, the tax break people said, “We’ll do Restless but we don’t want to do the other two.” In other words, they had an opportunity to get hold of a lot of money, or a big advantage financially, and they were trying to get the script off me without paying for it! Well, without paying the right price. So we argued and I said, “Okay, I’ll sell it for $100,000 – American dollars, not Australian dollars.” “Oh god!” they said, “We can’t pay that!” I said, “Well, then, cancel the dinner, goodbye!” They said, “Wait, wait, wait… You’re a hard man but alright, okay…” And I said, “Fine. Now…” I said, “…you need an option.”
They said, “Now, we’ll need to negotiate, we need you to give us the rights to negotiate.” I said, “You’re talking about an option.” They said, “No, we don’t need to…” I said, “Bullshit, you want an option on the script,” I said, “That’ll be $5,000 for a month, and if you like I’ll take Australian dollars, cash.” And the next day I picked up 5,000 Australian dollars. I was due for a break on the Special Squad, my then wife and I flew to Fiji for a few days at their expense! And then, of course, a month went by and the option ran out. So they said, “Oh, come on!” And I said, “Bullshit, the option’s run out, if you want another option of another month that’s another $5,000,” and I’m only telling you that’s the way these crooks, well, they’re not crooks but they’re sharpies.
DDS – Did the film ever get made?
GOH – Yes, it did! It got made in New Zealand, they changed the title [Du dumme Sau! note: Hot Target, directed by Dennis C Lewiston, 1985], they re-wrote the script and Dennis, who was still a great friend of mine, invited me to BAFTA one day and he ran it for me in one of their small viewing rooms and (laughing) I didn’t think it was all that good! But what the hell, I was paid! The sad thing is it was the best script I ever wrote, but that’s life.
DDS – You should have made it yourself!
GOH – Yeah, yeah, I should have done it, but I couldn’t find anybody to put up the money at the time, but anyway, that’s what happened…
DDS – Going back to the subject of being left out of the edits, and in some sense not being in control of what you were working on, you worked on Maroc 7 and The Bitch, and these were not films you wanted to work on…
GOH – (laughs) You’ve put your finger on the two films I hated the most. I had to do Maroc 7 it was a contractual thing.
DDS – Do you wish you’d had a bit more control over what you had to work on?
GOH – No, I wish I’d never seen the bloody thing! It was a terrible script and I begged my boss at the time, Sydney Box, to let me out of it and he said, “Look, Gerry, we’ve been paying you for a couple of years,” and they were, they were paying me an enormous salary just to be there ready to make a film for them. He said, “Look, we’ve paid you all this money and we want it back. We’ve loaned you out to this outfit and they will pay us all the money we’ve paid you.” I couldn’t get out of it and even though he was very nice, he said “Look, you can handle it,” it was impossible.
DDS – It sounds like it was a bit of a nightmare…
GOH – Well, the script was so weak. You see, a director can’t make a good film out of a bad script. A good director can actually take the curse off a bad script, but he can’t actually save it. Now, a bad director can’t totally screw up a good script. See what I mean? And that was it, I could not fix that script, I used to re-write scenes at dawn before we were shooting but I couldn’t get it… it was nonsense, it was like a poor man’s James Bond; it was a James Bond idea, on a Mickey Mouse budget.
DDS – There were a lot of those type of films around about that time though, weren’t there?
GOH – Yeah. Of course, the other one [The Bitch] was entirely my fault; I shouldn’t have done it. A friend of mine offered me the job, he was my closest friend; he runs Goldcrest and he offered me the job. It was quite a good deal, not vast but it wasn’t bad. And I was probably then 60-odd I suppose and I was very busy squirreling the nuts for the winter. I’m afraid I did that solely for my pension, I put every penny of that into a pension and it was about £20,000 or maybe a bit more. It’s my fault, I did it and I can’t get out of it (laughs).
DDS – That’s why it’s good that companies like BFI Flipside are reissuing your films, because whatever the restrictions you were working under at the time, they’re your personal projects not all things you took for contractual reasons.
GOH – It helps a lot. Actually someone sent me a cutting from a film programme; it was a BFI advertisement saying “By the cult director Gerry O’Hara.” Well, that’s the first time I’ve ever been called a cult director (laughs) – they’ve called me a lot of other things!
DDS – It sounds like it’s been a fabulous career, some of it not so good and some of it amazing, but have you enjoyed your career?
GOH – Oh, wonderfully, yeah! I’m still working. I’m 87 and on November 3rd last year (2011), I published my first book! Sherlock Holmes and the Affair in Transylvania [published by MX Publishing].
DDS – That’s excellent! And you’re still involved in film through the production company…
GOH – Yeah, but only really as an adviser and it’s really more out of friendship than anything else. But I mean I see every movie I can due to the Cinema Veterans, I have two free tickets Monday to Thursday afternoons at all the London cinemas. Last week we saw Shame, The War Horse, The Iron Lady… We just go out in the afternoons, get on the bus, and go to the cinema. It’s not a bad life, but rather annoyingly I’m getting old, but that’s neither here nor there…
The favourite film that I made was called The Amsterdam Affair (1968), it was based on a book called Love in Amsterdam written by Nicholas Freeling and it was the first Van Der Valk story, the first or second, and I made that long before the TV series but I cannot find a copy of it.
DDS – I shall try and find it for you. When I interviewed Anneke Wills she wanted to know if I could find a copy of Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?
GOH – Anthony Newley, he was a friend of mine as well. He was Joan Collins’ husband?
DDS – Yes, that’s right, but you see the thing is, Anneke had dated Anthony Newley for some time before he was with Joan Collins and she had ended up having his love child and didn’t say anything as he had got together with Joan. So Anneke went off and had the baby without telling him, she met Michael Gough and he knew she was pregnant but they brought the child up as their own and then had one of their own as well.
GOH – Oh wonderful, what a lovely story! Anyway, if you ever talk to Anneke, remind her that she gave me a painting that she did. She gave me a painting on brown hardboard of a rocking horse. But the thing about that was that many, many years afterwards, I split up with a girlfriend and she asked if she could have it and I could hardly say no! And I was rather sad to part with it, because I was very interested in painting. And my present wife is a painter; she illustrated my book Sherlock Holmes and the Affair in Transylvania. You can get a free look at that book on Kindle and if you want they’ll give you the first chapter for nothing.
DDS – Brilliant! I’ll put a link to it in the article.
GOH – I’ll tell you a little bit about [Amsterdam Affair], it was made by a British film company which is long since defunct called London Independent Producers, the English producer was a man called William Gell, who left the business and retired to Ireland. The American partners, financial partners, were Westinghouse TV. Now, Westinghouse is a big American company that manufactures refrigerators and stuff like that. The American producer’s name was Howard Barnes. Now, I’ve never found anybody competent enough to find it for me.
DDS – I will try my hardest!
GOH – Well, it would be wonderful. It’s a nice film. I had quite nice reviews for it, it went down on a double bill and disappeared. I got a wonderful review of it in The Irish Times! It did get reviewed in England, but minor reviews. If you can get that for me…
DDS – I’ll try my hardest, in any case I want to see it myself now! I’m a bit of a film collector and a bit film mad…
GOH – I’d gathered that! If you get that for me, I’ll give you a prize, I don’t know what it will be but it will be something!
DDS – Thank you so much for doing the interview, Gerry, I’ve really enjoyed it. And I hope your new book sells well for you.
As a postscript to this article, I found a copy of Amsterdam Affair which I sent to Gerry – just call me the Filmfinder General! In return Gerry invited me out to dinner and we had a lovely time; he’s such a nice, friendly and very interesting man. Here’s my photograph of him (taken with Diana F+ camera):
Gerry O’Hara’s book, Sherlock Holmes and the Affair in Translyvania is published by MX Publishing and is available to purchase in both book version and Kindle version from Amazon. The three BFI Flipside films (The Pleasure Girls, That Kind of Girl and All the Right Noises) are also available in lovely DVD and Blu-Ray editions. For more information, see Gerry’s website: http://www.gerryohara.com/