by Anton Wills-Eve

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to film or not to film?


The first, and last time I was offered the lead part in a film my parents would not let me take it. I think what annoyed me most was that I was going to be paid a very large sum of money and  I was really flaming mad that I would be denied this. We lived near the studios in Pinewood, west of London, so travelling was no problem. Also the shooting of  my part would start on July the tenth and last two and a half months, so I would not even have missed much school. We did not go back until September the tenth.

How did I get the part, unknown, at the age of 14?. Easy, back in the 1950’s all such casting was not a case of what you could do as who you knew. As my mother and aunt had starred in seventeen films between them by then, a nudge in the right direction was all I needed. I had just one inherited gift going for me. I was a great vocal and linguistic mimic and could speak five languages fluently. My sister, who was not quite sixteen, had made her TV debut a month earlier and said she never wanted to see the entertainment business again. Nor did she. But this just annoyed me more. I complained bitterly.

“Mum, look I know you are too ill to act at the moment and may have to pack up for good despite being only 49, but why shouldn’t I have my chance? It’s a great script and a good plot. Seriously what have you got against  the offer?” It was a stupid rant because I knew what was coming,

“At your age you will be at the mercy of every pervert, male and female, in the business. I know I’ve seen it. Sorry but no way. Your father agrees.”

“But why did you let my sister have a go and not me. Surely girls are even more vulnerable.” Mum shook her head.

“It’s remarks like that that prove you don’t know what you’re talking about. Sorry, but no. No son of mine is being exposed to that profession while I have any say in the matter.” The real tragedy was that I hadn’t a clue what she was afraid of. After all my Uncle, who was co-starring in the film, would be with me and could keep an eye on me. It was really unfair. Are you wondering what the part was, and what sort of film? Let me tell you.

I was cast as the lead character, a fourteen year old boy, who was the victim of bullying and sadistic teachers but who would not let them get him down. He had a gilfriend of thirteen, I think we kissed,  like a rubber pen on a tablet, three times in  one hundred and six minutes. But It was a black and white tear jerker in which my Uncle played the teacher who hated me. We actually acted really well when confronting each other. The plot explored all the ways youngsters were maltreated at lower class schools in those days,including one terrific scene in which I was thrashed until stripes came up on the backs of my legs. After the original rehearsals through which I got the part, I also got rave reviews from  everyone on the set. It was an absolute hammer blow when I was pulled out. The boy who took my place was lousey and was blamed for the film’s failure. That would not have happened if I had kept the role. But I never did it so we’ll never know.

Mum died when I was in my twenties  and I was involved in a completely different career in journalism, taking after my father, by then. But One thing happened at her funeral that did make me wonder about mum’s heart breaking decision in 1956. As we were filing away from the grave, some seventy odd mourners turned up, one of the older character actors in the film recognised me and came over to offer his condolences on mum. But he went on to add, “I’m glad they kept you out of that business. You remember the mincing pederaste who was directing that film? Guess why he isn’t here today. He’s doing five years for child molesting, and you were very high on his target list. He was livid when you disappeared.”

I wonder how I would have repulsed him? I know one thing. If that was the price of starring in a film I’d take being shot at in Vietnam any day. I was returning to Saigon, where I was a war correspondent, the next morning.