I have always considered myself incisive and assertive. Someone who decided what they wanted and then went for it. I thought this way only good things could happen and that opportunities seized would be targets obtained. Revelation that this philosophy wasn’t foolproof came last Thursday morning. The previous day I had been to the hairdresser to have a cut and blow-dry. I was in a bit of a hurry, as always, and chivvied the hairdresser into working at double her usual speed. She wasn’t happy but I persisted and cut about ten minutes off the usual time. I didn’t really look at the result until I got home. Hated it!
Hated it so much that I even missed Smithy in The Bill. I fumed about it all night and, as the dawn chorus was building to full volume, I decided I was going to have a Judy Dench. It worked for her. Even got her one of the best paid jobs in the film industry. And who knows. If there came a time when the producers were looking for another ‘M’ they might turn to me to fill in. As soon as I awoke I rang a different hairdresser and insisted that, although I hadn’t an appointment, it was a matter fo life and death that I came immediately. In full incisive/assertive mode I told the bloke wielding the scissors that I wanted all the maltreated pseudo golden locks cut off. He pleading with me to go away and think about it but I wasn’t having any. Half an inch all over! He gave up and ploughed in with his scissors. I did have a little frisson of doubt as the hair piled up on the floor but knew it was too late to back off. So I sat there and convinced myself it was what I wanted.
Now I know that true happiness is built on the twin towers of vacillation and procrastination. If only I had thought about it. Hadn’t got so hot under the collar. Given myself a day or two to think things over. Taken advice. I’m not very good at taking advice. Some of the worse decisions I have taken have been under advisement. Like the premiere of Where Eagles Dare. There I was, all decked out in a stunning gown I had borrowed from Dior, a global debut in what was to become one of the great war films of all time and – I was being escorted out of the back door of the cinema.
It used to keep me awake at night trying to work out why I did it. The curtain came down. The applause was ecstatic, a standing ovation and it looked like the cast was in for a good mobbing. The fans were packed tight and in good voice in Leicester Square and I couldn’t wait to get amongst them. Then the PR agent, Theo Cowan, whispered in my ear that we should go out the back way to avoid the crowd. I was stunned. It was my big moment. I tried to argue but he hustled me out anyway. Evidently the PR department wanted all the publicity for the stars, Richard Burton, Clint Eastward and Mary Ure, and didn’t want me bumping and grinding for the cameras. It’s a pity Theo didn’t keep to his original plan and get them to do the publicity for the film altogether. While they went off to do some profitable work I spent the next six months touring the world in my little Heidi dress instead of taking advantage of the exposure I was getting in the press.
PR agents, and agents in general, can be a pain in the arse. In the 60s and early 70s there was still a bit of stigma attached to television work. But I had to eat so I started to take on roles in some of the series of the time in spite of my agent’s advice to keep myself pure for the big screen. This resulted in a number of roles in what are still considered in this less blinkered age, prime TV slots. A Russian Olympic swimmer with Raymond Burr in Ironside, The Adventurer with that prime schmuck and egotist, Gene Barry, a touch of undercover work with the flamboyant Peter Wyngarde in Jason King, a gunman’s moll in Dundee and the Calhane with John Mills, opposite John Mills again in The Zoo Gang and a few others.
I moved to England. They say that America’s attitude to anything takes a couple of years to catch on in England. And this was the case with TV. My English agent told me that if I prostituted myself to the small screen I would not be considered for film work. I bowed to what I assumed was his superior knowledge. And missed out on some of the best TV series that ever appeared on the box. For instance I was offered a part in the series, Queenie’s Castle. My stupid agent told me that it would harm my image if I appeared as a support player for Diana Dors. He didn’t have anything solid to offer but he did say that he had been in discussion with the BBC about a possible appearance in a Shakespeare play. It must have been a hard decision for the Beeb to stomach as it wasn’t until about ten years later that they offered a part in The Comedy of Errors with Michael Kitchen.
Now everything is so different. My fumbled decision about having my haircut falls in line with my trust that my agents knew best and didn’t strike out on my own. When it comes to taking the initiative I finish up bald. Michael Caine always says that his success came about because he accepted anything that was offered him. A small sophistication I think but definitely better than having an unwise GI Joe haircut. Caine has also expressed a wise to appear in Coronation Street. How things have changed. Appearing in soaps has become the ‘in’ thing. Especially after Sir Ian McKellen took a small role in The Street. From being the last outpost of an acting pariah, soaps have become a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
Perhaps Dame Judy will appear in Emmerdale and make the image of a crew cut older woman a model for generations to follow? Meanwhile should it be the silk headscarf or the woollen pudding basin?
Ingrid Pitt writes every week for Den of Geek; read her last column here.