The Ingrid Pitt column: when Ingrid met Hammer Films

This week, Ingrid talks about premieres, and how she came to visit the House of Hammer for the very first time...

Following my little homily on the dangers of the casting couch for the unsuspecting ingenue the other week I thought I’d have ago at explaining the flip side.

I was becoming well established as a Premiere Queen. One of that large underbelly of actresses who has done enough to make them interesting but not enough to give them confidence in their own ability. These are sort after by the PR crowd to stuff an audience.  It’s all very formalised. You get an invitation to a premiere, borrow a posh frock from one of the couture houses that cater to this sort of thing, have an expensive hair-do then turn up on the night and hope to be noticed.

Usually it turns out to be a disappointment and you return home in the small hours half cut and swearing that it’s the last time. Until the next time. My next time came at the opening of Alfred the Great (1969), in Leicester Square, starring David Hemmings. I’d done my bit at the reception. Made sure I was photographed with all the right people, elegantly quaffed champers and told outrageous lies about the Hollywood producers who were lining up to offer me gainful employment.

After the show I was invited to the after-show dinner party and found myself sitting next to a small neat man who I vaguely knew was something  of a mover and shaker but had never met before. The hiatus between sitting down at the table and actually tucking into the grub was taken up by an endless stream of people coming up and shaking his hand. Nobody even looked at me.

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As soon as we settled down and were poking at the inevitable melon and prawns the charmer turned to me and apologised for neglecting me. I had my mouth stuffed with prawns so I just acknowledged his apology and cursed that I was losing out on an opportunity to strut my stuff.

I needn’t have worried. The man wasn’t interested in the food. I was flattered to hear that he knew who I was and that I had just played a decent part in the war blockbuster, Where Eagles Dare, opposite Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton. I warmed to him. He introduced me to his wife and gave a glowing resume of my part in the film. And I still didn’t know who he was or what he did. I made the obvious tactical move, excused myself and headed in the general direction of the Ladies. Which, happily, took me passed my PR agent, Theo Cowan. He guessed my problem and whispered in my ear as I kissed him on the cheek, “Jimmy Careras, Hammer Films.” I smiled thankfully and returned to my table. I felt easier now. At least I knew who he was.

After dinner and speeches everyone milled around for a while before starting to drift away. I had already given up any idea of salvaging anything but indecent proposals from the evening when I found myself standing next to Mr and Mrs Careras waiting for our cars to arrive. Mr Careras reached into his pocket, pulled out a card and handed it to me. “I have a film coming up which might interest you.” he said casually. I managed to control my breath and make it sound like it was just another offer which I might consider. “If you’re not doing anything tomorrow perhaps you could drop into the office,” he said as he handed his wife into his limo. “About lunch time.”

Next morning it was freezing cold. I tried to convince myself that braving the elements would be a waste of time. Offers made under the influence of alcohol and bonhomie are usually regretted the following morning. I knew I was kidding myself and nothing was going to stop me walking up Wardorf Street at midday.

I dressed with care and ventured out of the front door. And nearly turned back. There was about four inches of snow on the ground and a temperature crunching wind which would have dampened the ardour of Don Juan. I managed to force my way to the waiting taxi and sat and shivered all the twenty minute journey to the Hammer office. I was feeling less than ebullient when I walked through the portals of Hammer House for the first time.

The receptionist asked me to sit and disappeared through a door by the side of her desk. I declined to sit and posed in the middle of the room, determined that now I had made the effort I was going to make an entrance. The secretary came back and asked me to go through. James was sitting behind his desk. He jumped to his feet and shook my hand. I had already rehearsed the scene in my mind. As James waved me to a seat I pulled open the front of my leopard skin coat, paused to heighten the effect, then dramatically dropped it on a convenient sofa.

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Underneath I was wearing the uniform of the day: mini skirt, knee high boots and an eye-wateringly tight sweater.  Another pause for the full effect then I took off my schlapka, tossed it on top of my coat and hooked a thigh on the corner of his desk. “Private Pitt reporting for duty, Colonel.” I said. I know! I cringe at the thought now but I was motivated by a film I had seen recently, La Parisienne (1957) with Brigitte Bardot in similar circumstances and thought it might work.

James didn’t laugh.  And I was in an embarrassing position, relieved only by the secretary popping her head around the door and asking if I would like a cup of coffee. It got me off the hook and I slid to a more comfortable position on the chair by the desk.

James got down to business. He had three roles he was considering me for. Carmilla, Mircalla and Marcilla. I was finding it hard to keep up the show of nonchalance and was only vaguely disappointed when I found that the three parts were all in the same film, Vampire Lovers. I was still trying to get my head around it when he whisked me off to the Gay Hussar for Lunch. I can’t remember what we talked about. I can just remember that suddenly the dreadful winter’s day turned to high summer and I drifted back to my home in Kensington as high as a kite.

And finally – how’s your Wassailing? I’ve been invited to Goodleigh in Devon next Saturday (19th) to Wassail the night away. If you are in the area drop by and say hello.

Ingrid Pitt writes every week at Den of Geek. Her last column can be found here