The Ingrid Pitt Column: how to get cast in Who Dares Wins

Ingrid recalls how the script for Who Dares Wins came into her presence, and looks back at the behind the scenes story of the film...

Ingrid Pitt

Last week I went on about lying and luck being the best way to get into the entertainment business. I forgot to mention that even with hyper-lying and unbelievable luck it is still wise to get some sort of education in the performing arts. Then use lying and riding your luck.

For instance: I heard that producer, Euan Lloyd, was working at Twickenham Studios. The studios are within walking distance from where I lived at the time. I had known him for quite a while and he and his wife, Ingeborg, had been to dinner a few times. So I rang the studios and asked Euan to lunch.

I had it all planned. I had heard that he was casting a new film and I thought I would do a bit of wooing and get him to give me a job. And the easiest way to do that was to feed him and top him up with some fine wine. I had a wide terrace at the back of the house with a pleasant garden, a sleepy garden wall over which deep purple would be proud to fall and huge horse chestnut trees as a back drop. It also had a built-in barbecue and some cute garden furniture. All I needed was sun.

I spent all night on my knees, metaphorically, and was blessed with a beautiful morning. I spent the morning making sure everything was perfect. T-bone steaks lightly marinated, Rioja the correct temperature, furniture dust and birdcrap free. I spent an hour tarting myself up and was hovering in the hall when the doorbell sounded.

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Euan was standing on the mat looking very stressed. I flashed a smile but before I could say a word he snapped, “Have you got a television?” A question rarely asked in this modern technology-obsessed world. I nodded.

“It’s in the sitting room. Tonio’s watching the test matc,” I offered. Euan went past in a blur. His lips sliding across my cheek in thanks, leaving me still holding the door open.

I followed him into the room and was surprised to see the blinds drawn and my husband, Tonio, and Euan sitting side by side, hunched forward, eagerly watching the box. I tried to say something, but they waved me to silence without looking up. I was a little pissed off so shut the door more firmly than I would have done in happier circumstances.

I went into the garden and sat there for a while wondering what I should do. Every few minutes there was a roar of excitement and the sound of voices shouting at the television. It didn’t take me long to let the mean streak slide into place. Euan had come for lunch – lunch he was going to get.

I barbecued the steaks and laid the table, put the salad, wine and baked potatoes into place at the centre, admired the way it looked and barged into the sitting room.

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“Lunch is ready.” I said brightly, keeping aggression to the minimum. I didn’t get the reaction I wanted.

“Bring it in here,” Tonio said without looking away from the TV. I was about to storm in and switch the bloody thing off when I had second thoughts. After all, Euan was about to set up a film. So I went and brought the food into the sitting room. I tried to open the curtains but they weren’t having that. The reflected sunlight made it hard to see some parts of the screen. The beautiful steaks were wolfed down without appreciation. The wine also got a seeing to.

I had always liked cricket. Even found it a bit sexy. All those virile men sweating and hopping around all over the place dressed in virginal white. (This was before the advent of Kerry Packer.) But that was as far as my knowledge of the game went. From the way Tonio and Euan reacted to every ball that was hit, it seemed something immense was happening. I tried to keep up, but acting as skivvy and getting the pudding and supplying cups of coffee at regular intervals didn’t help my understanding of what was going on.

It seemed to go on forever. Then suddenly the players were sauntering off the field. It was tea-time. Euan looked at his watch in surprise and repeated his Road Runner act. As he swept past me, intent on getting back to his office before the players finished swilling tea, he said, “I’ll send the script round in the morning.” And he was gone! And I had a film – evidently.

He was as good as his word and I got a nice little role as a psycopathic killer in Who Dares Wins (The Final Option in the USA).

Euan had been at home watching a film on TV when the terrorists stormed the Iranian Embassy in South Kensington in 1980 and took 26 hostages. Luckily, the Prime Minister of the time was Margaret Thatcher. When negotiation failed and a hostage was shot she gave immediate orders for the SAS to take the terrorist out. It was very dramatic and all played out on television.

Next morning Euan didn’t waste any time registering a film with the SAS slogan “Who Dares Wins”.

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Euan decided that the incident was a little too static until the final moments, so decided that there should be a bigger build-up to the SAS assault. He also wanted the insurgents to be a gang of international peace-niks rather than Islamic terrorists. And there was to be an element of Commons and Lords sleaze injected into the plot.

Lew Collins from The Professionals was drafted in to play the lead and Judy Davies from Australia played the head gangster. Jane Fonda had been up for the job but, for some reason, Euan wanted Judy. Perhaps an unwise choice as far as box office appeal goes. I played the hit-man part – only in my case it was a woman but hit-woman sounds more like a exhortation to violence rather than a killing machine.

Instead of the Iranian Embassy it is the US Embassy that gets taken over and the US Ambassador, played by Richard Widmark, is held to ransome along with some high profile dinner guests. The build up to the attack has Collins’ Captain Shellen discharged from the SAS for misconduct and linking up with the Davis character, Frankie Leith. Helga (me) trains up the troops and the embassy is taken.

But Skellen hasn’t really been sacked from the SAS. He has just gone undercover. His cover is blown but Frankie decides to keep the fact from him.

I had the job of taking Skellen’s wife and daughter hostage to keep the gallant captain on a leash. Knowing that his family are in the clutches of the evil Helga is enough to get his cooperation – for the time.

My part called for a fight with Rosie Lloyd, Euan’s daughter, who was playing the part of Skellen’s wife. We talked about the fight and decided that we wanted to do it ourselves. No stunt women stepping in at the crucial moment and grabbing the glory. If I may say so myself, the fight sequence is rather good. And Rosie and I had the bruises to prove it.

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Back at the embassy the terrorists have taken over and are negotiating with Edward Woodward who is head of the anti-terrorist police. He is reluctant to send in the SAS until Skellen’s wife is out of danger.

A separate group are sent to Skellen’s house, break through the wall and dispatch me with a bullet through the head in close-up. This is the signal for Woodward to release the SAS. Skellen does his bit, the SAS men slide down their ropes and the US Embassy is liberated.

An interesting side bar to all this is the bit after the siege had been dispersed. The power broker is back at the House of Commons making new friends and influencing more people, all to the strains of the Labour Party’s anthem, The Red Flag.

For me, the good luck charm in all this was Ian (Beefy) Botham. The match Tonio and Euan watched on that sunny afternoon was the third test match at Headingley. England made a disastrous start and the players were back in the pavilion for 170 against the Australian score of 401. Australia forced the follow on and, as far as England was concerned, it was all over. But the message didn’t get to Botham. Odds of 500-1 against England winning the match were offered by the bookies.

Botham decided it was time to “have a bit of fun”. He scored 149 and by the time the Australians were back at the crease they had a small deficit of 128. That deficit looked bigger and bigger as Bob Willis and Botham set about the Australian batsmen. Botham took the first wicket and the Bob Willis finished them off. England won by just 18 runs. It was the first time in history that a team ‘following on’ in such dire circumstances had won a test match and at the same time got me a job. For which I am very grateful.

(Anyone reading this who is not au fait with the cricket mystique should send me their name and address and I will reply in a plain brown envelope.)

Read Ingrid’s column every Tuesday at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.

3 February 2009