Finding my feet in the world of work
When I left school, I had no idea about a career because no-one advised me, so I went to the Labour Exchange and attended several interviews. I was rejected for the first job as a cleaner. They said that, because I had been to a grammar school, I would consider the job beneath me.
Then I was sent to a factory in Kingsbury. My first assignment was to file a pile of rusty bits of metal. I didn’t bother to go back after lunch. Then a career beckoned in the art world; I was offered a job at Winsor and Newton, famous for supplying artists’ paints and brushes. Another Rembrandt was about to be born − I was to start in the packing department!
I was twenty minutes late on the first morning because there was a local bus strike and the foreman told me to go home and be back after lunch. I didn’t bother, so that was the sad end of my artistic endeavours.
It had been a traumatic period, but I didn’t give up. I was offered two more jobs: one as a bus conductor, but I was too tall, and finally, a grave digger. I must be honest, damp knees didn’t appeal to me.
My mother had a friend who worked at Selfridges, so she arranged an interview to train as an architectural draftsman. I worked there for one year, but left because most of the draughtsmen wore glasses and I realised how tricky it would be to kiss girls if I ended up wearing specs!
Eventually, I got a job demonstrating Jaguars. Why they would trust a teenager to drive a luxury car, I don’t know! We were based at Henly’s showroom near Regents Park. Henly was the main Jaguar dealership in Europe. The cars were popular with film companies, who would often use them in their latest production.
On one occasion, an MGM production team borrowed a Jag for a week. I sat in the car chatting to Van Johnson and Vera Miles between takes every day − that reminds me, she still owes me a packet of cigarettes. That was my first encounter with Hollywood stars.
I became friendly with Bob Brewster, who was Mr Henly’s chauffeur. Bob used to ‘borrow’ the keys to his Jag and we would drive around the West End, going to discos and clubs. I think it’s called ‘stealing’.
One evening Bob had to pick up Mr and Mrs Henly at the Hilton hotel at 1 a.m. I was happy to catch the last train from Baker Street station, but Bob insisted on driving me home. The problem was, I lived in Harrow, 10 miles away and it was now midnight, so he only had one hour to travel from the West End to Harrow and back.
Bob should have been a Formula 1 driver because his judgement was perfect, but the Edgware Road was not the place to demonstrate his skills. He was driving at up to 90 mph, jumping red lights and no doubt causing other drivers to panic as he flashed by them with inches to spare. It was the most dangerous piece of driving I ever witnessed. It was the most terrifying ride ever! He dropped me off and arrived back at the Hilton at 12.59 a.m.
I learned later that he had been the driver in a bank robbery − why was I not surprised?
One afternoon, when I was in a coffee bar in Edgware, a man approached me and asked if I would like to model some summer shirts in the local park. I was with my friend Jack, who was the double of Stewart Granger. We were suspicious until he offered us £50 each for an hour in the sunshine. It wasn’t a fortune, but as we were both out of work, it bought us a few beers. This was to be my start in showbiz but I didn’t know it at the time.
Jack was not interested in fame and fortune but it intrigued me enough to contact Pat Larthe, who was a leading London model agent. Pat had helped many well-known actors including Michael Caine and Sean Connery. She recommended a photographer who was excellent.
The idea of modelling had never really appealed to me. In fact, I have strong views about talentless models earning fortunes for walking badly on a platform and not even smiling, but that’s another story for later.