Thursday, 17 January 2013


 One September morning, while I was trying to inject a little humour into a chapter on Elizabethan eating habits for a commissioned  book on banqueting history, an extraordinary noise shattered the air above the pueblo. The rattle of the shutters, windows and doors was quite alarming and, fearing an earthquake,  I ran out into the street to see what was happening.
 Hovering a hundred metres or so above the church, was a helicopter that looked menacingly like a great metal insect. Inside the glass bubble under, the rotating blades, sat an ear-muffed pilot and next to him a man with a large camera. Suddenly the machine seemed to be sucked backwards and upwards into the sky and within seconds it was but a dark dot on the horizon.
 'They’re film people,' Eve said, returning from a shopping expedition.
 'Really ? What film people ? '
 'How should I know ? There’s a whole convoy of them coming up the hill.'
 'I’m going to have a look.' The thought of a film being made in the area was exhilarating.
 'Yes, I suppose you must.' It was said with the same disdainful tone she had used in the past whenever I had got excited over anything theatrical.   
 At the entrance of the village a crowd was milling around a number of  lorries, a transformer, two limousines and a mobile canteen. A stressed continuity girl with a walkie-talkie glued to her ear was crouching in the shadows of a caravan puffing at a cigarette.
 'What’s the film ?' I asked.
 'Figures in a Landscape. Malcolm McDowell, Robert Shaw, Joseph Losey directing ' She blew a cloud of smoke at me making it clear she didn’t need people around. Film crews have little time for anyone not on the production. I moved away.
 Malcolm McDowell had had a phenomenal success in the film "If..."  the year before. Robert Shaw had had a phenomenal success as a nasty against James Bond in "From Russia with Love" and as Henry VIII in "A Man for All Seasons". Joseph Losey had directed "The Servant" and "Accident", both domestic trauma stories of the type I wanted to write,  and these three gentlemen were going to work right here on my doorstep. I had to find out  if there was anyone on the shoot I had worked with in television, but the tense look on the faces of the technicians suggested this was not the time to make enquiries.
 I went home to plan a way to infiltrate the unit without making a nuisance of myself  and there, sitting on the sofa in the living room drinking a glass of white wine with Eve, was young Malcolm McDowell himself.
 I was astounded.
 He stood up. Grinned broadly and shook my hand warmly.
 'My sister, Gloria, worked with Eve as a model at Digby Morton’s when your book was published. She told me you were living down here, so I thought I’d call.' He then added
'Come up and see the shoot whenever. It’s just Robert Shaw and I playing two unidentified soldiers being chased by an unidentified enemy in an unidentified country'
 The next morning I took Nicolas and Matthew up the steep slopes of a mountain to a small plateau where everything seemed to be happening. Most of the village had gathered to stare in disbelief at the amazing network of cables which powered the innumerable spotlights and at all the other bits of equipment that had been hauled up there.
  Messrs McDowell and Shaw, in khaki uniform, their faces caked with mud, crouched in a hollow of the mountainside apparently hiding from some danger or other. Joseph Losey sat in a canvas chair just looking at them.  The lighting cameraman was taking his time choosing a shot.
 'It’s very boring,' Nicolas said, 'Can we go home now ?'
 My attempt to enthuse them with the thrills of movie making had understandably failed and the hope I had of them one day becoming film directors who would put my books on screen faded.  
  Before the production moved East along the coast to film the pursued soldiers escaping from blazing cane fields, Malcolm invited me to join him for a location lunch in a rambling old mountain farmhouse used as an HQ for the unit.
 I found myself sitting at a table alone with Joseph Losey, Robert Shaw and Malcolm. It was a golden opportunity for me to do a bit of hard sell, to pitch one of my stories, but the atmosphere between the three of them was painfully unpleasant. A belligerent Shaw stared menacingly at Malcolm throughout the meal, clearly wanting to pick a quarrel, while Malcolm totally ignored him.  Losey studied them both like a tired father in charge of two silly children, then Shaw suddenly stood up and, sneering at Malcolm, pointed at me and for no apparent reason said 'I don’t like your friend,' and left.
 I hadn’t said a word.
 Losey looked apologetically at me. 'It’s not personal. You’re the only one Robert can pick on as you’re not part of the production, the problem is that he is just learned from his agent that Malcolm is to get top billing over him because  "If..." is so successful. He can get very aggressive after a few drinks and he started early, which suits me, as he’s playing Malcolm’s  cantankerous old sergeant and the two hate each other.'
 Some units, I’d heard, are happy with the film crews getting on. Others not. In this case it was very much the latter and eventually all left and I never saw any of them again. 
 But, a few months later, a less stressed army of Hollywood actors and technicians turned up to film in Nerja - and I certainly managed to make the most of that. 

1  Malcolm McDowell
2  Robert Shaw
3  Joseph Losey 

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