Thursday, 2 May 2013

DECLINE AND FALL

Shortly after starting work on the `Navy Lark´ screenplay, I started feeling uneasy about the Producer who did little else but sit in a black leather armchair, his feet up on the window sill,  ringing casting directors requesting young actresses to audition for parts which did not exist. 
 When the first draft was finished it was sent off to Leslie Phillips and Jon Pertwee ( the stars of the radio show ) for their approval, but they failed to respond. 
 Puzzled at not receiving any answers, the Producer asked me to drop in casually on Leslie Phillips who was appearing nightly at the Criterion Theatre, and find out why there was a delay. 
 I went back stage one evening, was received by Mr Philips in his dressing room where he told me he was happy with the screenplay but that neither he nor anyone of the original radio cast would work with the Producer who had a bad reputation in the business. 'And It won’t do you much good associating with the likes of him either,' he added.
 Without the original actors it was obvious the project would not get the necessary backing and, three months later I was told I wouldn’t be paid, so called it a day.  
    
 Desperately needing funds to pay the rent, to send money to Eve and for daily expenses, I depressingly took on the translation of a french cookbook as well as finishing my novel.  
 On learning, for the first time, that I was actually in debt and troubled about the immediate future, Maribel reminded me that she was a qualified nurse and could probably earn a living in London, at least for herself. She certainly did not want to be dependent on me and all she needed was help in applying for a job. 
 Her English had improved but was by no means fluent, all the same I contacted a number of nursing agencies on the off chance that someone who spoke Spanish might be needed and one management, which specialized in sending auxiliaries to hotels to look after sick foreigners, took her on. immediately.           
 
 They had a Venezuelan patient on their books whom no one could understand. It wasn’t so much a question of nursing but minding a mentally unstable eighteen year old heiress who had run away from her parents in Caracas, flown to London with an important diplomat, but had then accused him of raping her. The Venezuelan Embassy had become involved, booked her into Claridges Hotel, but she could not be left alone. It was a perfect assignment for Maribel who looked after her for several days making sure she took her prescribed medication and accompanied her on expensive shopping sprees, sightseeing and generally keeping her entertained.   
 
 Pleased with the responsible way she coped with this first mission, the agency then sent her to look after an elderly gentleman from Philafelphia who was recovering from a heart operation. Her main duty was to take him every day in his wheel chair from the Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch down an underpass to Hyde Park where he liked to sit by the Serpentine and feed the ducks. Maribel did not like the underpass. It was dark, it was smelly, and pushing the wheel chair up the slopes was difficult. One day she decided to brave the traffic instead. Half way across the busy intersections, the wheelchair got stuck between a double decker bus, an articulated lorry, a diesel oil tanker and hooting taxis. Her patient became very agitated, nearly had a stroke and she only got him safely to the other side of the road with the help of a policeman who stopped the traffic for her. 
 After this incident the agency sent her to a less risky assignment, a Lady Constance who lived in a palatial house in Bayswater and was keen to improve her knowledge of Spanish while convalescing after a serious illness. She was delighted to have a young companion who could read her Federico Garcia Lorca’s plays in the original and accompany her on daily chauffeur driven rides to Regents Park where she could watch her white Pekinese being exercised from the comfort of her Rolls. The not so young chauffeur insisted on buying Maribel an ice cream when he drove her home and she was never quite sure whether he expected something in return. 
 This comfortable engagement lasted two months and only ended due to a misunderstanding of the English language which she was mastering amazingly well, but not quite well enough. . Already puzzled and a little irritated by the British love of queueing - a custom not recognized as enjoyable in Spain - Maribel refused point blank to co-operate when her patient announced 'This afternoon we are going to Kew.'
  What all afternoon ?' Maribel queried, following this with the unnecessary observation that ‘You Eengleesh are fokin mad !' which was found unacceptable.  
 She was good at her job, however, and next sent to the Ritz to look after a descendant of the poet John Donne who was staying there while recovering from a stomach operation. Her duties this time , apart from taking his pulse three times a day, was to keep him company at luncheon and make sure he kept to a special diet. During these meals he insisted that she should sample the elaborate dishes on the menu which he could not enjoy - oysters, caviare, foie gras, escargots, partridge, whatever. One day she took a doggy bag in with her to smuggle home some of the delicacies for me as a surprise. He spotted her slipping a slither of smoked salmon off her plate into the bag on her lap and was quite shocked. 'There are some things, my dear, that even young Spanish senoritas should not do at the Ritz,' he said, and shortly after let the agency know that he would prefer a more mature British nurse to look after him. 

 These encounters with the wealthy and educated helped to improve her English and, one evening when I took her to a book launch in a staid Pall Mall club, I spotted her across the room in deep conversation with a tall, elegant white haired man who sported a small walrus moustache. He was bending down to listen to something she was saying which clearly amused him.  A little concerned that she had no idea who he was, I joined them as casually as I could.  
  'What a delightful young lady,' he said to me moving away apologetically as someone else demanded his attention.
  'What were you talking to him about ? '  I asked Maribel  
  'I was telling him how much a hate Franco. He was very knowledgeable about Spanish politics.' 
  'Well he would be,' I said. 'That was Harold Macmillan, the former Prime Minister.'
She shrugged her shoulders, quite unimpressed, and reached for a glass of wine from a passing tray. 
 
 Despite Maribel’s favourable earnings, my overdraft increased and the bank manager called me in to read me the riot act. 
 I did not want to leave London, the only place I was likely to get freelance work . I could no longer afford the St James’s flat, so we moved to a far less salubrious accommodation at the wrong end of the Earl’s Court Road. 

 Leslie Phillips.
 Jon Pertwee.
 Harold Macmillan, 1sr Earl of Stockton. PM. PC. FRS


 

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