David Niven Talking Pictures


David Niven

A retrospective look at television appearances made over the years by Oscar-winning actor David Niven, capturing the milestones and highlights of his life and career.


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America's favourite Englishman in the 1940s and '50s,

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David Niven -

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he was charming, elegant, perfect gent.

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He was part of Hollywood's elite for more than four decades.

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His easy style and lightness of touch

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earned him huge acclaim in films like Dawn Patrol,

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A Matter Of Life And Death, The Pink Panther,

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and helped to win him an Oscar

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for the 1958 film, Separate Tables.

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He was friends with everyone who was anyone

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and had a seemingly endless stock of anecdotes

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that made him a perfect interviewee,

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as Cliff Michelmore discovered in this example from 1968.

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-MICHELMORE:

-But when did you first get the idea

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that you wanted to become a movie actor, film star?

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The ridiculous thing is, we're now in Shepherd's Bush, aren't we?

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-Yeah.

-Right here.

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And when I was at Sandhurst,

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there was a great comedian called Tom Walls

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who won the Derby with...

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-April The Fifth.

-April The Fifth, that's right.

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And his son was at Sandhurst with me.

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And I was sent away to Malta with my regiment,

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was not a very good soldier

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and thought that pastures new was the move.

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I saw young Tom Walls, I said,

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"I think I'd better try and become an actor."

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So he sent me here to meet his father, who HATED me.

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Absolutely loathed me, and I went back to the Army again.

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But I got the first idea here.

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You weren't a very good soldier, you say?

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I was very, very bad indeed.

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They had a system in the regular Army

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where you had to have a confidential report

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which the colonel wrote and then you were formed up and marched in

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and it was read to you, once a year,

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before he sent it to the War Office.

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And if you agreed, you signed it.

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Of course, you had to agree, so you would sign anyway.

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I was formed up and it said,

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"This officer, though in a few respects, excellent,

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"after two years in Malta knows less about the Army

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"than most of his friends in the Navy."

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So I signed it.

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I said, "Very generous, sir. Thank you very much."

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Not a good beginning.

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Then you got out? You left the Army.

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I left the Army. Erm... yes.

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Rather quickly.

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I didn't do anything awful.

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I made a silly move.

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I was in love with a lady who lived in London

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and I'd just bought a terrible old 15th-hand Bentley

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that belonged to an Australian for very little,

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but I'd always wanted a Bentley.

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It was a ghastly sort of cad's car.

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It had an altimeter in it, and had... MICHELMORE CHUCKLES

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gears on the outside and it had a pressure thing.

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I never quite knew what that was for. It pumped.

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And I loved this car.

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It had a strap over the bonnet...

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and I loved this lady.

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It was a very dull general who was lecturing to us,

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and I wanted to go to see the lady in London.

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We were down in Tidworth, I was doing a machine-gun course or something.

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So at the end of this long, dull lecture,

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this idiot general said,

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"Any officers want to ask any questions?"

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He said, "What is your question?"

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I said, "Could you tell me the time? I have to catch a train."

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And there was rather an ugly moment.

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He said, "Consider yourself under close arrest."

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And I was marched off.

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What pulled you to Hollywood, though?

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Well, I went from Canada,

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I worked in Canada for a bit and worked on a bridge

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and I went to New York and I sold booze,

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just after Prohibition, I sold whisky.

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And I ran this ill-fated indoor pony-racing thing in Atlantic City.

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Then I went to Cuba with the idiot idea I was going to be a mercenary.

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I mean, this is the sort of idiot idea people still have.

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And incredible as it may seem,

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at the time that Batista was the revolutionary

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who, of course, was the one who Castro overthrew.

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Batista was then a great revolutionary and I thought,

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you know, machine gun expert, that I could get a job.

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I made some rather extravagant claims

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in Sloppy Joe's bar in Havana

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and said I was open for business, and could be hired,

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and the next day, a rather nice man from the British Embassy phoned me

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and gave me 24 hours to get out of the country.

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MICHELMORE LAUGHS

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Well, I hadn't done anything wrong. Thank God he came!

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And I was put on a Japanese ship, which was the first one that sailed,

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and I went to California, where, I must say,

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I thought I would try and get the pony racing going again,

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because it was such a good idea.

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So you didn't really go there to enter films, really?

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No. Pure financial necessity drove me

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to the terrible plight I'm now in.

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HE CHUCKLES

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But absolutely.

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I started off as an extra,

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Anglo-Saxon Type Number 2,008, I was.

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What was Hollywood like then?

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Seeing it now, it's very frayed around the edges

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and really rather tatty and really rather sad, I found it to be.

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I agree with you. It is now. I haven't been there for...

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well, I went there last year to make a picture,

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but I haven't lived there for eight years.

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But it was marvellous then. It was really great.

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And when I said, "BECAUSE there was no television," don't be insulted.

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The reason it was great was the only way into it,

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into the business, was by being extra,

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because there was no television, there was no showcase, you see?

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And all of us, all of the extras, were would-be stars.

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-I'm rather hot, can I take my tie off?

-Yeah.

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All of us were would-be stars and most of us started that way.

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And, erm...

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So there was a marvellous electric feeling on the set.

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Nowadays, the extras, with all due respect to them,

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cos it's an awfully tough job,

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most of them are doing other jobs.

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You know, a lot of them are housewives

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and they go and pick up a little pocket money.

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They haven't got that great drive.

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We used to stand there and the assistant director would say,

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"Now, I have one line for somebody."

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He looked round and he'd say, "Right, you, you, you, and you,"

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and the four of us would form up

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and we'd read the line right there on the set,

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and whoever read it the best got the job.

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And you built from there.

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You shared a house, didn't you, in those days with Errol Flynn?

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Yes, I did, just after that. We had a house on the beach

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called Cirrhosis By The Sea, for rather obvious reasons.

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THEY LAUGH Oh, he was funny!

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He really was splendid.

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Was he as tough as everyone said he was?

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He was really, a very, very tough man indeed.

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For instance, we did two pics together.

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The first one was The Charge Of The Light Brigade

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and then we did The Dawn Patrol,

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which is always on television on the late, late, late show in America.

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Now, in The Dawn Patrol, by the way, for one moment,

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I'm the first man to drop an atomic bomb,

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because, I remember this well, I was in a Sopwith Camel aeroplane,

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a biplane...

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and Errol was another one

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and we were flying over Krupp's armament works

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in Essen or somewhere

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and I remember, in the film, flying the plane and bending down

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and picking up from between my legs a bomb with a handle on it.

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And dropping this bomb on Krupp's

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and blowing the entire place to smithereens. It's the first one.

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But anyway, back to Errol. Errol was...

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You said, was he tough?

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When we did The Charge Of The Light Brigade,

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they had 600 really tough fellows for the charge.

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They were all cowboy...

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stuntmen. And I knew a lot of them.

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I did 27 Westerns before I ever spoke.

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I knew most of them. They were really a rough group. Marvellous group.

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And Errol went through a period, which we all go through, of having a rather swollen head.

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He just made a big success in the first picture

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and we were lined up, the 600 fellows,

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and I was one of the junior officers

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and two officers and Flynn was in front

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and Flynn was taking it all a bit seriously,

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and he'd let the reins go on his horse

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and he was sitting back, you know,

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getting the hat straight,

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getting everything touched up before the charge.

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We had rubber lances, in case anybody poked anybody's eye out,

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with these wobbly tips.

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So one of these enormous fellows behind

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leant forward with his lance

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and - BRRRR! - up Errol Flynn's horse's behind,

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which went like this and Flynn went about 19 feet in the air.

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If it had been me, I would have got up and said, "Oh, please, don't!"

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and would have got on my horse... but not Flynn.

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He said, "Which of you sons of bitches did that?"

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This huge orang-utan said, "I did. You want to make something of it?"

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So Flynn said, "I certainly do."

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He pulled him off the horse and they fought for oh, minutes,

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and he murdered him, absolutely massacred him,

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and they adored Flynn after that. Thought he was great.

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You were trained in the Army

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but what sort of stage training,

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what kind of film training did you get?

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Did anyone then consciously take you and train you in the business

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of making films and the business of being, well, an actor?

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You really learned as you went along. It's the only way.

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I'm always suspicious of these schools of acting.

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If you're lucky enough to get little jobs to start with.

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I learn every day now.

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I remember Larry Olivier said to me once...

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I did a play, and I'm a very, very bad stage actor...

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I'm pretty bad movie actor,

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but I'm an absolutely ghastly stage actor.

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And he was my friend and almost relation.

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He and Noel Coward are responsible.

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They said, "You've got to go on stage and learn. Do it."

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I'd been starring in movies.

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So I did it. And I was awful. But Larry said,

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"You will learn more by disaster than you will from success."

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He's always said that.

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I'm a very, very bad actor on the stage. I'm no good at it.

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Because I can't concentrate.

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I love the opening night,

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because the possibility of disaster's quite great,

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and that's sort of fascinating.

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And I love the first week or so, but then I get bored.

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That's why I'm so bad, I'm not trained.

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And I begin to get fascinated by the audience.

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My attention wanders, and if I see something good going on

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or something good, let's face it, down there,

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I have to be checking. No good.

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Wandering eye!

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But I've done two plays.

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One was a great disaster and one was a great success,

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and I really don't know which I hated the most.

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Amongst Niven's biggest hits was the much-loved 1956 film,

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Around The World In 80 Days.

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It was produced by Mike Todd,

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but Niven played a leading role in every sense,

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as he explained in a Film Night Special in 1970.

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Mike made me, not officially, but very unofficially,

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his assistant producer,

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cos he'd never made a movie before.

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So I was in on all the casting.

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Mike said to me, "Who's going to play Mr Fix?"

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which is the famous detective. I said,

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"There's only one man put into the world to play it, Bobby Newton."

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"Oh," he said, "That's a great idea. We must get Newton."

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I said, "But I have to warn you, and Bobby will be the first to say,

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"that he hasn't worked for a little while

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"because he took to the bottle for a long time, you know.

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"And it's been a problem. He has a problem."

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"Oh, we'll send for him."

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I said, "Well, please don't say I said anything,

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"because he's a great friend of mine, and he would be wonderful,

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"but you must get this worked out."

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So he sent for Bobby Newton, and I was standing behind the chair.

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In came Bobby, with that marvellous face and blue nose.

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And Todd said,

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"Newton, you ever heard of Around The World In 80 Days?"

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"Ooh, dear fellow, dear fellow!"

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He says "How would you like to play Mr Fix?"

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"Ooh, my dear fellow, what a role!"

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So then Todd said,

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"Your pal, Niven here, says you're a drunk."

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And I fainted, you know. And do you know what Bobby said?

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"Understatement, dear fellow."

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And he was marvellous and he took the pledge with Mike.

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He never had a nip the whole way through the pictures. Six months.

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'In this film, David Niven had a number of ballooning sequences,

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'although heights are a problem for him.'

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Well, I mean, heights, I get the full vertige.

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'Yes, when I read the script,

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'it said, "Mr Fogg goes over the Alps in a balloon,"

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'I said, "Not me, Charlie. I'm not going over the Alps in anything!"

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'So Todd said, "How high will you go?" I said, "Four foot six."

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'So, they put it in the contract. "No higher than four foot six."

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'Now, the greatest day came, which was the ascent of the balloon

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'from Paris or somewhere, and I'm in the basket,

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'supposed to be with Mario Cantinflas,'

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who was a bullfighter, is a bullfighter, a wonderful actor,

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he's also a bullfighter - very brave man.

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So... I said, "Mario, I'm not going to go up in that thing, are you?"

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He said, "No, nothing would get me up."

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And they had the highest crane in the world, 200 and something feet,

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with a line with a hook and the basket on the end of it

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and the arm was going to go out over the canyon

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with a 2,000 foot drop, you know.

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So, I said, "Nothing will get me in that."

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Mario said..."Me neither."

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So, now, we saw these doubles.

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These terrible sort of orang-utans came shuffling out,

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one with my top hat on and the other one with Mario's other hat

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and it was ridiculous. So, Mario said, "We can't have..."

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And he started getting into the basket.

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Now, the whole glory of the Anglo-Saxon world is on my back, isn't it?

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I couldn't let Mario go up with my double.

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So, I had to do it. I said, "All right, well...

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"Hennessy brandy," and a whole bottle was brought. Glug, glug, glug.

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The most drunken performance there's ever been, hanging on those ropes,

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I didn't know where I was, and it was absolutely terrifying.

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And incidentally, when we landed, the crane brought the basket in

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over the top of a village that they'd built,

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and we hit the top of the church with the bottom of the basket

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and the whole basket tipped right forward,

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and I'm looking down about 60 feet...

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By 1974, Niven had added the role of successful writer to his CV.

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His bestselling autobiography, The Moon's A Balloon,

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led to more invitations to talk about his career.

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And here, he's talking about how he started out as a Hollywood extra.

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It was terrifically overcrowded. I think, at that point,

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there were 22,000 extras fighting for 800 jobs every day.

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And we got 2.50 for working,

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and it meant that, I think, the highest-paid extras

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were pulling down 5,000 a year, which is about £800 a year.

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They were the highest-paid ones.

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And most people were pulling down 150 quid, that sort of thing.

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You may have been listed as Anglo-Saxon type,

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but, in fact, your first part was as a Mexican bandit.

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Mexican bandit, I was. And the first...

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Yes, in a Western.

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-Hopalong Cassidy.

-Yes, you've really done your homework!

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And I did 27 Westerns.

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Never allowed to speak, of course, with this voice coming out.

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And... there was one marvellous moment,

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because they used to do Westerns in groups of three, in those days.

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And they get the money together... They were usually shot in five days.

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So, they'd put everything they could into the first one,

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hoping it would make a lot of money,

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so they could put more into the second and third.

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And this group that I was in,

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they had very little money to make the third of the group,

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so I arrived to the big scene, 600 extras had been called,

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and there were six.

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They couldn't afford the others, and the assistant director said...

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He said to - the director's name was Aubrey Scotto - and he said,

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"Mr Scotto, I'm afraid that's all we've got. We've got the six."

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And I was one of six, for some reason.

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And he made a marvellous remark, and it should be a book about Hollywood.

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He said, "Make it a sleepy village."

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INTERVIEWER LAUGHS

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And we were given wood and knives and we whittled

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and then we changed into Indians and it was marvellous.

0:15:440:15:47

I suppose this would account for the amazing number of films

0:15:470:15:50

you made in one year.

0:15:500:15:51

Because, I mean, 1936 alone, you made six films.

0:15:510:15:55

Well, those, you see,

0:15:550:15:56

were what were referred to as starring roles by that time.

0:15:560:15:59

But also, under contract, a man like Sam Goldwyn, they'd buy you.

0:15:590:16:03

I mean, they'd hire you, and put you a long-term contract for very little

0:16:030:16:08

and then they would teach you

0:16:080:16:10

so that you could go from one picture to another.

0:16:100:16:12

And in those days, it would be finishing one picture,

0:16:120:16:15

rehearsing the next, and probably doing retakes of the one before.

0:16:150:16:18

Everything one reads about you, and from everything you write, really,

0:16:180:16:23

one gets the impression that you don't take yourself terribly seriously

0:16:230:16:28

or, I won't say your work, but certainly your quality as an actor,

0:16:280:16:32

you don't take terribly seriously.

0:16:320:16:34

Is this genuine, or a studied...?

0:16:340:16:37

No, I don't think it's a studied thing.

0:16:370:16:39

I think it is genuine, because, I mean, first of all,

0:16:390:16:42

the astronomical luck that I've had.

0:16:420:16:44

You can't take yourself seriously.

0:16:440:16:47

I mean, by and large, I've done,

0:16:470:16:49

whatever it is, 80-something pictures.

0:16:490:16:52

The luck of still being at it after all these years is one thing,

0:16:520:16:56

because it's all typecasting in the movies, isn't it?

0:16:560:16:59

I mean, they never asked me to play a Japanese laundryman or something.

0:16:590:17:02

It's always officers, dukes or crooks or dishonest bishops,

0:17:020:17:05

or something like that. It's always in the frame.

0:17:050:17:07

Yes, you say you don't...

0:17:070:17:10

you know, you've been very lucky, which perhaps explains

0:17:100:17:13

why you haven't taken yourself or your work very seriously,

0:17:130:17:16

but, in fact, there was one film,

0:17:160:17:18

Separate Tables, for which you got an Oscar,

0:17:180:17:22

so, presumably, you did take yourself fairly seriously.

0:17:220:17:25

Oh, no, I misled you. I do take my work very seriously indeed.

0:17:250:17:30

And I pride myself on never having been late in 40 years,

0:17:300:17:34

and all that, and take it very, very seriously.

0:17:340:17:37

And I do my best, and get there knowing the jokes and...

0:17:370:17:40

INTERVIEWER LAUGHS

0:17:400:17:42

But I don't take the result very seriously,

0:17:420:17:45

and I don't expect it to go on forever, and I never did.

0:17:450:17:48

The following year,

0:17:480:17:50

the publication of a collection of his favourite tales from Hollywood

0:17:500:17:53

meant a visit to the Parkinson show.

0:17:530:17:56

And once again, Niven would show that no-one could top him

0:17:560:18:00

as a showbiz storyteller.

0:18:000:18:02

Do you find inspiration comes easily to you?

0:18:030:18:06

No, not at all. I mean, first of all,

0:18:060:18:09

I've got absolutely no powers of concentration whatever.

0:18:090:18:12

And if it's a nice day, I can't write,

0:18:120:18:16

because there's something else to do.

0:18:160:18:18

And if it's raining, it's too dreary to write.

0:18:180:18:20

LAUGHTER

0:18:200:18:22

I make any excuse.

0:18:220:18:24

If an aeroplane goes over, it's a bonanza. I watch that for hours.

0:18:240:18:27

LAUGHTER

0:18:270:18:29

And my wife, I can't wait, I beg her to come along with some awful news

0:18:290:18:32

that the boiler's burst or something.

0:18:320:18:34

And finally, I've got one little chair in the garden,

0:18:340:18:37

right up against a corner of a hedge, like this...

0:18:370:18:41

-I can't even see the sky, and I sit there and do my best.

-Yes.

0:18:410:18:44

Do you regard yourself now as an actor or as an author?

0:18:440:18:47

Oh, as an actor. I mean, I regard this as a terrific...

0:18:470:18:51

..not a sideline, even, I'm an amateur at it.

0:18:530:18:57

I love doing it, if it's a success, and I was so happy with it,

0:18:570:18:59

with the unexpected success of the other one,

0:18:590:19:02

because I really wrote it for a few chums for Christmas.

0:19:020:19:05

You've got an awful lot of chums!

0:19:070:19:08

LAUGHTER

0:19:080:19:10

I mean, it's ridiculous. I don't know what will happen this time.

0:19:100:19:14

But how do people regard you now, David?

0:19:140:19:16

When you meet people, do they think of you as David Niven the author,

0:19:160:19:19

or David Niven the actor?

0:19:190:19:21

Well, I tried it on the other day. I went home, we live near Nice,

0:19:210:19:24

and I know all the little men down there...

0:19:240:19:26

So, usually, when you fill in that thing at the airport,

0:19:260:19:29

on the flight, "Occupation," I always used to put actor,

0:19:290:19:33

so, this time, I put author, just for fun.

0:19:330:19:35

"Oh, Monsieur..." I got all this bit from him saying,

0:19:350:19:37

"Why have you changed your profession?"

0:19:370:19:39

I said, "Well, you may not have heard, but, even in French, I've written a bestseller."

0:19:390:19:43

And he says, "That does not make you an author. That makes you a fluke."

0:19:430:19:46

LAUGHTER

0:19:460:19:49

Bring On The Empty Horses,

0:19:500:19:51

it's an intriguing title for a book about Hollywood.

0:19:510:19:55

How does it arise? Where does it come from?

0:19:550:19:57

Well, I have to put a little self-bleep machine into this.

0:19:570:20:01

-You don't have to.

-I do, I think.

0:20:010:20:03

-You do? All right.

-Yes.

0:20:030:20:05

There was a great Hungarian director called Mike Curtiz,

0:20:050:20:09

and he was directing The Charge Of The Light Brigade,

0:20:090:20:12

and his English was very peculiar.

0:20:120:20:15

And Errol Flynn and I were standing underneath the rostrum,

0:20:150:20:18

he was on it, and the charge had taken place, a lot of it,

0:20:180:20:22

and as you know, everybody was killed,

0:20:220:20:25

and it was time for about 200 rider-less chargers to arrive,

0:20:250:20:29

so Mike, with his megaphone, says, "Bring on the empty horses!"

0:20:290:20:32

And so Flynn and I fell down, you know.

0:20:320:20:35

And he turned on us, he turned on us through the microphone,

0:20:350:20:38

the megaphone, it was in those days,

0:20:380:20:39

"You bums, you lousy, limey... You jerks!"

0:20:390:20:42

He said, "You and your goddamn language,

0:20:420:20:44

"you think I know bleep nothing, and I know bleep all!"

0:20:440:20:47

LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE

0:20:470:20:49

You've been in Hollywood for, what, 40 years, haven't you?

0:20:530:20:57

I've been in the business 40 years.

0:20:570:20:59

I lived there for all those 25 years and I go back often.

0:20:590:21:03

What was it... Do you remember distinctly your first impression

0:21:030:21:06

of Hollywood when you first arrived there?

0:21:060:21:09

That was the early '30s, of course, and Hollywood is a...

0:21:090:21:13

..a small... outcrop of a huge town, really.

0:21:140:21:19

Los Angeles then was the biggest city in area in the world.

0:21:190:21:23

In fact, there was one square mile for every four inhabitants,

0:21:230:21:26

cos large chunks of it weren't built over.

0:21:260:21:29

Hollywood is a sort of suburb and it was rather a baroque, dusty place,

0:21:290:21:34

and you have to imagine the big horseshoe of the Pacific like this,

0:21:340:21:38

and here is a horseshoe of hills, about a few miles away,

0:21:380:21:43

and then 20 miles of valley on the other side of hills,

0:21:430:21:47

and then a horseshoe of mountains with snow on them.

0:21:470:21:49

And the sun sets this way and Hollywood's up against those hills.

0:21:490:21:54

And it's a spectacular setting.

0:21:540:21:56

But the architecture was ridiculous really,

0:21:560:21:59

because the city planners got left behind all the time.

0:21:590:22:02

The place grew faster than they could plan.

0:22:020:22:05

And Hollywood itself is this one rather strange, rather sad little suburb,

0:22:050:22:09

and all the studios were sprinkled all over the city which had no transport really,

0:22:090:22:13

so we'd have to get up at three in the morning to get to work.

0:22:130:22:17

And one oasis of charm in the place was Beverly Hills, then,

0:22:170:22:20

in those days, and all of the streets were planted with different trees,

0:22:200:22:25

acacias and palms and magnolias and pines and eucalyptus - beautiful.

0:22:250:22:31

I took the trouble to go once and ask the Rodeo Land and Water Company

0:22:310:22:35

which had subdivided the place,

0:22:350:22:37

who did it and, to our great credit, it was a man from Kew Gardens.

0:22:370:22:41

-Really?

-Yes.

-He started that whole extraordinary thing.

0:22:410:22:45

What was it like being a young struggling actor in those days

0:22:450:22:49

in Hollywood? As you said, they were the great days.

0:22:490:22:51

There was a big industry there.

0:22:510:22:53

But of course you didn't walk in straightaway and become a superstar, did you?

0:22:530:22:56

No, I was an extra and that was hell. That was really hell.

0:22:560:23:00

What kind of extra were you? Classified...?

0:23:000:23:03

I was classified because there were the dress extras

0:23:030:23:06

who were very snooty, and they had clothes for every occasion.

0:23:060:23:10

They had ball gowns and race-going clothes and office clothes,

0:23:100:23:14

and bankers' clothes and all of that, and they got paid 10 a day,

0:23:140:23:18

which is about three quid, I suppose,

0:23:180:23:21

and then there were the people who looked all right in uniforms,

0:23:210:23:25

could walk properly, and the rest of us were the cattle.

0:23:250:23:28

I was one of the cattle. And we were put in, sort of, ethnic groups.

0:23:280:23:31

There were, you know, Asian and American red and American white,

0:23:310:23:37

and American black, and I was Anglo-Saxon type 2,008.

0:23:370:23:42

LAUGHTER

0:23:420:23:43

But the thing that struck me about Hollywood was how difficult it was

0:23:430:23:47

to get there, because one forgets how enormous that country is

0:23:470:23:52

and from New York to California is only a little bit shorter distance

0:23:520:23:59

than from London to New York, so it was four days and four nights

0:23:590:24:02

on a train, or about two weeks in a ship,

0:24:020:24:05

going around by the canal,

0:24:050:24:08

or 24 hours flying in the most horrendous aircraft at 5,000 feet,

0:24:080:24:13

flapping about in that awful weather,

0:24:130:24:15

with every possibility of thudding into the Allegheny Mountains on the way.

0:24:150:24:20

So nobody came out from Broadway, unless they were big stars,

0:24:200:24:24

and there was no television,

0:24:240:24:26

so the only way into Hollywood was there in Hollywood itself,

0:24:260:24:30

so you went there if you wanted to be in it,

0:24:300:24:33

and became an extra and prayed - and starved usually.

0:24:330:24:36

Starved, literally? You would find something else to do?

0:24:360:24:39

There were 22,000 of us at one point registered,

0:24:390:24:41

looking for 800 jobs every day.

0:24:410:24:43

How many of that lot, who started as you did as an extra,

0:24:430:24:48

made stardom as you did?

0:24:480:24:50

I think, honestly, a tiny, tiny proportion.

0:24:500:24:53

And if the first prize, which is only a prize for a day, the Oscar,

0:24:530:24:57

it's a group effort anyway, but somebody gets it each year,

0:24:570:25:02

I think... I went down to Central Casting the other day,

0:25:020:25:05

and they now have computers,

0:25:050:25:06

and it's something like a million to one against.

0:25:060:25:09

The luck is absolutely horrendous.

0:25:090:25:11

Do you remember the first lines you ever spoke

0:25:110:25:14

when you moved from being an extra?

0:25:140:25:15

Yes, I remember the first three lines I spoke.

0:25:150:25:18

One was, I said,

0:25:180:25:21

"Hello, my dear". No -

0:25:210:25:23

"Goodbye, my dear," to Alyssa Landy at a railway station.

0:25:230:25:27

LAUGHTER

0:25:270:25:29

I was such a smash in that that I was hired...

0:25:290:25:32

LAUGHTER

0:25:320:25:34

..hired to say, "Hello, my dear," to Ruth Chatterton at another station.

0:25:340:25:38

And then my big moment was in a Sam Goldwyn production

0:25:380:25:42

with Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea and Edward G Robinson.

0:25:420:25:45

I was a Cockney sailor and I was shown out of the window of a brothel

0:25:450:25:49

in San Francisco, into three foot of mud, and I said,

0:25:490:25:53

COCKNEY ACCENT: "All right, I'll go."

0:25:530:25:56

LAUGHTER

0:25:560:25:58

And Miriam and Joel and Eddie Robinson and some donkeys

0:25:580:26:02

and 40 vigilantes walked over the top of me.

0:26:020:26:04

-An auspicious debut.

-Yes.

0:26:040:26:06

What about...? One of the fascinating things that comes out

0:26:060:26:10

in what you've written is the amount of importance that was attached

0:26:100:26:14

in those days in Hollywood to publicity,

0:26:140:26:18

to the value of publicity, making yourself known.

0:26:180:26:21

What kind of tricks did they get up to? Publicity experts?

0:26:210:26:25

Mike, in those days it was not great talents, it was great personalities.

0:26:250:26:31

There were probably 40 people who could support a picture.

0:26:330:26:36

Today there are probably four who can support any picture,

0:26:360:26:39

and it was a case of publicity building up grains of sand until

0:26:390:26:43

they became sizeable hills that could be seen a long way off, really.

0:26:430:26:47

And they got up to all sorts of tricks.

0:26:470:26:49

The first publicity man came from the circus,

0:26:490:26:53

came from Barnum and Bailey Circus, a man called Harry Reichenbach.

0:26:530:26:58

And he was hired in the early days to publicise one of the first

0:26:580:27:01

Tarzan pictures, and he booked a room in a hotel on the ground floor,

0:27:010:27:07

right opposite where the theatre was in New York where it would open,

0:27:070:27:10

and a large packing case was delivered to his room,

0:27:100:27:14

and then he pressed the bell

0:27:140:27:15

and ordered eight pounds of chopped hamburger for lunch.

0:27:150:27:19

So the waiter tottered up with this great platter,

0:27:190:27:22

and there was a large lion sitting at his table

0:27:220:27:25

with a napkin round his neck. LAUGHTER

0:27:250:27:29

So the waiter sued Harry Reichenbach amid immense publicity.

0:27:290:27:32

That was really the first publicity stunt, and it sort of backfired.

0:27:320:27:36

He got badly sued. The next one... LAUGHTER

0:27:360:27:39

The next one that backfired was Mae West.

0:27:390:27:42

Mae West backfired - that sounds very strange.

0:27:420:27:44

LAUGHTER

0:27:440:27:46

The next one that backfired was Mae West.

0:27:460:27:48

She was doing a movie called It Ain't No Sin.

0:27:480:27:53

And they had a brilliant idea, and they got together 140 parrots.

0:27:530:27:58

And put them into intensive training,

0:27:580:28:00

and these poor animals were taught to say, "It ain't no sin".

0:28:000:28:03

LAUGHTER

0:28:030:28:06

They were going to be put on perches in hotel lobbies

0:28:060:28:10

all around the city for the opening of the picture,

0:28:100:28:12

and at the last minute, the Hays Office,

0:28:120:28:14

which was the group in charge of the morals of Hollywood,

0:28:140:28:17

decided that It Ain't No Sin was a dirty title

0:28:170:28:21

and changed it to I'm No Angel.

0:28:210:28:23

LAUGHTER

0:28:230:28:26

So the poor bloody parrots were taken away and given a crash course...

0:28:260:28:32

LAUGHTER

0:28:320:28:34

..and then there were put on the perches,

0:28:340:28:36

and frightful noises and whistles came out

0:28:360:28:38

and they were sent home in disgrace.

0:28:380:28:40

The other people, of course, who were around about that time

0:28:400:28:43

- it's absurd, isn't it? - were the gossip columnists?

0:28:430:28:49

Again, as you say, Hollywood invented the publicity stunt.

0:28:490:28:52

They also invented the gossip columnist, didn't they?

0:28:520:28:56

You suffered or certainly lived through

0:28:560:28:59

the two most powerful women...

0:28:590:29:01

They were immensely power... Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons.

0:29:010:29:04

One was short and fat and the other was long and thin.

0:29:040:29:07

And they were both mines of misinformation.

0:29:070:29:10

But they were very, very powerful because, between them,

0:29:100:29:14

they covered every single newspaper in the United States.

0:29:140:29:16

They had millions of readers.

0:29:160:29:18

And they had daily profiles they did, they were very powerful.

0:29:180:29:24

I don't think they could ever destroy anybody who had great talent.

0:29:240:29:27

They both hacked away at Marlon and never destroyed him.

0:29:270:29:30

They had terrific favourites and they had terrific enemies.

0:29:300:29:33

Hedda's great enemy was Orson Welles because he made Citizen Kane,

0:29:330:29:39

and Hearst, of course, was the prototype of that,

0:29:390:29:42

and Hearst was her boss.

0:29:420:29:43

And Hedda took against Chaplin, she loathed Chaplin

0:29:430:29:46

because she was very politically minded.

0:29:460:29:48

But it was much easier with those other things...

0:29:480:29:51

She thought he was very left-wing and a commie and all that stuff.

0:29:510:29:54

In fact, as she was dying aged 82,

0:29:540:29:56

she'd written her last column the morning before, she said

0:29:560:29:58

"I hear that son of a bitch Chaplin's trying to get back in the country -

0:29:580:30:01

"you've got to stop that," and then died.

0:30:010:30:04

LAUGHTER

0:30:040:30:05

But they were very rough, and the studios used them...

0:30:070:30:11

I was under contract with Sam Goldwyn for 15 years,

0:30:110:30:15

and something happened,

0:30:150:30:16

I had a contract that was coming up for renewal

0:30:160:30:19

or dissipation or something... LAUGHTER

0:30:190:30:21

And Goldwyn decided to soften me up for the kill,

0:30:210:30:24

and to get me to settle for less money.

0:30:240:30:27

And I was rather popular, I thought, at the studio.

0:30:270:30:30

I'd been there as a beginner. And I picked up the paper -

0:30:300:30:33

headline, "Niven Unbearable Say Fellow Workers."

0:30:330:30:38

And a big thing saying I had got so swollen-headed that nobody could work with me, and hated me...

0:30:380:30:42

Goldwyn... And Louella put it in to help Goldwyn. I mean, that sort of thing did happen.

0:30:420:30:46

It must have made life very uncomfortable, and I suppose you had to be pleasant to these people?

0:30:460:30:50

Well, you did. We were all whores, really,

0:30:500:30:53

because it was much easier to go with them than against them.

0:30:530:30:58

They could make it very uncomfortable for you.

0:30:580:31:01

Did you ever get a chance...

0:31:010:31:03

The problem is that actors particularly

0:31:030:31:06

always say that their problem is they can never get back at their critics.

0:31:060:31:10

Did you ever manage to get back at any of them?

0:31:100:31:12

Well, we did a little thing once.

0:31:140:31:17

Ida Lupino was a great friend of mine,

0:31:170:31:20

and she was married to a very rough man called Howard Duff. She still is.

0:31:200:31:24

And my wife - Hjordis, my wife -

0:31:240:31:28

we loathed Hedda and Louella at this point, we'd both had problems with them,

0:31:280:31:32

all four of us had had problems.

0:31:320:31:36

So we had a little plan, and we had dinner together,

0:31:360:31:39

and then I called up Ciro's which was the sort of chic nightclub,

0:31:390:31:43

and booked a table for two.

0:31:430:31:45

And the head waiter said, "Oh, yes, Mr Niven, just you and madam?"

0:31:450:31:48

And I said, "Just give me a quiet corner table, in the dark."

0:31:480:31:52

And then Ida and I arrived.

0:31:520:31:54

And, terrific twittering, because there were spies everywhere for the columnists,

0:31:540:31:59

in all the brothels and in all the hospitals and everywhere...

0:31:590:32:02

And immediately, the next thing I knew

0:32:020:32:05

about 15 cameramen arrived, and Lupi and I are sitting in one corner

0:32:050:32:08

and she's nibbling my ear and the whole bit...

0:32:080:32:11

And right in the middle of all this excitement, in comes Howard and Hjordis,

0:32:110:32:15

and go to the other side of the dance floor.

0:32:150:32:18

And Lupino says - she overdid it - "You must flee!

0:32:180:32:21

"You must flee", I mean...(!) LAUGHTER

0:32:210:32:24

And then Howard - who was reputed as a brawler, you know -

0:32:270:32:31

he spotted us and kicked over his table, crash -

0:32:310:32:34

now everybody in the place is watching him. Everybody's waiting.

0:32:340:32:37

And I pretended to be a bit gassed, and I got up from mine,

0:32:370:32:40

and we took our coats off.

0:32:400:32:43

Now, all the photographers getting into position for the kill...

0:32:430:32:46

And the dance floor's cleared, and we go on the dance floor,

0:32:460:32:49

and we circle round looking at each other.

0:32:490:32:52

The classic Western ending, you know,

0:32:520:32:54

and then finally we grabbed each other, kissed each other on the mouth and waltzed all round the room.

0:32:540:32:59

LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE

0:32:590:33:00

Louella called me in the morning -

0:33:070:33:10

said she would not be woken up for false alarms!

0:33:100:33:14

How difficult was it, though, to remain unimpressed by it all,

0:33:140:33:18

once having made it?

0:33:180:33:19

Was any advice ever offered to you, that you hung onto,

0:33:190:33:22

which kept you sane and a survivor in Hollywood?

0:33:220:33:26

Well, Gable was a great chum of mine,

0:33:260:33:27

and he was a real feet-on-the-ground man. We used to go fishing a lot.

0:33:270:33:31

And he always said, "If you ever get to the top,

0:33:330:33:37

"be tough with the brass, with the moguls.

0:33:370:33:41

"And don't forget," he always said, "it's a terrifying scenario

0:33:410:33:45

"we're taking part in, and we're going to get it in the end.

0:33:450:33:48

"Everybody expects that."

0:33:480:33:50

He used to say, "I personally take Tracy's advice - Spencer Tracy's advice -

0:33:500:33:56

"which is to get there on time,

0:33:560:33:57

"know the jokes, take the cheque and go home."

0:33:570:34:01

But I think, honestly, Michael, you're being complimentary.

0:34:010:34:04

I think I WAS getting completely out of control,

0:34:040:34:07

because it's very difficult not to believe your own publicity.

0:34:070:34:10

It was in those days, because there was so much of it, pages and pages.

0:34:100:34:14

As I said before, in those days, before television,

0:34:140:34:18

there was no competition, so the Sunday Express here, for instance,

0:34:180:34:21

would have four, five or six pages on Sundays of Hollywood news.

0:34:210:34:25

And it was incredible.

0:34:250:34:27

And you began to read your own publicity and believe it.

0:34:270:34:31

And, you know, if you read 3,000 times a week that you have a very

0:34:310:34:34

attractive twitch of the right eye...

0:34:340:34:39

you begin to twitch.

0:34:390:34:41

I was twitching all over, I was...

0:34:410:34:44

I think I really was saved by the war, because I came back here

0:34:440:34:47

and for six and a half years was brought down to Earth, smartly.

0:34:470:34:52

But did all this put an impossible strain on your married life, for instance?

0:34:520:34:55

Very much so. It really did, because...

0:34:550:35:00

For instance, in our marriage - which has lasted for 20-something years, thank God -

0:35:010:35:06

it certainly put an awful strain, because Hjordis is very, very beautiful,

0:35:060:35:11

and she was a top model in Sweden and so on. Now, a very beautiful woman...

0:35:110:35:15

should immediately - I mean, this is just a tiny example -

0:35:150:35:20

should immediately attract the attention if a couple walks into a room, or a restaurant.

0:35:200:35:25

But if she walks into it with a dreary old bulldog face

0:35:250:35:29

that's been around for 500 years, she gets it second. Or used to, anyway.

0:35:290:35:36

And table hopping, when people are plucking at you in Hollywood...

0:35:360:35:40

She's left there standing. And it got to such a point, she left.

0:35:400:35:44

-Really?

-She said, "I've got to find out if I'm anything any more" -

0:35:440:35:47

this was after years of marriage to her, she left, she took off for four months.

0:35:470:35:53

And I realised the horrendous thing, that because of all that nonsense

0:35:530:35:57

I was taking the most important thing for granted, really.

0:35:570:35:59

But thank God we got the show on the road again and everything was all right.

0:35:590:36:03

The marriage was reported to be unhappy,

0:36:030:36:06

with claims that Niven had numerous affairs.

0:36:060:36:10

But, with typical humour, he said he wanted to go down as

0:36:100:36:14

the only Hollywood actor who never got a divorce.

0:36:140:36:17

In 1981, Niven was back on Parkinson,

0:36:190:36:22

promoting his second novel this time,

0:36:220:36:25

but, once again, treating the audience to more stories

0:36:250:36:29

of his extraordinary encounters.

0:36:290:36:31

It's extraordinary, in fact, looking at the kind of people,

0:36:310:36:35

the range of people that you've met.

0:36:350:36:36

Just about everybody who's anybody, you met at one time or another.

0:36:360:36:40

I mean, you met, during the war - when you came back to England

0:36:400:36:43

from America to join up -

0:36:430:36:45

you met Churchill, didn't you, on a couple of occasions?

0:36:450:36:49

I did, I was so lucky to meet him, and so lucky to meet so many people.

0:36:490:36:54

I met him because, when the Germans had taken most of Europe -

0:36:540:37:00

all of it, in fact - they had a beam from France over Chequers,

0:37:000:37:05

and a beam from Norway, like that, so that all they had to do was

0:37:050:37:09

send a bomber down the beam and drop an egg on Chequers.

0:37:090:37:12

So a man called Ronnie Tree had a lovely house in Oxfordshire,

0:37:120:37:17

and he gave Churchill a wing for the war

0:37:170:37:19

where he could go for weekends, and that sort of thing.

0:37:190:37:22

And he used to be there with his staff,

0:37:220:37:24

Portal and Douglas and all these people, fascinating.

0:37:240:37:28

And Duff Cooper and Eden...

0:37:280:37:29

And I had no home, and Tree also let me spend my leave there,

0:37:290:37:34

in his part of the house, obviously.

0:37:340:37:36

So I used to meet him when I went on leave, and he was fascinating.

0:37:360:37:41

And he loved, um...

0:37:410:37:44

He loved the movies, loved to talk to me about the movies.

0:37:440:37:47

He loved Deanna Durbin.

0:37:470:37:49

"Great talent," he said, and all that.

0:37:490:37:51

And the first day I saw him, I'd just come in late

0:37:510:37:55

with the uniform on, and he got up from the table

0:37:550:37:59

and walked, everybody stood up, he came to me and said -

0:37:590:38:02

and they were all listening, all these great admirals

0:38:020:38:06

"Young man, a most magnificent effort to give up

0:38:060:38:10

"a most promising career to fight for your King and country."

0:38:100:38:13

I said, "Oh, well..."

0:38:130:38:15

LAUGHTER

0:38:150:38:17

And he said, "Mark you, if you had not have done so,

0:38:170:38:20

"it would have been despicable." LAUGHTER

0:38:200:38:24

What other memory do you have of him, David, anything at all?

0:38:270:38:30

Well, he loved to go for walks. He'd take me for walks,

0:38:300:38:32

and I remember when it was absolutely at its blackest,

0:38:320:38:36

when the Japs had just sunk the Prince of Wales

0:38:360:38:40

and George V off Malaya, and terrible disasters in the desert.

0:38:400:38:46

And I said to him, somewhere in the middle of Oxfordshire,

0:38:460:38:49

I said, "Do you think that America will ever come into the war?"

0:38:490:38:54

And he said, "You mark my words, something cataclysmic will occur."

0:38:540:38:59

"Cataclysmic" I've never heard before or since, but...

0:38:590:39:02

And, six weeks later, Pearl Harbor.

0:39:020:39:04

It turned out, another four months go by and I get leave again,

0:39:040:39:08

and there he was - "Come for a walk." Off we go.

0:39:080:39:11

So I asked him if he remembered it. He said, "Certainly, I remember."

0:39:110:39:15

So I said, "What on Earth made you say it?"

0:39:150:39:18

He said, "Young man, I study history."

0:39:180:39:22

-Goose-pimple time.

-Yes.

0:39:220:39:24

What you've build up over the years, both as an actor and as a writer,

0:39:240:39:29

is a sort of personae which is beloved, actually.

0:39:290:39:32

That's what you are, with people who read you.

0:39:320:39:36

No, it's true, this is exactly what you are.

0:39:360:39:39

But is it necessary for you to be liked? Do you work hard at it?

0:39:390:39:46

I don't work hard at it but, let's face it,

0:39:460:39:48

I think everybody who becomes an actor

0:39:480:39:51

probably becomes an actor for just that reason they want to be liked.

0:39:510:39:56

It could stem from being bashed around in school, like I was.

0:39:560:40:00

But my bashing around is nothing to being brought up in the Gorbals

0:40:000:40:03

or something like that.

0:40:030:40:05

But for its size, it was nasty,

0:40:050:40:07

and I think I definitely wanted to be liked,

0:40:070:40:10

and I started doing concerts and things at school to be liked,

0:40:100:40:12

and tearing the trousers and all that to be liked.

0:40:120:40:15

And don't think for one second when I walked down those steps

0:40:150:40:18

and all those sweet people clapped, I didn't enjoy every second of it.

0:40:180:40:21

LAUGHTER

0:40:210:40:23

This is a silly hypothetical situation -

0:40:230:40:25

supposing you went into a room, and there were 20 people there

0:40:250:40:28

who liked you, and one from whom person you felt hate,

0:40:280:40:30

-what would you do?

-Go straight to them.

0:40:300:40:32

-Would you?

-Oh, yes.

-And charm them?

0:40:320:40:34

Absolutely, go right at 'em. Oh, yes.

0:40:340:40:37

You couldn't stay there if you felt that somebody didn't like you?

0:40:370:40:41

But, you know, in the old days, before transatlantic flights,

0:40:410:40:44

you used to cross on the big liners.

0:40:440:40:46

And arriving in New York, on the Queen Mary or something like that,

0:40:460:40:50

they had passenger lists and they had a big room for the press

0:40:500:40:54

who came out on the cutter, the pilot cutter.

0:40:540:40:56

And they'd say who they wanted to interview,

0:40:560:40:58

and you'd be wheeled in, and there was one man I'll never forget,

0:40:580:41:02

you'd do your best and he'd just be sitting like this...

0:41:020:41:05

And you'd go for him all the time, try to make him like you.

0:41:070:41:10

Have you ever not liked yourself?

0:41:100:41:13

Oh, yes.

0:41:130:41:15

Yes. I've done... not awful things, but nasty things.

0:41:150:41:20

I did a beastly thing, once.

0:41:220:41:24

I had an agent, a very good agent.

0:41:240:41:28

And he'd done very well for me, he was a very nice man, a friend.

0:41:280:41:32

And my contract was just coming up with him to renew,

0:41:320:41:35

and I was going to renew it, of course.

0:41:350:41:38

And the top agent of Hollywood, who only had about five people,

0:41:380:41:41

a man called Bert Allenberg, and if you were with him, that was it.

0:41:410:41:45

The big golden gates would open, he had so much power.

0:41:450:41:48

And he said, "David, I want to handle you."

0:41:480:41:51

And I said, "Well, what about Phil Gersh?"

0:41:510:41:53

He said, "That's your problem, kid."

0:41:530:41:57

And I sat up all night...

0:41:570:41:59

Michael, greed won.

0:41:590:42:01

Greed won, and I went to see Gersh,

0:42:010:42:03

and I said, "Phil, I'm sorry,

0:42:030:42:05

"I'm not going to renew." He said, "Why not?"

0:42:050:42:07

I said, "I don't know, I just want to change my butcher."

0:42:070:42:11

He said, "You know, you're the only actor I've ever liked.

0:42:110:42:14

"I'll never handle another. You're just like the rest.

0:42:140:42:18

"I'll only handle directors and writers." And, sure, he did.

0:42:180:42:22

And I crawled away, and I went to see Allenberg and said, "I've done it."

0:42:220:42:26

And he said, "That's great.

0:42:260:42:28

"Now tomorrow I'm going to see Zanuck, LB Mayer on Tuesday, Warner,

0:42:280:42:31

"and I'll have great news Thursday morning.

0:42:310:42:34

"Call me Thursday morning. Big contracts."

0:42:340:42:37

Couldn't wait for Thursday.

0:42:370:42:39

I felt a little bit ashamed, I called on Thursday morning,

0:42:390:42:41

and the secretary was crying. I said, "What's the matter with you?"

0:42:410:42:45

And she said, "Mr Allenberg died in the night."

0:42:450:42:47

AUDIENCE GASPS AND LAUGHS

0:42:470:42:50

-You still cringe at that.

-I still cringe, yes.

0:42:500:42:53

Do you see yourself as a sort of survivor of a lost time?

0:42:530:42:58

Well, let's face it, my group's been called up.

0:42:580:43:01

LAUGHTER

0:43:010:43:04

Yes, I am a survivor.

0:43:040:43:06

And I'm not going to volunteer for the next thing, but...

0:43:060:43:09

Yes, I suppose I am a survivor, thank God.

0:43:110:43:15

It's... It's been such fun.

0:43:150:43:18

I'm so lucky - how many people in this room, in this country,

0:43:180:43:24

can really say, "I'm doing a job I love," you know?

0:43:240:43:29

So many of us scratch around doing our best

0:43:290:43:32

and not really liking it very much.

0:43:320:43:34

But when you look around now,

0:43:340:43:36

I mean, the one thing that you could honestly say about yourself,

0:43:360:43:39

which is enviable, I suppose, to any young person in the business now,

0:43:390:43:43

is that you were in the business at a time when

0:43:430:43:45

it was the most glamorous, the most exciting,

0:43:450:43:47

the most fun business in the world. It must have been.

0:43:470:43:50

And it had a certain amount of style,

0:43:500:43:52

which, singularly, is lacking now. Do you find that?

0:43:520:43:56

Does what's happening today disappoint you when you look

0:43:560:43:59

at what's happened to your industry and to people in it?

0:43:590:44:02

It doesn't, Michael.

0:44:020:44:04

It's changed completely. The star system has gone, of course,

0:44:040:44:07

but there's much more opportunity for people.

0:44:070:44:11

As I said before, with 22,000 extras,

0:44:110:44:14

how much talent never got a chance to open its face?

0:44:140:44:17

Now there's television,

0:44:170:44:19

and even doing a commercial people are discovered,

0:44:190:44:22

and I think it's much easier for the young to start now,

0:44:220:44:26

but much harder to keep going, because they're not backed up

0:44:260:44:29

by the studios and by the contracts and by the family system.

0:44:290:44:33

I think it's great, I think they're making wonderful movies now,

0:44:330:44:36

really great movies now.

0:44:360:44:38

But it's frightfully tough, because a lot of muck is made,

0:44:380:44:41

and I'm afraid that, when people get entertainment free,

0:44:410:44:46

they don't criticise the quality, and I think we're not making movies

0:44:460:44:51

now really for a movie audience any more,

0:44:510:44:53

we're making movies for an audience that's...

0:44:530:44:56

not brainwashed, but so used to television,

0:44:560:44:59

and so many of the series churned out in America are so slipshod,

0:44:590:45:02

and thrown together, not time to write them well.

0:45:020:45:06

But people get used to it, they don't even listen, maybe.

0:45:060:45:09

I think the standard's gone down.

0:45:090:45:11

How, generally speaking, do you view old age?

0:45:110:45:13

-Because you're 70 now, aren't you?

-71.

0:45:130:45:16

71. So, how do you view it?

0:45:160:45:18

How do you view this phase of your life?

0:45:180:45:21

Well, there's no point in saying...

0:45:210:45:23

Look at this "lugghh" that's suddenly happened tonight,

0:45:230:45:25

-I don't know what that is.

-That's nerves, David, that's nerves.

0:45:250:45:29

But I try to be the best I am for my age, the best I can do for my age.

0:45:290:45:34

I do everything, I ski and swim and all that sort of thing.

0:45:340:45:37

But I don't view the future with any great longing.

0:45:370:45:42

And, um, I just hope that I'll be gone before those awful things

0:45:420:45:46

start dropping, the big ones.

0:45:460:45:49

Something alarming, very much, about the big ones

0:45:490:45:53

is that I read today that America's arming like mad,

0:45:530:45:57

but I don't think anybody's going to let it off.

0:45:570:46:01

But what I do think none of my business, this

0:46:010:46:06

but the thing that worries me is

0:46:060:46:08

our national game is football, or cricket.

0:46:080:46:10

America's cricket or football.

0:46:100:46:12

Germany, football, everybody's football,

0:46:120:46:14

and Russia is chess.

0:46:140:46:16

That worries me very much.

0:46:160:46:17

LAUGHTER

0:46:170:46:19

Thank you very much indeed for being my guest tonight.

0:46:190:46:21

All the best with your novel, Go Slowly, Come Back Quickly,

0:46:210:46:25

I'm sure you'll have great success with it.

0:46:250:46:27

-Ladies and gentlemen, David Niven.

-Thank you very much.

0:46:270:46:29

APPLAUSE

0:46:290:46:31

This was Niven's last television interview for the BBC.

0:46:310:46:35

It was reported that family and friends were shocked by it,

0:46:350:46:39

thinking that his slurring speech was a sign

0:46:390:46:41

that he'd suffered a stroke.

0:46:410:46:44

Within a year, he'd been diagnosed with motor neurone disease,

0:46:440:46:49

and two years later he died at home in Switzerland, aged 73.

0:46:490:46:55

At his funeral, the biggest wreath came from

0:46:550:46:58

the porters at Heathrow Airport, with a card that read,

0:46:580:47:02

"To the finest gentleman that ever walked through these halls."

0:47:020:47:06

He made a porter feel like a king.

0:47:060:47:10

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:47:230:47:25

A retrospective look at television appearances made over the years by the Oscar-winning actor David Niven, capturing the milestones and highlights of his life and career. Narrated by Sylvia Syms.


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