Remember the humble stars

First published in Paul Welsh Borehamwood Times: Photograph of the Author by

I was interested to read the list of people who have declined one of the Queen’s birthday or New Year honours over the past 50 years.

Robert Morley and Paul Scofield both turned down knighthoods and Alfred Hitchcock declined the lesser award of a CBE in the Sixties.

He did accept a knighthood years later, a few months before his death, but by then he was already suffering senile dementia.

Michael Winner apparently turned down an OBE and was reported as saying, joking or not, that he would prefer a higher award.

Personally, when the letter popped through my door in 1997, asking if I would accept an MBE for my role in saving Elstree Studios, it took me all of two seconds to consider before ticking the box marked yes please.

One star I knew who turned down a CBE in the Sixties was Trevor Howard, who lived in Arkley and often filmed in Borehamwood.

Why he turned it down is not recorded, but some people say he did not believe in such things. Others have speculated that early in his career he allowed studio publicists to say he had won a Military Cross in the war — but he had not and perhaps feared the whole matter might be dragged up again.

I had the pleasure to know Trevor during the last ten years of his life, visiting him at his house and his local watering hole, the Gate pub, in Barnet Lane, now more of a restaurant.

It was no secret he was an alcoholic but it never seemed to interfere with his career and he joked about his image to me.

He said: “They call me a hellraiser as I enjoy a drink and can be a little loud, but the press love to tag you. To me a hellraiser was Errol Flynn, who tried everything to excess and was dead by 50, but he was a great guy and a fun person.”

Trevor’s first success was in the classic weepie Brief Encounter, shot in 1945 and co-starring Celia Johnson, after whom a court is named on the studio estate in Borehamwood.

He told me: “Celia was the best actress I ever worked with, but it can be boring to constantly be asked about the same film for 40 years.

“Another actress I thought a lot of was Sophia Loren, with whom I made a film called The Key at Elstree. She treated the profession seriously and was not just some sort of screen beauty.”

Trevor had less regard for one or two of his male Hollywood co-stars, saying: “I think Marlon Brando was out to bring down MGM with all the delays he caused on Mutiny On The Bounty and was quite a prima donna.

“Frank Sinatra was another one who would turn up when he pleased on Von Ryan’s Express and, if he was happy with the first take, that was it, regardless of anyone else’s performance.

“I did one movie at Elstree with Yul Brynner, who would never walk but insisted on being driven onto the sound stage.”

Bob Mitchum once told me: “I worked with Trevor on Ryan’s Daughter and besides being great fun, he is a superb actor.

“The problem is many of my Hollywood colleagues are scared to have him as a co-star as they know he will act them off screen so he does not get offered big roles but guest star parts.”

Trevor had two favourite pastimes and they were watching cricket and listening to jazz music. His wife Helen told me once Boris Karloff, another cricket fanatic, was working at MGM and the two of them would go off to watch a game at Lords.

Trevor was a guest at two of the events I organised at the Elstree Studio in the Eighties, but sadly he passed away in 1988 at the hospital in Bushey aged 74.

I went to his funeral and, as we filed past his coffin at the end, it was to the sound of his beloved jazz music.

Helen asked me to begin organising a memorial service for him at the actors’ church in Covent Garden, but changed her mind saying he hated such occasions, having attended David Niven’s, and thought they attracted to many phonies.

It was a pity, but in the Nineties we did honour him with a plaque unveiled by Helen that is now in Shenley Road.

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