In the beginning

I was born in Trafalgar Square, but whenever I tell friends where I was born, they look in disbelief because Trafalgar Square doesn’t seem like a good place for giving birth but Charing Cross Hospital overlooked
Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden.

 

 

 

Cornwall Gardens Mews West, London
Cornwall Gardens Mews West, London My dad wan't the best gardener in the world!

At that time we lived in Cornwall Gardens Mews West in Kensington. Mews houses were built in the 18th and 19th century, originally to stable horses with basic accommodation for servants.
Interestingly, they have no windows at the back which prevented the servants from peeking at their lordships playing croquet on the lawn. Falconry was popular, so many of the houses were used as cages to keep the birds. Falcons moult or mew which made a mess and they were called mews.
My father didn’t keep falcons or horses but always had a car in the garage.
If only he had bought our house for a few hundred pounds because they now sell for millions.
Recognise an opportunity!

 

We moved to Harrow which doesn’t feature as a tourist spot. One day I took a girlfriend to my mothers' flat for a cup of tea. During the conversation she casually mentioned she used to take me to Harrods for my haircut. That sounded very posh to me, but the truth was that Harrods was the only hairdresser within two miles. Added to that bit of name dropping, my mum took me for some fresh air in my push chair every day in Kensington Gardens. Royalty was everywhere, but none of them recognised me!

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, 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 20 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 to 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’s were the main Jaguar dealership in Europe.They were popular with film companies and 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 a Hollywood star.

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 is called 'stealing'.

One evening, Bob had to pick up Mr and Mrs Henly at the Hilton hotel at 1AM. 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. Not in the least bit clever. He dropped me off and arrived back at the Hilton at 12.59 AM.

I learned later that he had been the driver for 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.

Jack was not interested in fame and fortune but it intrigued me enough to contact Pat Larthe who was a leading London model agent.

This was to be my start in showbiz but I didn’t know it at the time.

Pat had helped many well known actors including Michael Caine and Sean Connery. She recommended a photographer who was excellent.

 

 

The idea of modelling 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.

My first on-camera job was at the Cineast Studios in Paris, the producers told me to have a sporting limp - don't ask! It was for men’s aftershave Mark Vardy.

The walls and floor of the studio had been painted grey, with four white lines going to infinity. Either side of these lines were statues. I was surprised on the first take because the statues were in fact models who turned their heads very slowly to follow me as I walked towards a beautiful girl who looked very much like Grace Kelly. She was married to the French chess champion.

When we finished the shoot, we were taken to a romantic little restaurant in the middle of Paris by the guy in charge whose name was Clutterbuck, but I’m sorry I don’t remember his first name.

I just remember a great atmosphere, wonderful food, wild strawberries and lots of garlic.

Steve in Mark Vardy commercial
My first commercial - Mark Vardy