Shirley Anne Field in­ter­view

Shirley Anne Field was the beau­ti­ful queen of 1960s kitchen sink dra­mas, adored by movie­go­ers and de­sired by male co-stars and film direc­tors. But as Brian Bea­com dis­cov­ers, there was only one per­son whose love she craved ...

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS - A Judge­ment In Stone is at the Theatre Royal Glas­gow, June 19-24.

THERE’S a scene in 1960 kitchen sink drama The En­ter­tainer in which Sir Lau­rence Olivier’s fad­ing co­me­dian Archie Rice se­duces beauty queen Tina in a tiny, run-down static car­a­van in More­cambe.

It’s a great metaphor for the de­cline of va­ri­ety, a look through the dirty net-cur­tain into the re­al­ity of show­biz. How­ever, a few hours spent in SouthendOn-Sea with the film’s beauty queen, ac­tress Shirley Anne Field, re­veals a life that’s been far more of a strug­gle than any­thing Rice had to con­tend with.

Field would go on to star along­side Al­bert Fin­ney in the clas­sic Satur­day Night And Sun­day Morn­ing, with Steve McQueen and Robert Wag­ner in The War Lover and in a range of Bri­tish films and TV se­ries. Adam Faith was once a

boyfriend. She was courted by com­poser John Barry, Sean Con­nery adored her and she mar­ried a hand­some rac­ing driver. But that was the up­side of her story. The full pic­ture, in it­self, is the stuff of mo­tion pic­ture scripts.

“You’re not go­ing to make me out to be some sort of sad crea­ture, and cre­ate hearts and flow­ers and sobs,” she says with a half-wor­ried smile, when we meet in the bar of the quaint pie-and-jel­lied eels theatre, where she’s ap­pear­ing in the tour­ing pro­duc­tion of Ruth Ren­dell’s A Judge­ment In Stone.

I tell her no, be­cause there is too much pos­i­tiv­ity – and fun – about her. A few days ahead of her 79th birth­day, the light in those green eyes cer­tainly hasn’t gone out. Nev­er­the­less, her story is a heart-wrencher. Lit­tle Shirley Broom­field (named af­ter Shirley Tem­ple by her show­biz-struck mother) was just five when East Lon­don was bombed. Too young to be evac­u­ated, she was sent to live in an or­phan­age run by Methodist Sis­ters. She didn’t see her mother again un­til she was 38.

“I kept cry­ing and get­ting into a tem­per,” she re­calls of the early months. “I kept say­ing ‘I’ve got a lit­tle baby brother, who is two years younger!’ I had two sis­ters as well, but they were old enough to be evac­u­ated. Fi­nally, the nuns brought my brother up to Bolton and he was put into a boys’ build­ing on the other side of a field, which was full of cows, which I was ter­ri­fied of. I only got to see him at spe­cial times.”

The fam­ily unit had been blitzed. “My sis­ter, Sonny, was mar­ried four times by the age of 34 and had six chil­dren. She got can­cer and died early. I didn’t meet my other sis­ter Joy un­til I was in my 30s.

“My mother mean­time had dis­ap­peared into the Amer­i­can south where she mar­ried an Amer­i­can ser­vice­man, but not legally. Joy had been turned back at the ship. My mother’s ‘hus­band’ promised he’d come back for all her chil­dren and she went out there with that prom­ise.”

Field only dis­cov­ered all this much later in life. Her lorry driver fa­ther had mean­time re­mar­ried; he didn’t visit the or­phan­age un­til his daugh­ter was 13.

Dys­func­tional doesn’t be­gin to de­scribe her fam­ily back­ground. Does that ac­count for her per­son­al­ity’s edge of tough­ness and vul­ner­a­bil­ity? “Re­silience,” she of­fers in ex­change. “Your child­hood sets you up for life. All chil­dren want is some­one to put their arm round them. And I did miss my mother. I craved her. Even though she left us behind, she had loved us all so much and her leav­ing us left an in­deli­ble mark, so much so that none of the Sis­ters had a chance with me. One or two of them tried to be lov­ing but I shrugged them off be­cause I felt dis­loyal to my mother.”

Not all of the Sis­ters were lov­ing. Field be­lieves there was abuse. “There was one Sis­ter that I think got sacked be­cause of me,” she re­calls grimly. “There was a sys­tem in place at the home if you were very lonely you could take your mat­tress and sleep in Sis­ter’s bed­room.

“I was sleep­ing on the floor one night when she did some­thing to me and I didn’t like it, so much that I wet the bed in anger. As a re­sult, she threw me into the bath­room and un­der a boil­ing hot geyser and I was scream­ing in pain. An­other Sis­ter came in and stopped it, wrapped me in a towel and sat me on her knee. Two weeks later, [the first] Sis­ter was gone.”

Freed from the in­sti­tu­tion at the age of 15, Field made her way back to Lon­don and into a Gas Board typ­ing pool. “I was bored silly,” she re­calls. Af­ter be­ing tal­entspot­ted by a pho­tog­ra­pher, she took up mod­el­ling and her pho­tos ap­peared in the likes of Reveille and Tit­bits mag­a­zine. She also took part in lo­cal beauty con­tests. (And be­came Miss Lon­don). But the teenager wasn’t chas­ing fame. “I hoped my mother would see the pho­to­graphs and she’d find me and want me,” she says softly. “That was my dream.”

Mid-1950s Lon­don was a preda­tory world. “I did lots of pic­tures for a ten­ner a time, but I wouldn’t do nude or rude. Mostly I sidestepped the ex­ploita­tion. Thank God I didn’t get caught up in sex and drugs and rock’n’roll.”

Mean­while, Field was taken on by an agency that found small movie parts for young women. “The girls pro­tected each other,” she re­calls.

Field en­dured five years of “wolves”

try­ing to take ad­van­tage, pres­sur­ing her to have sex, of­fer­ing glam­orous hol­i­days. “I didn’t go on them be­cause I didn’t want to be tested. I was afraid I might en­joy that world,” she says, frankly. “Mean­time, I had a steady boyfriend, who was loyal and very nice.” She smiles. “And a bit bor­ing. But since then, I’ve of­ten cho­sen the wrong men.”

TOWARDS the end of the decade, Field be­gan to land good roles. She ap­peared in teen re­bel­lion film Beat Girl along­side fu­ture pop star Adam Faith. “At the time I was also be­ing pur­sued by John Barry [the film’s com­poser]. Adam was the trainee wolf at the time.” She dated the trainee. “I was never too se­ri­ous about him. But I re­mem­ber him tak­ing me home to his mother’s coun­cil flat in Ac­ton. She said she liked me be­cause I was so or­di­nary. Adam, said, ‘Gawd, mum, she’s not or­di­nary. Look at her!’ His mum said: ‘Yes, but lis­ten to how she talks’.”

Field’s work­ing-class ac­cent helped her land a life-chang­ing role along­side Lawrence Olivier in John Os­borne’s The En­ter­tainer. She was 19. “I turned up to cast­ing in a room crowded with young women, all look­ing the same ex­cept I was a bit younger. So I let the pony tail down, took the hoop out of my pet­ti­coat and read the lines in my best RP, as I’d been taught to do.

“Di­rec­tor Tony Richard­son was dis­miss­ing me with a ‘Thank you dear’ but he later told me that as I walked away, he’d no­ticed the scuff marks on my heels. It must have sparked a thought in his head be­cause he called out, ‘Can you say the lines in a north­ern ac­cent?’ I was fu­ri­ous, and I yelled [in strong Lan­cas­trian tones]: ‘I’ve spent five years bloody try­ing not to.’”

The north­ern ac­cent was ex­actly what the role called for. Field was in. “I loved it,” she says of the film com­pany. “It was a safe world for me. Al­though mar­ried to Vanessa [Red­grave] Tony had his boyfriend around at the time as well.”

Sir Larry, ini­tially, wasn’t a joy to work with. He made Field feel small and in­signif­i­cant. But she told him off and re­fused to fin­ish the big car­a­van scene un­til he apol­o­gised. “The chil­dren’s home had taught me to be strong.” Af­ter­wards, when he saw the rushes and re­alised what the teenager could do, the pair be­came good friends. In fact, he in­vited her to join him at the Old Vic. “I de­clined. I didn’t have the con­fi­dence.”

Ironic, per­haps given Olivier’s per­for­mance in the film as a mu­sic hall co­me­dian was no great shakes. “I agree,” she says. “He had grabbed at the part.”

Field went on to shine how­ever, and in 1960 she had three films play­ing in Le­ices­ter Square at the one time: Man In The Moon with Ken­neth More, The En­ter­tainer and Richard­son’s Satur­day Night And Sun­day Morn­ing.

In the lat­ter film, Field played Doreen, who is des­per­ate to marry Al­bert Fin­ney’s char­ac­ter. She cer­tainly wasn’t play­ing her­self. “I knew I wasn’t go­ing to be a Doreen and have a con­ven­tional life.”

But al­though Field was now tak­ing the in­dus­try by storm, her mo­ti­va­tion was never about be­ing a film star. “It was al­ways about hop­ing my mother would come and get me,” she says. “But there I was, all over the place, and she didn’t see it. I dis­cov­ered later she’d heard I was in films, and for a while thought I was Jac­que­line Bis­set or Les­ley Anne Down.”

FIELD’S long­ing for her lost fam­ily saw her take LSD at con­tro­ver­sial Scots psy­chi­a­trist RD Laing’s Tav­i­s­tock Clinic. “I wasn’t fa­mous enough for RD Laing to treat me,” she says, in­di­cat­ing hu­mil­ity, or per­haps Laing’s self-im­por­tance. “An­other doc­tor did. He’d given it to my brother un­der the Na­tional Health, and it was very de­struc­tive for him. But I wanted to see how it af­fected me. It was said to take you back in time. Af­ter tak­ing it, I re­mem­bered be­ing in bed with my mother, while she gave birth to my brother. At least I think I re­mem­bered it.”

Field didn’t take the drug again. “I felt worn out. We were given cham­pagne that morn­ing be­fore the LSD. I don’t drink cham­pagne to this day.”

Play­ing along­side Steve McQueen and Robert Wag­ner in The War Lover, she dis­cov­ered that McQueen was as com­plex a crea­ture as she’d met in RD Laing’s clinic. “He was a fan­ta­sist,” she re­calls. “He’d tell me all sorts of crazy things.”

McQueen split her lip in one scene. “I was do­ing a love scene with Robert, who wasn’t con­fi­dent, but Steve, who did fancy me I guess, be­gan pour­ing a glass of beer over an ex­tra’s head off cam­era. I looked at Steve and told him off. He was steal­ing the fo­cus.”

When it came to shoot­ing with McQueen, he threw Field across a couch and she bat­tered her face. Later, when they had to kiss, the ac­tress got her own back. She bit him. Hard. “When I met him later in life in Lon­don, he was much nicer. But he was al­ways look­ing for ‘ac­tion’ as he called it, even though he was mar­ried.”

In 1963, Field ap­peared in Kings Of The Sun, with Yul Bryn­ner. “An­other fan­ta­sist,” she re­calls, smil­ing. “He told me he was a Mon­go­lian or­phan.”

Hol­ly­wood turned out to be as fickle as her co-stars. Need­ing to work, she found her­self in less chal­leng­ing roles than her Doreen, play­ing an eye-candy nurse to Les­lie Phillips in Doc­tor In Clover and a nurse again of whom Michael Caine’s Al­fie 1965) de­clares ‘It’s amaz­ing what you can get on the Na­tional Health.’

Mean­time, the “dull” steady boyfriend was dumped and she mar­ried the rather un­steady but dash­ing for­mer RAF pi­lot turned rac­ing driver, Charles Crich­ton-Stuart. They had a daugh­ter but di­vorced a few years later. “He also had a very da­m­aged past him­self. You tend to be at­tracted to the same, but you don’t know it.”

Love has es­caped Field since. “It’s hard get­ting looks and in­tel­li­gence.” She pauses and adds: “One of the most im­por­tant peo­ple in my life was [bar­ris­ter and Rumpole Of The Bai­ley cre­ator] John Mor­timer. John wanted mar­riage, but I didn’t find him at­trac­tive phys­i­cally. Yet, I loved his brain and his sto­ries.

“In ev­ery re­la­tion­ship since mar­riage how­ever I seemed to be the bread­win­ner. But I’ve never earned big sums of money and I strug­gled to save money. I still have a mort­gage on my flat [in Prim­rose Hill]. That’s one of the rea­sons I’m do­ing this play, to sta­bilise my­self fi­nan­cially.”

Field fi­nally met her mother, and her ex­tended fam­ily, in 1978. But she didn’t look back in anger at the lost years. “I un­der­stood how her head was turned,” she says. “And I was told she’d later tried to find me, putting ads in the News of the World. She didn’t know I’d be­come Shirley Anne Field.”

Field’s ca­reer con­tin­ued. She had a role in 1980s Amer­i­can soap opera Santa Bar­bara. “It was a grave­yard for ac­tors,” she says. “It was like go­ing to the of­fice.” She later held roles in films such as My Beau­ti­ful Laun­drette [1985] and Hear My Song [1991] and in Bri­tish TV drama.

Right now, Field is en­joy­ing play­ing the caus­tic house­keeper in the tour­ing who­dunit, A Judge­ment In Stone. “I’m a bit slower thanks to the hip re­place­ment, but I’m get­ting there,” she says sto­ically.

While some might be sur­prised to find a Hol­ly­wood star of her cal­i­bre still schlep­ping around the coun­try at this point in life, Shirley Anne Field is cer­tainly not bit­ter about life. She en­joys work be­cause she loves to con­nect with peo­ple. “And to ex­plore char­ac­ters.”

A lovely bi-prod­uct of a life in show­biz has been the chance to meet all sorts of fas­ci­nat­ing stars. She speaks fondly of the late Roger Moore, but says of an­other James Bond: “Sean Con­nery used to be nice but he’s turned into an an­gry per­son. Al­ways seems to be ar­gu­ing. And he be­came a bit tight. He would take me to lunch when he came to Eng­land and we’d go to Scott’s in May­fair and he’d say, ‘You’ll only want one course.’ But I’d say, ‘I’ll eat ev­ery­thing on the menu if I like!’ But he still talks about be­ing poor and sleep­ing in a drawer as a child.”

Adam Faith re­mained in her life – un­til her daugh­ter Nicola turned 15. “He wanted to take her to tea at the Ritz,” she says, her voice dark­en­ing. “I knew what he was like. I wasn’t go­ing to have that.”

Field is great com­pany, but there’s a vul­ner­a­bil­ity about her. “I’ve al­ways been so in­se­cure,” she says. “The Royal Court was my favourite place to work, with tal­ents such as Lind­say An­der­son and John Os­borne, and I felt pro­tected there.”

Re­grets? “I do have some. I had the chance to work in films with Elvis but my man­age­ment weren’t sure it was a good idea. I’d like to have known him be­fore he be­came too fa­mous and too fat.

“And I re­gret I didn’t have more chil­dren. Yet, my sis­ter Sonny had so many. The first £300 I earned, I sent £100 to her. But I couldn’t have films and more chil­dren.”

Field even sees a pos­i­tive in her or­phan­age ex­pe­ri­ence. “My ca­reer be­gan in the head of my five-year-old self,” she ad­mits. “That’s when I de­cided that all the peo­ple who had re­jected me would find me. But it didn’t re­ally work out that way.”

But her ca­reer has pro­duced many pos­i­tives. There’s a line in Satur­day Night And Sun­day Morn­ing in which Doreen de­clares; “I want to go where there’s life and there’s peo­ple”.

“At least, I’ve done that,” she says, smil­ing.

Pho­to­graph: Mark Yeo­man

Shirley Anne Field, third left, in A Judge­ment In Stone

Pho­to­graph: PA Archive

Field at the Va­ri­ety Club of Great Bri­tain lun­cheon at the Savoy Ho­tel, Lon­don in 1960. Left: Satur­day Night And Sun­day Morn­ing

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