Tag Archives: Little Did You Know

The ‘unfilmable’ Wrong People – in a movie that has taken 50 years to make

David’s next project is very un-comedic…

The last time I chatted to David McGillivray was in May 2019 BC…

Before Covid.

This year he celebrates his 40th year writing for Julian Clary but also he is about to direct a movie of Robin Maugham’s controversial 1967 novel The Wrong People. The pitch is… 

Set against the backdrop of 1960s Tangier, this thriller tells the story of Arnold Turner, a repressed English schoolmaster on holiday in Morocco, where he meets Ewing Baird, a wealthy American expat with a dark secret. As Turner becomes more involved with Ewing he realises he has been lured into a dangerous trap.

So, obviously, David and I had a chat…


JOHN: The Wrong People… Very definitely a million miles away from the world of comedy. You’re directing it…

DAVID: It’s happening this summer.

JOHN: It’s described as “a thriller” but it sounds Arty to me.

DAVID: It’s a brilliant piece of writing and indeed a thrilling adventure as well as being a searing piece of social comment.

JOHN: …from the 1960s. Making movies is not easy.

DAVID: Well, the story of trying to get this film made starts 50 years ago when I was writing House of Whipcord and Frightmare for director Pete Walker and he was telling me about his Hollywood actor chum Sal Mineo, who was in London at the time, trying to set up The Wrong People as a film.

David with his well-thumbed copy of the book

Around that same time The Wrong People was re-published in paperback under Robin Maugham’s own name. Earlier, he had published it under a pseudonym – David Griffin – because that’s what his uncle Somerset Maugham recommended.

JOHN: Because…?

DAVID: Because of the subject matter. Sal Mineo was trying to set up the film but Pete Walker said to me: “They’ll never make it.” So I went and bought the book and, like Somerset Maugham, I read it in one sitting. I went back into Mr Walker’s office the next day and said: “You’re right. They’ll never make a film of it.”

Sal Mineo went to all manner of screenwriters. (Peter Shaffer, Edna O’Brien, David Sherwin etc) They all said No because they found the subject matter distasteful. He did get a script out of a children’s writer who had I think written episodes of Doctor Who. But his script was deemed not really suitable and they ended up with – what a surprise – Pete Walker’s screenwriter Murray Smith. I’ve never seen his script. There may have been other scripts – maybe one by Robin Maugham himself – but they have all disappeared. Anyway, Murray did one that Sal also didn’t like. So the whole project was doomed, really.

“I found it winking at me on the shelf”

Sal was unable to make the film. He returned to Los Angeles in 1974 and two years later was murdered. After that, I never thought a thing about The Wrong People until I found Sal Mineo: A Biography winking at me on the shelf. It was published in 2010 and there is an entire chapter on The Wrong People.

I read the original Maugham book again and decided that night: Right! I’m going to make the film myself!

JOHN: When I talked to you about The Wrong People back in 2019, you were looking for a director at that point. You were not going to direct it yourself.

DAVID: I ended up seeing a lot of people who weren’t that keen on directing it in the first place and, in all honesty, with whom – half of them – I didn’t want to work. One or two of them had the most extraordinary ideas about what they wanted to do with the material.

Then, when I was on a 65 bus, I decided Oh! This is going to go on for years! I’ll direct it myself.

So I scripted a version and contacted a distributor who had put out a couple of my other films. He liked it, but said it needed a re-write. So I contacted my old friend Peter Benedict and we are now up to Draft 7. He’s very good on structure.

JOHN: Why did you originally not want to direct it?

DAVID: I’m not a born director. I’m more of a producer. I’m not bad at organising. But, during the intervening years since 2014, my confidence has grown; I think I can make a fist of it now.

JOHN: Ooh… So what is the audience for the film? It’s an arty, gay, adventurous thriller? 

“…I would prefer not to lose all my money but if I break even that would be lovely…”

DAVID: Obviously it’s never going to play the Odeon, Leicester Square. It’s an arthouse picture that will have a limited audience. That’s fine with me. I would prefer not to lose all my money but if I break even that would be lovely.

JOHN: It’s your own money?

DAVID: Of course, as always. Nobody would ever dream of giving me a penny.

JOHN: When we chatted in 2019, you did say it would be quite expensive to film.

DAVID: Yes… well… the budget has been… reduced… We have had to compromise; it’s the name of the game. I’ve done it all my life. So it’s no longer three weeks location in Morocco. It’s now going to be done via the miracle of green screen.

Maugham was an under-rated talent. He’s only really known for The Servant. The Wrong People is written very filmically and that’s because he worked on quite a few films. He understood cinema and that was the reason I loved it when I read it. I could picture it all. He writes like a screenwriter.

Robin Maugham in 1974 (Photo by Allan Warren)

JOHN: I’ve never seen The Servant, but it’s a gay film and made in 1963…

DAVID: The Servant was heterosexualised. It was straightened up and, unless you were in the know, you would never be aware that it’s a gay story. It was, again, based on Maugham’s own experiences and, although the novel is slightly gay, it was mostly straightened up because the market wouldn’t have accepted it in those days. 

The film is brilliant but bizarre. I mean, there’s an orgy in it with Dirk Bogarde and a load of women and Robin Maugham quite rightly said: “The orgy scene at the end of the film was a cock-up. It was obvious to anyone that neither (screenwriter Harold) Pinter nor (director) Joe Losey had ever been to one.” And he’s right; it looks just so unreal.

JOHN: And you have experience of orgies?

“You’ll find I don’t mention any orgies…”

DAVID: I wouldn’t say orgies exactly, John. Did I admit to orgies in my autobiography? I think you’ll find I don’t mention any orgies.

JOHN: Because…?

DAVID: I didn’t go to any.

JOHN: But your house was a den of iniquity.

DAVID: We didn’t have orgies there, John. Other things went on in that house.

JOHN: Such as…?

DAVID: Didn’t we have this conversation three years ago? 

JOHN: But my reader in Guatemala may have forgotten.,,

DAVID: It’s all in my autobiography Little Did You Know. It is well worth a read.

JOHN: You’ve said Maugham created “a moral dilemma” in The Wrong People – What moral dilemma?

DAVID: Because The Wrong People is about child abuse. It was a difficult subject then; it’s a difficult subject today. But for different reasons… Now almost nobody will even discuss the subject. I’m going to bring it out into the open again. Because the subject has to be discussed. Child abuse goes on. It’s been swept under the carpet. 

JOHN: Really? I’ve written down here: Jeffrey Epstein; Kevin Spacey.

DAVID: Well, these high-profile cases peek out from the top of the parapets, but what we’re concerned with is what Maugham was concerned with in his book – the secret child abuse that goes on that is never reported. It was far more common in 1967 because people turned a blind eye to it. Now we KNOW it goes on but, as I say, we can’t discuss it.

Maugham very cleverly invents a situation that makes the reader – as I’m going to make the cinema audience – think twice about this subject and you’ll have to see the film in order to find out more.

A publicity folder for Sal Mineo’s unfilmed Wrong People…

JOHN: There is, the publicity blurb says, a “shockingly unexpected conclusion”.

DAVID: I don’t think the audience will know what’s going to happen next. That’s the genius of Maugham’s writing. You can’t imagine where this story is going. Towards the end, there are some marvellous twists. And the ending is… Alright, I’m going to tell you – I don’t think I’ve admitted this before – I have changed the ending. Well, it was Peter Benedict originally, to give him the credit. But it makes it even more powerful.

JOHN: He wakes up in the shower and it’s all been a dream?

DAVID: It’s a lovely idea but, of course, that’s not what happens.

JOHN: …and then the aliens arrive…?

DAVID: There are no aliens in The Wrong People, John.

JOHN: Is there a car chase?

DAVID: I’m afraid it’s not that kind of a film. It’s an arthouse movie for a specific audience.

JOHN: Well I guess, despite the lack of a car chase, I’m just gonna have to see it to the end…

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David McGillivray’s autobiography: if you are in it, be afraid… be very afraid

David McGillivray has been described as “the Truffaut of smut” and (by Jonathan Ross) as “a comedy legend”.

He has appeared in this blog at various times – in 2015 touting Trouser Bar, his film of an allegedly hard-core alleged script by the late Sir John Gielgud… alleged, that is, by everyone except the worried guardians of the estate of Sir John Gielgud.

Lawyers’ letters, threats and phrases ensued.

In 2017, he was in this blog touting Doing Rude Things, a reissue of his book on dodgy soft-core porn films.

He has a bit of previous in touting.

When not anguished, people enjoyed the book launch party

When I arrived for this week’s launch of his autobiography Little Did You Know: The Confessions of David McGillivray, people who had already bought copies were feverishly skimming through the index to see if they were mentioned. 

“A huge amount of those people,” David told me, “will have wanted to check for libel. Some sighing with relief when they found they weren’t included.”

Comedian Julian Clary’s approved cover quote for the book is that it is “a meticulous account of a life so sordid I think each copy should come with a complimentary sanitary wipe”.

The book’s press-release says David McG’s autobiography was “eagerly-awaited”. I think it might equally be said its publication was “desperately feared”. I can do no better than quote from the possibly understated PR blurb:

McGillivray (left) and Clary in Chase Me Up Farndale Avenue, s’il vous plait in 1982 (Photograph from Little Did You Know)

“The grandson of an acrobat and briefly the UK’s youngest film critic, McGillivray wrote his first film when he was 23, then moved on to a succession of cheap shockers and skin flicks. After Prime Minister Thatcher dealt killer blows to the UK’s independent film industry, McGillivray found alternative employment in radio, TV and theatre, becoming Julian Clary’s long-serving scriptwriter. Around the year 2000 he put these careers temporarily on hold to dabble in another form of exploitation, but one closely associated with the more secretive side of show business.

“In this sensational memoir, McGillivray takes us through the cocaine-lined world of London’s media industry, the tragic heights of the AIDS epidemic and the sinful celluloid backstreets of Soho… McGillivray hosted London’s wildest parties at his home. They were attended by some of the biggest names of stage, screen, music and fashion. The revelations of what went on under the figurative noses of law enforcement agencies and the literal noses of McG and his high-flying guests are not for the faint-hearted.”

Julian Clary introduced David at the book launch thus:

“It makes my love life seem like an afternoon at the W.I…”

“I thought I put it about a bit in my youth, but this makes my love life seem like an afternoon at the Women’s Institute… McG has said on several occasions that he will never work again once this book has been published, but I don’t think we should get our hopes up. I suspect some seedy project will catch his eye soon…. (maybe) a long-lost lesbian porn script allegedly written by Mother Teresa… You will know and understand David better after you have read this book, but you may cross the road when you see him coming.”

The next day, David and I had a chat in the sinful celluloid backstreets of Soho – well, in the pleasant environs of the Soho Theatre Bar in Dean Street.


McGillivray talked in the sinful celluloid backstreets of Soho

JOHN: You had trouble getting this book published.

DAVID: Oh yes. 

JOHN: When did you start it?

DAVID: 2000. So many re-writes; so many lawyers. Libel was a huge problem in the early editions. It was very stressful. I got very fed up with the process and put the idea on the shelf in 2015, but then I met the publisher Harvey Fenton of FAB Press and I thought maybe it was his cup of tea, because he is the man who gave us Cinema Sewer and Satanic Panic.

It has taken another 2 or 3 years. Now the book comes out officially in the shops on 1st August but, if you pre-order, you will get signed copies sent to you from 1st June. After so many versions and God knows how many lawyers, apparently it will now leave me legally in the clear. There is a disclaimer at the front to tidy up any loose ends:

DISCLAIMER

The inclusion of a person’s name or likeness in this book does not imply that the person has at any time bought, traded or accepted as a gift an illegal drug from the author or has used an illegal drug from any source. Some names and identifying features have been changed.

“It will leave me legally in the clear…”

JOHN: People in the film business? The theatrical business?

DAVID: (LAUGHS) Oh yes… all media. It’s been a colourful life and I’ve indulged in all manner of things in my 71 years.

JOHN: Knowing a lot of it was unrepeatable for legal reasons, why did you start it?

DAVID: I thought there was a story about what was going on at the turn of the century and, while everyone seemed almost supernaturally obsessed with the end of 1000 years and convinced that planes were going to fall out of the sky, I thought there was something else going on. I knew there was something else going on, because it was going on in my living room every Friday night for five years. So I wrote about my own life, particularly around that period, 1998-2003. But the lifestyle I was indulging in those five years stretched back to my teenage years, so I thought I might as well write about my entire life.

JOHN: You said: “…going on in my living room”.

DAVID: That is the essence of what the book is about.

JOHN: Your living room?

DAVID: Yes… Well, it was mostly in my basement. It was a four-storey house in a very charming crescent in Kings Cross.

JOHN: At the time when it was gentrifying…

McGillivray: a life of unbridled glamour

DAVID: When I moved there in 1995, it was still very rough indeed. By the time I left two years ago, it was completely unrecognisable. The old community I knew had completely gone and the rest of the street was virtually rented out for Airbnb. I didn’t like that.

JOHN: So, parties in your basement on Friday nights for five years… Details?

DAVID: I don’t know where to begin… I was a party animal and all that that entails.

JOHN: What does it entail?

DAVID: An enormous amount of activity every Friday night.

JOHN: Activity? Only Fridays? What happened on Thursdays in your basement?

DAVID: Nothing.

JOHN: You are a tease.

DAVID: I’m a wicked tease. Well, I used to be in the exploitation movie business. I want people to buy the book and be surprised.

JOHN: “Used to be”?

DAVID: Well, I haven’t done any of those sort of films since 1977.

David McGillivray & Nigel Havers at the Trouser Bar location

JOHN: What about Trouser Bar – the one allegedly – ooh, err – definitely not written by John Gielgud?

DAVID: I think it is a work of ar…

JOHN: Arse?

DAVID: Art. It’s not an exploitation film.

JOHN: What happened in your house on Saturday mornings?

DAVID: Hangovers and Oh God! Why did I do it? conversations.

JOHN: You are being reticent, but the book is over the top.

DAVID: It’s excessive, yes.

JOHN: But detailed and true. You kept diaries.

DAVID: From the age of 12. I have diaries from 1960 to today and haven’t missed a day.

JOHN: Can worried participants in your life expect a sequel?

DAVID: Almost certainly, yes, because a lot has happened since 2015 and you have blogged about some of those incidents. 

“…and the film WILL be made.”

JOHN: Regrets?

DAVID: I don’t regret anything I’ve done at all. One should only regret the things one hasn’t done.

JOHN: Any other films on the horizon?

DAVID: I’m still trying to find a director for The Wrong People – based on the novel by Robin Maugham. It’s a quite expensive feature film; one I can’t finance myself. I bought the film rights. More controversy: “It’s unfilmable” and all that. At the moment, nobody will touch it with a bargepole. But I WILL get a director for it and the film WILL be made.

JOHN: That sounds like a threat.

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Comedian Julian Clary and tell-all hack McG linked via sexploitation horror film

I get sent loads of PR bumph (I feel you can never get too much) including the generic PR interviews that are sent out to one-and-all in the media to plug upcoming events. Indeed, I wrote one myself a few months ago to plug a comedian’s UK tour.

The idea is that local papers etc may run the full PR interview as if they themselves had conducted it. Or edit or cannibalise it for quotes, facts and photos.

I never use these PR interviews myself.

Why bother? If I’m interested, I will chat to the person myself.

However here – below – is the exception.

PR man Greg Day is plugging the fact that the Horror Channel in the UK will be screening cult director Pete Walker’s 1976 horror and sexploitation movie Schizo this Saturday. And today Greg sent me his PR interview with the film’s screenwriter David McGillivray who has occasionally turned up in my blog before – notably in 2016 to plug his would-be notorious gay sex film Trouser Bar.

David McG is publishing his inevitably scandalous, tell-all autobiography Little Did You Know in a month’s time and I have already arranged to chat to him the day after its press launch.

But I won’t be asking him about Schizo… So here, as a teaser, in its full glory, is the PR Q&A for Schizo:


SCHIZO – “When the left hand doesn’t know who the right hand is killing!!”

Q: SCHIZO is unusual in your body of work with director Pete Walker because the concept and narrative were not of your choosing. How much of a problem was that for you?

A: Huge. I thought the script that we re-worked was terribly old-fashioned and this led to big arguments with Walker that ended our relationship.

Q: You often play a cameo in the movies you’ve written – You’re ‘Man at Séance’ in SCHIZO. Any particular reason?

A: I liked to write myself parts so that I could observe Walker at work. He was an extremely talented exploitation director who influenced the remainder of my career.

Q: SCHIZO exhibits many Hitchcockian references and Pete Walker cites Hitch as a hero. Is he for you too?

A: Yes, of course. Psycho is one of my favourite horror films.

Q: You’ve written many films for many people in so many genres, but what’s your own personal favourite?

A: My first film for Pete Walker, House of Whipcord. It was very exciting because it was the kind of film I’d dreamed of writing.

Svengali – The Rocky Horror that got away

Q: Just prior to SCHIZO you wrote a pop opera in the Rocky Horror vein for Pete Walker titled SVENGALI based on George du Maurier’s Gothic melodrama. Do you regret that project being shelved?

A: No, it would have been a disaster. Walker realised this and cancelled it almost before I’d typed the final page of the script.

Q: Your autobiography Little Did You Know is published in June. Rumour says it’s not your typical memoir though, so what’s it all about?

A: I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Suffice it to say that after its publication I will never work again.

Q: Your love/hate relationship with Pete Walker is common knowledge. Are there any more scandalous revelations about that in the book?

A: Oh yes…

Julian Clary – Never knowingly understated

Q: You write a lot of the material for a comedian. How did that business relationship begin and is this the nearest you can get to the Golden Era of the British sexploitation film you so brilliantly essayed in your book Doing Rude Things

A: Writing smut for Julian Clary is my day job. I enjoy it immensely. I have written for him for something like 37 years. In Julian’s latest show, which tours the UK before playing the London Palladium on 8th June, unsuspecting audience members are subjected to so-called ‘Heterosexual Aversion Therapy’. If you sit in the front row, you deserve all you get.

Q: You’ve announced your next film project is The Wrong People based on the novel by Robin Maugham. So you have no intention of retiring from the film industry just yet?

A: I love movies. I am fresh from a meeting with a director who bravely has chosen to take on this project. But, in all likelihood, it is so controversial that probably it will finish both our careers. If Little Did You Know hasn’t finished mine already.

Q: Finally, SCHIZO receives its Horror Channel premiere on Sat April 27th. Will you be watching?

A: I’m pleased Horror Channel viewers will get the chance to see it, but will I be watching? Certainly not. I can’t bear to see my own work, which is all dreadful.

David McGillivray – the soon-to-be-autobiographer – never a man to mince his words

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