“So I guess it starts with Peter de Rome,” I said to film producer David McGillivray at the Soho Theatre Bar in London yesterday afternoon.
“Well,” said David, “I met Peter in 2007 and eventually we made three films together, the last of which – Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn – is still going round the world. I’m introducing it in Berlin in a few hours time.”
“How did this lead to Trouser Bar?”
“Peter was a great one for pulling things…”
“Down?” I suggested.
“… out of the bag, that I never knew,” said David. “On one occasion, while we were filming him, he happened to mention that Sir John Gielgud had written him a screenplay – and there it was, in his hand. I never quite worked out why the film had never been made. He wrote it in 1976.”
“This was a porn film?” I asked.
“Yes. Peter de Rome was a pornographic film maker and Gielgud was one of his big fans. He had a lot of celebrity fans, including David Hockney, Derek Jarman, William Burroughs. I also saw letters from Sir John in which he said: Oh, I so much enjoyed that film you showed last week. Please could you show it again.
“So, while he was in New York, appearing in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land on Broadway in 1976, John Gielgud wrote this film called Trouser Bar, which reflected his interests. Possibly until Gielgud’s Letters were published (in 2010), people didn’t know the extent of his clothes fetishism.”
“I read that he liked corduroy,” I said.
“That was his favourite fabric,” David agreed. “But he also liked velvet, flannel, leather, denim and it was inevitable that, if Sir John was going to write a script, it was going to be set in a menswear shop. And it was.”
“If he liked ALL those fabrics,” I suggested, “it was not so much a fetish about fabrics, more a general fetish on clothes.”
“No,” explained David, “he was very particular about the type of clothes he liked and how they were worn. The letters are full of his observations on men he had found attractive because they were wearing the right trousers.”
“You mean tight?” I asked.
“Tight, yes. But they had to be cut well. He was very particular about the pockets. Trouser Bar, I maintain, is a film of enormous historical interest. Nobody knew he had written it and, if Peter had not mentioned it to me, it could well have been destroyed because Peter died last June and we’re not sure what happened to all his papers. (He lived in New York and in Sandwich, Kent.)
“We stuck to Sir John’s script very, very tightly when we made the film a couple of weeks ago. He was very specific about the clothes he wanted the actors to wear and, as a result of that, the budget increased enormously. We had to completely fit-out an empty shot as a men’s boutique circa 1976 and buy all the vintage clothing. Only time will tell if it was worth it.”
“How did you finance it?” I asked. “Did you just say Sir John Gielgud’s porn film and people just threw money at you?”
“No,” David told me. “I always finance my own films.”
“How much and how long?” I asked.
“£50,000 and it lasts… well, I don’t know precisely, because it’s being edited at the moment, but… about 15 minutes.”
“You didn’t direct it yourself?”
“No. I’m not a director. I haven’t got a clue. I hired a director.”
“Yes. It’s a made-up name. He said he was given that name when he worked in porn and it was inspired by the tennis player Björn Borg.”
“So Sir John Gielgud,” I said, “wrote Trouser Bar as a porn film…”
“And it has been shot as a porn film…”
“So it is not going to get a certificate…”
“It’s not going to get shown at all. The Gielgud Estate have come down heavily on me and it will never be shown in this country. They are claiming that they own the copyright on the script, though this is a grey area. I am convinced – and this is all conjecture – that they are determined this film will not be shown and they are using intellectual copyright as an excuse. That’s my opinion. The lawyer who represents the Estate won’t talk to me. The last letter I received was merely a threat: We will take appropriate action if this film goes ahead.”
“So the John Gielgud Estate is…” I started to say.
“It’s not the Estate,” said David, “It’s the Trust. I keep making this mistake. It’s the Trust that was set up in his name to give bursaries to drama students.”
“Who inherited the Estate?” I asked.
“Well, his partner was Martin Hensler who was originally on the Trust’s board before he died and I think the lawyer is an executor of the Will, so I think the Trust are his beneficiaries. I don’t know why they are behaving the way they are. I use the word They because the lawyer represents several actors who are all members of this Trust. He has said in an email: We own the copyright of this script.
“My head is on the block. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I am advised they had no jurisdiction over the making of the film, but they can prevent the exhibition of the film in this country, so I’m now looking to premiere it in America, where the copyright laws are different.”
“So why,” I asked, “did you spend £50,000 of your own money on a film that can’t be shown in this country?”
“I didn’t know that at the time. But I think I would probably have still gone ahead, because it’s a labour of love for me. I’m doing it for Peter and also because Sir John wanted this film to be made. It was his private fantasy and he would have loved to see it come to life.”
“Who is in the film?”
“Nigel Havers, Julian Clary, Barry Cryer.”
“Am I going to enjoy it if I ever see it? I’m not gay.”
“I think so. I wanted an art film that would reflect Peter’s work. I think people will appreciate the way it looks.”
“When will it be finished editing?”
“I’m seeing the first cut next Monday. We are also thinking about making a documentary about the making of Trouser Bar and I hope that will get the publicity I want: Here is a film made about a film that you can never see. Why is this?
“We can make a film about the film being made, but we can’t use John Gielgud’s name. I have been advised I can’t quote from his letters, I can’t show his screenplay. I think it’s even risky to use the title of the screenplay. But we can talk about the film. So that documentary is the film you will see in this country and I’m hoping that will happen next year.
“I am trying to interest the likes of Nicholas de Jongh to appear in the documentary to talk about Gielgud and his interests.”
De Jongh wrote Plague Over England, a 2008 play about Gielgud’s arrest for ‘lewd behaviour’ in 1953.
Gielgud was arrested, three months after being knighted by the Queen, for ‘persistently importuning male persons for immoral purposes’ in a Chelsea public lavatory.
“What I don’t understand,” I said to David McGillivray yesterday afternoon, “is that, if he was arrested for cottaging in 1953 and it was publicised in the papers then, why did he not just come out of the closet when homosexuality was made legal in 1967? He never admitted to being gay.”
“He was a Victorian gentleman,” explained David, “and – this is my conjecture – I think he felt it was not seemly to ’come out’.”
“But he had already been caught out lurking in toilets,” I said
“But he was ashamed of it,” said David. “Deeply embarrassed. It was something he wanted to forget about. It had caused him trouble. For five years he couldn’t work in America.”
“So,” I said, “he’s embarrassed about being caught cottaging in 1953 and doesn’t want to come out as homosexual after 1967, but then he writes not just any old script or a slightly gay script but a porn script in 1976.”
“Well,” explained David, “it wouldn’t have had his name on it at the time. He was perhaps somewhat naive. He enjoyed Peter de Rome’s company and they used to go to gay bars together in New York – he was quite open in that respect… but Peter made a film called Kensington Gorey and John said Oh, I’ll do the voice-over – forgetting that he would be instantly recognised because he had one of the most identifiably voices in the world. He didn’t think that through and possibly he didn’t think it through when he wrote this script either.
“I think it’s important we know more about Gielgud the man as opposed to Gielgud, the world’s greatest Shakespearean actor. He was human like the rest of us. He had a jolly good time ogling men in trousers. He was writing constantly to his friends about the delight he took in seeing men in tight trousers. It wasn’t a secret then and I don’t think it should be a secret 40 years after he wrote the script.”
THERE IS A FOLLOW-UP TO THIS BLOG HERE