THE SEXUAL TRANSFORMATION OF A MAN INTO A WOMAN WILL ACTUALLY TAKE PLACE BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES!
That was the warning splashed across the movie posters.
Rubbish, of course.
The publicity, not the movie.
Hammer’s 1971 horror film Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde is actually an unusually well-scripted and well-produced (by Brian Clemens) and well-directed (by Roy Ward Baker) movie which mixes the original story with a lot of Jack The Ripper, a little Burke & Hare and a dash of sexual ambiguity.
The idea was suggested by Brian Clemens to Hammer Pictures’ boss Michael Carreras when they were having lunch at Elstree Studios. It was originally a joke, but Carreras liked the idea so much he had a poster designed and then made the movie.
It was made 41 years ago.
21 years ago, its star Ralph Bates died.
So it goes.
As well as several Hammer horror movies, he starred in BBC TV’s drama series Poldark and their comedy series Dear John.
Last night, I attended a screening of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde at the Cinema Museum. Three actresses from the film were there: Martine Beswick, Irene Bradshaw and Virginia Wetherell,
Virginia Wetherell remembered the first day she met Ralph Bates on the set.
“He literally stabbed me in the back,” she said last night. “And, when he put his hand over my mouth, they went Right! Cut! We’ll break for lunch now! and I left with ox’s blood – real blood – all around my face and it stank. It dried really hard and, for continuity, you have to keep the shape exactly the same. So they said I’m really sorry. We’ll bring you up a drink but you cannot eat because the blood will all peel off…
“That was the first time I met Ralph and, two years later, I married him.”
Last night, she talked of her early movies.
Since then, as Virginia Bates, she has opened the very successful Virginia Antiques shop in Portland Road, London W11.
Coincidentally, her first film was Michael Winner’s West 11 but she also acted in thrillers by now almost forgotten cult director Pete Walker:
“A laugh-a-minute,” she said last night. “Working on a Pete Walker film, you were lucky if you got three weeks to do a full-length movie – including the editing and the dubbing. He just knocked ‘em out. If it snowed or rained or you fell over – too bad – it got put in the story. I fell over during filming on the West Pier in The Big Switch. I got up and Pete yelled: Go on! Go on, Virginia! Why are you stopping? and I said Because I’ve fallen over and I’m looking in camera! and he yelled Don’t matter! Don’t matter! Keep going! Keep going!… And we did.”
But she also appeared, just before Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, in the rather more prestigious A Clockwork Orange with the meticulously obsessive Stanley Kubrick directing.
“A genius,” Virginia said last night. “You just trusted this man like he was God. When I auditioned, the role was to play a psychiatrist, which I assumed involved wearing a white overall and maybe a stethoscope – though I did have to have my hair dyed blue.”
She appeared in a late scene in which hero Alex is undergoing ‘The Ludovico Treatment’ and she tests the effectiveness of it.
“I was hanging around the set for three or four days and nobody said anything, nobody talked to me. I just turned up every morning. A car would pick me up at 5.30. Finally, it was my turn and we shot in Norwood Library and the whole of the auditorium was packed with people who were meant to be from the Ministry.
“I was a little confused because nobody, obviously, was given a script – but my role was a psychiatrist and I was waiting for this white overall and then the assistant came up to me and said: Oh, I’ve been told by Mr Kubrick I‘ve got to take you shopping, but we have to wait now for the shop to open. It doesn’t open till nine o’clock.
“So eventually off we went to the local store in Norwood and we bought twelve pairs of knickers. Alright. Fair enough. So then Stanley puts them all down on the stage and says I want you to put those on, so I put them on and I walk and we go through them all until he decides which are the right pair – because that was my entire costume.
“If it had been Pete Walker, I wouldn’t have done it. I’d have said I don’t play those kind of roles! But Stanley Kubrick? I didn’t even think twice about it.”
The screening of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde at the Cinema Museum last night was in aid of the Ralph Bates Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund which Virginia set up in her late husband’s memory.
When he was diagnosed with cancer, she “was told nothing could be done and he only had between six and eight weeks left to live… He was performing on stage in the West End with a movie lined-up for the Autumn… He and our 13 year-old son William had enjoyed the summer together messing about in boats and he’d spent many evenings with Daisy, our daughter, helping her with lines for the TV series Forever Green… Ten weeks and one day later, Ralph died.”
So it goes.
It took two months for Ralph Bates’ cancer to be diagnosed.
“This, unfortunately, is one of the hazards of pancreatic cancer,” Virginia Bates said last night. “It is difficult to detect and, when it is detected, it is usually too late.”
The charity is based at St George’s Hospital in Tooting and, since 1993, has actively funded research into the disease.
Over 90% of all donations are spent on the research work; the Trustees receive no remuneration and no reimbursement of any expenses.
In 2007, it funded the purchase, via an operating lease, of endoscopic ultrasound equipment for St George’s.
The total cost was £183,000.
The research receives no direct government support apart from Gift Aid on qualifying private donations.
More information on the Fund’s website.