Created on 15/8/2008
Recently I went for lunch at Pinewood Film Studios. I used to have an office there during the late 70’s. I more or less grew up there as a filmmaker and it holds many memories, fond and otherwise.
This is the story of the big bet. We should preface this story by stating that I don’t usually bet, except on sure things like Manchester United.
I was just finishing up work after a couple of years producing The Kids Are Alright with The Who. We had our production offices in the studio and the film was winding down. I was thinking of my next project and, as is the case periodically, the film industry was going through one of its stranger phases. Bad films were being commissioned and good ones were not.
I had lunch that day with my executive producer, the late, very nice, Sydney Rose. He was a lovely guy, short of stature, but big of heart. I decided to have a bit of fun.
I bet Sydney $1,000 that I could get a studio to finance my next film even if it had no story, script or stars. He laughed and told me I was talking nonsense, and he didn’t understand that, without further notice, I had started into instant betting action.
I knew people on other tables in the restaurant would listen as closely as they could. I steered Sydney towards asking me what film I would be making next. In a stage whisper I leaned toward him, “I have this story which is sensational, it’s top secret.” You could almost feel the ears of several producers on other tables turning into giant receiving dishes.
Sydney begged for more information, but I just waffled in response mentioning it was, “Rock and roll meets science fiction, and it was about huge issues.”
Of course, at this stage, there was no story, and I had no ideas whatsoever. “This is going to be the biggest British film of the year.” I said, “I’d like to get involved with you on it,” said Sydney, “It’s too big for you Sydney, its budget is going to be more than $14 million (a huge fortune in the 70’s, although it was all an entire fiction) and that’s out of your league.” Sydney immediately left the restaurant to see if he could get some big money arranged.
By the time I returned to my office there were several messages from interested producers who wanted to discuss my new project. Amongst them was one from a lady called Sylvia Anderson. She had been half of the team that had made such wonderful television shows like, Space 1999, Thunderbirds, Joe 90, and UFO’s.
After a while I wrote a proper story outline for the proposed film and called it, “Rock On.” Goldcrest, then becoming a big production company had invested in the film’s development and so had PolyGram. Their interest was followed by offers from Warner Brothers, Casablanca, Columbia and Paramount Pictures. We weren’t even trying to pursue any of these but by then we couldn’t resist the lure of the filthy lucre.
It all grow like topsy and before you knew it there were deals in place, money on tap and me writing like a banshee in a snowy mountain retreat with Ken Russell optioned to direct it when ready. It’s a whole other story what happened on the film thereafter, but it involved everyone from the Rolling Stones to Michael Jackson, all of which I thought was pretty impressive seeing as how it all had started as a joke.
Like such stories often do, this one started to unravel and began to look like it would end in tears. My executives spent some of the development money on fine wines and fancy hotel rooms in exotic locales, and I ended up with part of their company I didn’t want.
After some heroically bad decisions in Los Angeles we found ourselves back in London. I got a phone call from the office of one of the two executives on the project. She told me that her boss, Peter, had not turned up for a very important meeting with their bankers, and she had phoned his home and there was no response. These were the pre mobile phone days, and she pleaded with me to go to his house and check if he was OK. The clear feeling was that he might have committed suicide.
I admit I was reluctant to help with Peter, a man who had since caused us all such aggravation by spending our budget on his good time, but my good nature got the better of me and I dropped what I was doing and rushed to the address. It was a cottage in the country in the grounds of a beautiful mansion. I managed to gain entry via the owner of the big house and the cottage was in total darkness and ominously silent. I rushed from room to room, calling Peter’s name, but still no response. I found his bedroom, and there was no sign of him. There was a note and an empty bottle of pills. The note read, “I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused.”
I rushed out of the cottage and found footprints tracking across the thick summer grass. We called the police who realized that this was serious. They rushed over just in time to see Peter being driven back to the cottage by the gardener in his small truck, Peter, incongruously perched in his suit, shirt and tie, chewing his nails and holding his briefcase on his lap. He smiled at me as if this were just a normal day as I drove him back to his anxious colleagues at Pinewood. He apologized again, I said, “You silly bastard, you couldn’t even do that right!” It was a cruel thing to say, but I wanted to shock him.
At the studio I ran into my friend Sydney, the chap I’d had the bet with. I told him how he had lost the bet, and typical of the industry, he wheedled out of it by dint of some non-existent small print.
There are many such stories of the entertainment industry like this I will share with you in the future. I look around the studio today and wonder if they still have so much fun?