Andy Kimpton-Nye: I’M TRYING TO FIND OUT WHAT MADE DEREK TICK…
Gaye Temple: I don’t know, he obviously inherited a lot of his enthusiastic… he was just a very enthusiastic person. He was… What was he like as a brother? He was – oh he was a sweetie actually. I suppose we were quite close together in age and the fact that he didn’t get married meant that he was always my brother.
Whereas other brothers go off and get married and they become somebody else’s, or somebody else’s family, Derek was always there, he was always at the end of the phone… But as a child he was very protective.
WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES OF DEREK AS A CHILD?
He was shy I’d say. He always included me in everything… He was a great sort of sandcastle builder and I – I was actually on the whole… I would watch and be told what to do. He was the one that you’d all sit round and listen to, always. He had so much to say and everybody did listen to him and he filled you with energy. But then as a child it would have been different, I try to think about him then… but forget… your memories… you forget really about those times...
SO AS A CHILD EVEN THEN HE WAS ABLE TO GATHER PEOPLE ROUND HIM AND THEY WOULD LISTEN?
We always had lots and lots of little friends, I suppose because of being on RAF stations there were masses of other children to play with. He wasn’t a loner, I know sometimes he’s described as a bit of a loner, no, he wasn’t. He was usually the centre of attention actually, because he was very interesting and he’d always think of things to do like building dens. So he did all the normal little… little boy things really, I suppose. Ummm, gardening was the great passion when he got a little bit older but ..
BUT AS A CHILD DID HE DRAW OT PAINT…
He didn’t paint as a child, no…
YOU MENTIONED SANDCASTLES – WHAT WERE HIS INTERESTS?
Well I suppose flowers and architecture. The sandcastles wouldn’t be ordinary sandcastles, they would be vast, they would be forts, yes. I think history, also… But that was again I suppose when he got a little bit older. We were at the same schools and things when we were little, but we went to so many – I went to 11 schools, so it’s difficult to remember details… it was a very disjointed childhood.
WAS HE A CREATIVE CHILD?
Yes, very creative, yes. But not – not painting-wise…In those days did he have a camera? He must have had a box camera at some stage, but he didn’t have the… he didn’t have the opportunities really to… to use a camera, even paint, it was a very austere childhood. I can’t remember exactly, I suppose we had crayons and that was just about it.
YOU MENTIONED FLOWERS…
He liked his garden… Wherever we were, he had a garden and he used to grow flowers and vegetables. And he used to build houses… well dens if we were living anywhere where there was a wood, or a field behind… all that sort of thing. But again he went to boarding school quite young, so probably we didn’t cross paths that much after a certain age… I mean we had holidays… but I can’t really remember, it’s all very disjointed, too many places, too many changes.
YOU MENTIONED THE INTEREST IN GARDENS, CASTLES, ETC. WAS HE AN ADULT KIND OF CHILD, ADVANCED FOR HIS YEARS?
Yes, he probably was. Although he related to his peers very well at that age and always actually… You had to be able to talk to grown-ups and listen to grown-ups… We were very much seen and not heard sort of children where our parents were concerned… they were very sociable. We did our own thing.
WHAT ABOUT AS A TEENAGER?
Well that’s more when I remember him I suppose, because again we had a great big circle of friends. Father retired from the air force and he (Derek) was at boarding school, but the holidays seemed to be very long and we did… We had lots of activities in the holidays, we used to cycle and have people round, again it was sitting and talking and Derek was always the centre, he would sit and everybody would listen… And he had a gramophone, because he’d won some money on a Premium Bond, and so the records were all his choice, they were classical. I can remember him destroying at one stage all my Elvis Presley records, or hiding them, or something… He didn’t approve at all, so we all listened to classical music and Derek would talk.
HE DIDN’T LIKE POPULAR MUSIC?
He didn’t like it in those days at all… Maybe he just didn’t like it. He was into classical music and that was that. I suppose he was more of an intellectual person. He wasn’t into Elvis or people like that.
HOW DID HIS INTERESTS IN ART DEVELOP?
I think the interest developed because of school and the art department and Andrew Davis who helped with the English department. Again he wasn’t even going to do A levels at one stage. I can remember father being very cross because he’d had… he’d dropped O’Level Latin and in those days you had to do O’Level Latin if you wanted to go to University. So they sort of said ‘well Derek won’t be going to University’. So he was quite a slow developer really and I think it was Andrew Davis who really got him going on the English side of things, and then he loved English. He really matured later on, and University gave him an awful lot too.
WAS IT A HAPPY CHILDHOOD FOR DEREK?
He looked back on it as being rather austere. I think it was happy, because it was very varied. Yes, it was happy. I think we were very lucky because of going to Italy and then going to Pakistan to live… He was sent back to England, to prep school then, but he still had the holidays with us… the long holidays out there. It was… I think it was a very rich upbringing because of it being so varied.
HOW DID BOARDING SCHOOL AFFECT DEREK?
He hated it I think. Yes, he hated it. He hated Canford. Maybe at Hordle it was a bit different… you did so much there, you did as you were told, and never complained, and just got on with it.
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT ABOUT BOARDING SCHOOL HE HATED THEN?
Well, what everybody hates about boarding school in those days. You had to conform, there was no contact with the outside world, you couldn’t ring people up, you had your Sunday letter and that was it. I think it was having to conform, also sport, he loathed sport and I think he had to box at one stage, if you could imagine Derek boxing! He had to box and play the games that he wouldn’t have enjoyed at all.
DID HE TELL YOU ABOUT HIS BOXING EXPERIENCE?
Only that he loathed it. But it was something they had to do apparently. At boarding schools you had to do that, and I think it was not being able to go out and be free, and he always sensed the enclosure sort of business… from being in RAF camps as a child. So, he always referred to the barbed wires surrounding him as being in a compound, enclosed.
DO YOU THINK THAT AFFECTED DEREK?
I think it did, because that comes into all his films as well doesn’t it? He seems to have gloomy places and barbed wire everywhere and specially I think in the Last of England. It’s all quite desolate and he obviously looked at the barbed wire and he felt he was trapped inside, maybe. I was that much younger, so it didn’t really affect me.
YOU MENTIONED THAT HE FELT TRAPPED. DO YOU THINK THAT HELPED DEVELOP HIS IMAGINATION?
Yes, he had a huge imagination. Yes, I think maybe it did. Yes.
WHAT WAS HE LIKE AS A BROTHER?
Well, he was always there I think that’s the thing, and he was full of common sense, very practical, you can’t imagine that, but you could ring up and say ‘what shall I do about so and so or something’ and he would know straight away. He was just… He was always there and very approachable, anytime you could ring up. He was wonderful because he took me to Venice Film Festival, and he took me to Rome, which were very special and happy times. He was one of these people that filled you with envy. If you spent one day with him even going down to Kent, you came back and you lived off that, you got charged up at least for a week. I mean you probably felt that when you met him.
I MET HIM AS A YOUNG ACTOR AND HE INVITED ME ROUND FOR TEA AND BISCUITS…
I think he loved helping people. Yes, he loved helping people and if anybody walked about his garden down in Dungeness, again the teapot would come out… “come in and have a cup of tea, who are you?” And he liked to find out about people and talk to them… So interested in everybody.
WHERE DID ALL THAT ENERGY COME FROM – NERVOUSNESS, OR LOVE OF LIFE?
Maybe a bit of both I think… a love of life, and he was fairly highly strung.
WHAT WAS YOUR FATHER LIKE?
He was pretty highly strung too (laughs). We didn’t see very much of him… except in Pakistan we saw a lot of him there because he’d stop work at lunchtime then we’d all go to this sailing harbour and we’d see a lot of him there and then he’d go to work again in the evening. But as children he wanted us to do the things that he enjoyed like sailing, but Derek wasn’t like that at all, and I was small enough to get away with just saying, no, I would get away with murder all the time. But he would have liked Derek to be have been good at sport and keen on sailing and things that he liked. But I don’t think he was disappointed… When Derek went to the Slade he was very proud of Derek. After Sebastiane and after Jazz Calendar and things like that, he was proud. He might have never said he was proud, but he was incredibly proud.
WHEN DEREK WAS A CHILD, HOW DID THEY GET ON?
He was a bit of an authority figure. I think again being younger I got away with murder and Derek would be the one that was in trouble more than I was, but he didn’t… he never swore or anything like that. I can’t remember him raising his voice ever to my mother. He certainly wasn’t somebody who used to beat us, or anything like that. No, I think he was an unusual person - being a New Zealander maybe and finding himself in England and having to conform and fit in. We always think he went a bit potty because of his bombing raids during the War and that’s probably what did it. He got, not difficult in his old age, but he had certain problems that were quite difficult to deal with… you’ve probably heard he was a kleptomaniac and it was quite difficult.
PEOPLE WHO ANALYSE HIS FILMS SAY THE TWO THINGS THAT CROP UP ARE HIS EXPERIENCES AS A GAY MAN AND HIS ENGLISHNESS, BUT HE DIDN’T IDENTIFY WITH HIS NEW ZEALAND ROOTS DID HE…
No, but he swung towards mother’s side and Granny really, because she was half French and we don’t really know what the rest of her was, but she was definitely Jewish, because she was called Moselle Ruben. And he liked that romantic sort of thing… He felt she was more of a romantic figure. The Puttock side, that was my mother’s side, that was the romance, and maybe father, from New Zealand, was a bit boring to Derek (laughs) not very exciting.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOTHER LIKE?
Oh, she was wonderful. She was very welcoming, she was the sort of person, anybody coming to the door, wanting to sell something, immediately was brought in for a cup of tea, even if she didn’t buy whatever it was. She was called ‘ever-smiling Betty’ as a child and she was always smiling. She seemed terribly happy. It was an existence I suppose that people now wouldn’t like to have… as she didn’t really do anything… She followed father around, obviously, there was a lot of entertaining, but she didn’t have her own work, or anything particularly, apart from reading, no hobbies, or other things out of the house to do. She was a housewife, a housewife and her mother, and we were her… obviously her hobby… and she was very content.
WHAT WAS DEREK’S RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH YOUR MOTHER?
Well, they got on very… She was very warm… He loved her dearly and she adored him, she was always worrying about him and even when she was dying almost the last thing she said to me was ‘look after Derek won’t you’. ‘Yes, of course’ I said… But, he didn’t need looking after, but I always would have done.
WAS DEREK MORE INFLUENCED BY YOUR MOTHER THAN YOUR FATHER?
Yes, because father would have been very organised, always on time, or even early. I can remember going up to London to watch one of… actually no it was coming to Oxford… we had the thermos in the car, we stopped for a sort of picnic in a layby. He didn’t spend very much money on going out, or anything like that and we were there half an hour before you know, waiting. Yes he was very much on time. Mother was a bit more laid back.
SO IT’S FAIR TO SAY DEREK WAS MORE INFLUENCED BY YOUR MOTHER?
I think definitely. Yes. Yes.
AND THE ARTIST SIDE?
The artist side was both in fact, because Mum went to Harrow School of Art, but actually my father played the piano and his mother I think painted as well, so maybe it’s both sides. Mother would have actually gone on painting… She never painted at home, but maybe it was the travelling all the time, maybe it was the getting hold of the materials, I don’t know… we haven’t got any paintings she ever did. She was good on the dress design side really, but she could draw beautifully, because she made a lot of her own clothes, she taught me how to make clothes and she would always do a drawing of what she was going to do first. So, yes she could draw well.
DID YOUR PARENTS LIKE GARDENING?
No, except they did give him a gardening book when he was very small. Neither of them gardened. Neither loved the garden. Father would mow the lawn and that was about it. But Derek, when we were older, Derek would do all the rest of the garden. No, I think again if you move every eighteen months to two years, there’s no point in gardening and there was a lovely garden in Pakistan where we were living anyway - and somebody else to do it. No, neither of them gardened. Though I think that that was where the … the gardening was probably the colour… the flowers… that’s where the colour comes from in his work and his painting… Well, the films are his paintings in some ways as well… it’s all about colour.
I WONDER IF HIS INTEREST IN GARDENING NOT ONLY INFLUENCED HIS PASSION FOR COLOUR BUT ALSO LIGHT AND SHADE? YOU HAD A LOVELY GARDEN IN ITALY BATHED IN SUNLIGHT DIDN’T YOU?
Yes, yes, and he was old enough to remember that and also again they’re recorded on film which jogs everybody’s memory… But the funny thing was that even grandfather’s films, this is Grandfather Puttock, the black and white ones, they’re all of gardens as well, they’re gardens although they’re black and white, and it was an extraordinary thing with those films, people stopped still as soon as the camera’s on them, and just stand and smile, and then there’s the captions like ‘ever-smiling Betty’ and ‘the son and heir needs a haircut’ all sorts of captions underneath in the black and white films.
WE’VE TALKED ABOUT YOUR MOTHER’S INFLUENCE. WHAT ABOUT YOUR GRANDFATHER’S EARLY HOME MOVIES…
Yes, I think he was the original home movie man. This is Harry – Harry Puttock. We never met him, because he died quite young, but every Christmas we’d watch these movies after supper, father would get out the old projector, it would take ages to set it up, and invariably it sort of stopped working halfway through, and we’d watch Grandpa’s ones first and then the ones of us as children as well. He stopped making home movies… and then he started using a camera - my father - and he actually did some wonderful photographs of Derek too.
IN THE 60S DEREK GOES OFF TO COLLEGE – HOW MUCH DID YOU SEE OF HIM AND HOW MUCH DID HE CHANGE?
Well, when he first went up I suppose I didn’t see so much of him. We were both out during the day, but the first two years he was living at home, but then I lived with him for a while at the first flat in Coram Street. I was in there as well for quite a time.
WERE YOU AT COLLEGE TOO?
What was I doing then? I was working in London as a temp, because I went to secretarial college. I’d left school the same year as Derek, there wasn’t an option in those days for girls to do A’ Levels, whereas Derek had to do them.
DID HE CHANGE DRAMATICALLY WHEN HE WENT TO COLLEGE?
Well I think he got terribly… it was Nicholas Pevsner and the architecture that got him fired up… And he (Derek) was a tremendous person to live with, because at 11 o’clock at night he’d say, “come on let’s go for a walk”, and everybody who was there would pile out and walk round London and he’d point out all the buildings and he’d always had something interesting to say about everything. He was very much into Wren, churches and old buildings…
DID HE CHANGE HIS INTERESTS AT COLLEGE?
No, not straight away, but then it was a very narrow environment. It was only the beginning of the sixties. He got involved in the magazine at college I think, so maybe he was starting to write more. There was theatre perhaps… Yes, we used to go to the theatre… But then we always used to as children. W also used to go to the Cinema when we lived in Northwood. We used to go into Watford quite often… for whatever film was on.
DID YOU GO WITH PARENTS?
No, no, it was just us teenagers. We’d get the bus in and probably a group of us would go four, five or six. And we’d go to the cinema quite often, and it didn’t matter what the film was we’d seem to go. But his first film that he actually mentions quite a lot is the Wizard of Oz and that’s the one that first made a huge impression on him… It comes up all the way through his life with Dungeness and the Emerald City and the Yellow Brick Road and he was… he was terrified of the film, as a child, but he saw it quite often.
DID YOU AND DEREK LOVE THE CINEMA AS TEENAGERS?
Yes, we used to go a lot so we must have. Well, maybe there weren’t many options, that’s the difference, there were coffee houses where we could go and get a cup of coffee and a bit of cake, or the cinema. And we used to go swimming and we used to play tennis… because that was all provided at the RAF station. Father was at Northwood… that was his last posting and then when they retired they built a house. Derek would have been… probably about 13 or 14 when our father retired.
IN THE 60S DEREK CAME OUT – HOW DIFFICULT WAS THAT?
It must have been terribly difficult. He obviously didn’t come home and say anything, but it was just… it was always obvious… Except I suppose we were so ignorant, we didn’t even know what homosexuality was… I certainly didn’t. It wasn’t until going to his parties and things in the warehouses that I realised… I mean it was more obvious… He didn’t make a thing of it, it wasn’t a song and dance… I think it was when he went to America and met a few more people who were like him, but it was all so hidden in those days it was, you know, you didn’t say anything particularly, except to other friends. It was after Sebastiane, my parents must have realised, in fact mum must have known all along, and I think maybe my father did too.
HIS FILMS OBVIOUSLY REFLECT HIS SEXULAITY. DID COMING OUT FOCUS HIS ART?
It certainly completely focused it… it’s all about homosexuality, all his art, all his film, all his writing. He wouldn’t be who he was without it and that’s what made him something rather special. It wasn’t a song and dance he didn’t… I don’t think he ever discussed it with our parents at all, it was just accepted and left at that, because when he came up for Christmas he used to bring a friend and it didn’t really matter who he brought. Everybody was welcome. I can’t remember any specific time when you could say Derek changed in any way, or became more relaxed. I think it was a huge relief when he did meet a few people who were also homosexual. I think he felt he was really on his own. Again it must have been in Kings College.
SO YOU WENT TO THE WAREHOUSE PARTIES ON THE SOUTHBANK. I DON’T RECALL READING ABOUT YOU IN HIS DIARIES…
Well, he always said, ‘I’m not going to put you in anything’ he said ‘because otherwise you’ll get pestered.’ No, he didn’t mention me in books, but we did see quite a lot of each other then.
WHAT WERE THE PARTIES LIKE?
Fantastic, actually, fantastic. It was before I got married, they were fantastic parties. And he used to make some great films at the parties too, because I think the films were made really for his friends. They were of his friends, for his friends and they were part of the whole thing… editing them together and cutting them and making them into movies. But they were… they were his home movies and you know the parties were very good (laughs).
DID HE TALK TO YOU MUCH ABOUT HIS WORK ON PROPER FILMS AT THIS TIME WITH KEN RUSSELL?
Well, I think we were terribly proud. I mean we were terribly proud of the set of The Devils, it was just amazing, it was enormous… I think well it was a huge step for him getting into films and it was wonderful to be working for Ken Russell. He talked about it, yes, he talked about the difficulties and I think he was… also he was very fond of Ken Russell’s wife, who did all the costumes I think, or a lot of the costumes in those days. And Ken was just such a wonderful mentor really and Derek’s said, yes, I could make a film, I could make a proper film - not proper film, because his Super 8s were proper film – I could make one of these big feature films, as long as you’ve got the right team around you to help you. It was sort of possible, and so I think Ken really got the ball rolling from the film point of view.
WAS HE PROUD OF HIS FILM-WORK? WAS HE PLEASED TO TELL YOU, YOUR MUM AND YOUR DAD ABOUT IT?
Oh, yes. Oh, he was, yes. How often did he used to come home? Not very often I think – once he was at Slade, and once he got his own place in London, and then of course the warehouse. But our parents used to pop up there with tea and food, because they always thought… Mum was always worried that he wasn’t eating enough and things like that. So, they would go to see Derek rather than the other way around, but he used to think father might be a fish out of water in one of the warehouses with all Derek’s friends, but he was all right.
BUT DID HE TALK ABOUT HIS FILMS FROM SEBASTIANE ONWARDS?
He would talk about his frustration trying to get funding – that’s what you did hear about and all the films of course he wrote that never materialised, because he didn’t get funding. But he… yes, he was very enthusiastic. He wanted everyone to know what he was doing and we were all very proud of him. And I can remember… once he wasn’t in England, so there was no contact, because then you couldn’t just phone abroad, it wasn’t easy. But I can remember phoning him once and it must have been in Florence… was it The Rake’s Progress? I can’t remember what he was doing, something in Florence or Rome… And I rang up on the first night to wish him well and I remembered thinking, ‘goodness, I’m phoning abroad’ and it was amazing. And again maybe it was our frugal upbringing you didn’t just reach for the phone or try and ring from one country to another.
WITH SEBASTIANE ALL THE FAMILY WENT TO SEE IT AT THE GATE CINEMA – HOW WAS THAT?
I remember father saying after it, he said ‘well it’s just like air force life’ he wasn’t at all surprised. Maybe before the war, when there were an awful lot of young men, and he was in Egypt, or somewhere like that. We’ve got some wonderful photographs, he had the most amazing ten years before the war in the Middle East and also in East Africa. He had an amazing life, and that was all chaps together wasn’t it? So Sebastiane was just a continuation of that. I think it just slightly floated over mine and my mother’s heads… But it was just amazing, it was amazing for him to have actually made a film and for it to be there and it was well received and it was fantastic.
DID YOU LIKE DEREK’S FILMS?
I suppose I love the ones with a lot of colour most… like Caravaggio. And it was very exciting watching the making of Wittgenstein, because we went… what with Kate (Gaye’s daughter) being there we popped over quite often to the studio to see her. Which films do I like the best? The Super 8s I just find make me feel a little bit giddy, because they are so disjointed. But I’d love to see again Angelic Conversation, but I haven’t got a copy of it. That was a long time ago… That one for him was the most important, or one of the most important films. And certainly I can remember him ringing up and saying he’d got Judi Dench to do the voice over - because I was terribly impressed by that sort of thing. His other films… which ones did I like? I think I was quite shocked by the Last of England, because of all the violence in it.
SHOCKED BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T SEE THAT SORT OF ANGER AND VIOLENCE IN DEREK?
Maybe, I didn’t know that was in Derek… And it was quite violent… There were bits where you wanted to shut your eyes, but that’s how he saw it… that’s what he saw, that was in the paintings he made at that time too. They were all… it was him looking back at what England was and what England had become and the thread seems to go through his books and work… He was very romantic - the past seemed to be better and yet it wasn’t as well. Because in The Devils it wasn’t better. So, he was quite mixed-up with that. He was very romantic about the past and yet, he was horrified as well.
WHAT WERE HIS POLITICS?
Oh, he was terribly anti-Margaret Thatcher of course, completely. She comes up in the Last of England as well. And in his writing he was very anti that sort of thing… He felt she encouraged all the wrong values. He would never have been Conservative, although yet looking back at how he looked at the past was quite a Conservative sort of trait.
DID HE TALK ABOUT POLITICS WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER?Well maybe as a teenager… then we talked about politics in those days and we were all pretty left wing. He remained so and I sort of shifted I think all over the place and back again and forth and I can’t remember sometimes… Did he vote? I think he always voted whereas I sometimes voted.
DID YOU EVER GO ON SET DURING ANY OF HIS SHOOTS?
Well, I had to with the Tempest because of Kate (Gaye’s daughter played the young Miranda). I took the whole family up there and it was the most amazing day, because everybody was so happy, so involved and mealtimes were hugely entertaining. Heathcote Williams (Prospero on The Tempest) was a wonderful person. I think it was just a whole experience, the experience of being there was almost better than seeing the film, and everybody seemed to be happy and enjoying themselves and the same was true of all his films. He gathered together friends and people did it for next to nothing and I think this is what again made Derek was the fact that he… he never really had that much money to make films. I often wonder what would have happened if somebody said ‘here are the millions’ or whatever it takes… what would he do with it? I don’t think he would have known what to do with it all, he wouldn’t have wanted to spend that much money.
IS THERE ANY CONNECTION BETWEEN DEREK THE DIRECTOR SURROUNDED BY HIS COMPANY AND THE TEENAGE DEREK WITH HIS FRIENDS AROUND HIM?
He used to refer to it as’ the gang.’ There was always a gang, there was always a group of friends. I think maybe that’s it. With his films he liked to have his friends there too… rather like the Super 8s with his friends in his Super 8s and made for his friends. I think he made the films for the enjoyment of the making them as well… although when he was ill the pressure must have been enormous just to go from day to day and to survive the day of filming without getting too tired.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS FILM-MAKING TO DEREK?
I think it was hugely important, but I think painting as well. Painting was lonely and that I think again is where film-making is so much better, because if he was doing his Super 8s surrounded by friends, with friends, when you paint you’re on your own in a room, nobody to talk to and you’re so open to criticism… whatever you do then somebody can criticise and I think films were a much freer way of expressing himself… and writing.
GARDENING AND PAINTING ARE SOLITARY PURSUITS, YET FILM IS COLLABORATIVE. HE SEEMED TO BE SPLIT BETWEEN NEEDING THE TWO.
I think he mixed them though. I think he quite often mixed them… although he couldn’t paint and make a film at the same time, maybe after being tired of the film or being exhausted, then he turned to painting. But there are huge periods of his life when he didn’t paint so much, because again they weren’t very well received his paintings, it wasn’t until later, when he was ill, that suddenly he got the recognition. Whether that was because as he said because there was going to be a cut off point… but he did feel that that might have been a lot of the reason why he would get the money for his last films, because people would think this is Derek’s last film… but they went on and on and that was surprising.
WHAT WAS MORE IMPORTANT LIFE OR FILM-MAKING FOR DEREK?
I should think living life… Yes, I should think living life. Although he was always busy. He couldn’t have been doing nothing. I think being a film-maker was living life as well. I think getting a film made for him … it was hugely frustrating getting money for a film, getting organised… and Caravaggio took about seven years or more I think.
EVERYONE MENTIONS DEREK’S POSTIVIE QUALITIES, BUT WAS THERE ANOTHER SIDE TO HIM? DID HE EVER GET DOWN?
I think in his books it comes out if he was depressed, or low, and again it was a problem to do with getting funding, or bad reviews. I think that was terribly hard for him to take the bad reviews. The Don Giovanni completely knocked him for six and I think it took him a long time to get going again after that. Maybe then he turned to painting, I can’t remember how big a gap there was then. But, he was always surrounded by friends, he’d always got hundreds of friends.
DID HE HATE ANYONE?
Margaret Thatcher (laughs)… I think so, yes. He was capable of hating. How much of it was tongue in cheek, don’t know. He became a political animal after the HIV. He was very angry, I suppose, then. Well, he was angry about the lack of knowledge in those days I think when he felt the Government did know and could have done something about it… informed people better.
DID HIS FILMS BECOME MORE POLITICAL AFTER THE HIV DIAGNOSIS?
Yes, he did become more political as he got angrier and angrier I think, certainly in his writing clearly. Except of course, Blue is very poetic… I think Blue is wonderful. That’s almost going back to what he did at the beginning, because his first book published was a book of poetry and Blue to me is poetry, so he came back to that.
WHAT DROVE HIM OR MOTIVATED HIM?
Maybe it was his homosexuality that drove him to put everything down and to try and get equality and recognition. I think that was his driving force. I think he had to be homosexual to be… or queer as he always put it… he would always say ‘I’m queer’. That was what drove him… and to actually put out the message about his life, perhaps.
WHY WAS TILDA SO SPECIAL TO DEREK?
He adored here. He absolutely adored her. I think and he was quite impressed by her… She lived on the Borders, or her parents came from the Borders of Scotland, and he would go up for a weekend and that sort of thing, that grand living, did impress Derek enormously. He took some wonderful bits of film of her actually just walking in and out of mazes and things in Scotland. He loved her to bits, he really did and he wanted to put her… he thought she was beautiful and wanted to put her in the films.
DID THEY SHARE INTERESTS?
I think she’s quite a political animal and I think they probably shared the same politics, and they just got on terribly well together, and she was with him when they saw the Dungeness house, and I think they were down there filming something and she was the one who said ‘come on Derek you must buy it’. They just got on terribly well, but she was very, very special and that’s why…
WAS THERE SOMETHING ABOUT HER PARTICULAR LOOK?
I don’t know, because I mean she’s very opposite to Toyah let’s say, I suppose, they couldn’t be more opposite, but then that was again completely different sort of relationship. Would you say she looked more masculine perhaps, Tilda?
IN HIS BIOGRAPHY, TONY PEAKE MADE A CONNECTION BETWEEN THE LOOKS OF TILDA AND YOUR MOTHER…Well, Tilda and Kate (Gaye’s daughter) used to be taken as sisters… because when we were in Venice and they were walking around together they looked quite alike and I think… I often think Kate’s looks quite like mum, although mum’s very dark, it’s the same big mouth, big smile and the eyes… Well, Tilda and Kate were always taken as sisters… and I think Kate loved that.
WHAT WAS DEREK’S FUNERAL LIKE?
Well, it was rather extraordinary, because he wanted an ordinary Church of England service and the actual funeral I suppose… the funeral service he had already decided what he wanted, so that was all taken care of… It was arranging the funeral that had the black humour… We went to the undertaker and he had this funny sort of flower on top of the wardrobe with a smell coming out of it… fake smell… like lavatory cleaner-… And actually I think it was Howard and Keith and myself and we had to sort it out, with another man, to see the coffins and we all went out and said, ‘there’s just no way, we’re not putting Derek in one of those with a bit of satin… it’s just not, you know, not going to happen.’ Anyway it was all organised through someone… I forget the name.. but Nicholas Ward-Jackson’s brother had had a rather nice plain oak coffin made and whoever it was he organised something right for Derek.
AND WHAT WAS THE ACTUAL DAY LIKE?
The day I think was as happy a day as a funeral day could be, in that it was a completely blue sky and Dungeness was sparkling. The service was… well, it was what Derek wanted. But I had to slightly smile because there’s one hymn… what ws it? Anyway there was a hymn and he knew it would reduce everybody to tears and it did (laughs). But I just felt this is tongue in cheek… He popped that in, which was a bit unfair really. And then we went and buried him in that lovely church in Old Romney… that was just a few of us. But in fact we had almost a party before in his home - all the children were flying kites, and everybody bought picnics, and it was all outside and Derek actually, we had him lying in state in an open coffin, in his lovely sunny back-room… some people knew he was there and some people didn’t, and there was sort of a queue for the loo and a queue for Derek… people queuing to say goodbye. He did look splendid, he really did, because he was wearing the gold cape (from Edward II) and he did look splendid… He looked far better than he had for the last three or four years.
HE SAID TO JEREMY ISAACS IN FACE TO FACE THAT HE JUST WANTED TO DISSOLVE AWAY. HAD HE GOT TO A POSITION WHERE HE WASN’T AFRAID OF DYING?
No, I think he was always afraid of dying. I think you can say that sort of thing and not believe it. No, I think… I don’t know if at the very end he was resigned to it, but he refused any drugs or painkillers or morphine or anything like that. I think he said to Keith, ‘this is an experience, this is one of life’s experiences and I’ve got to experience it to the full and not be drugged or you know have it clouded.’ No, that was very brave, because he was sort of drifting in and out of consciousness for about two days and must have been in a lot of pain.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MEMORY OF DEREK?
Just sort of sitting talking to people in that throne of a chair he had… He had an amazing chair with a candlestick and just sitting there and holding court and filling everybody else’s lives up with enthusiastic ideas… and I think that is my favourite picture of him. Everyone else had to sit on the floor and listen. But I remember taking a friend, who shared the flat in Coram Street, Caroline, we went to see Derek only a few weeks before he died and she said she couldn’t believe it - there he was still sitting in the chair surrounded by people holding court.
400Blows Productions, July 2003.