Richard Wortley:
Gorky, John Fowles, David Gooderson

The 1970s found me impaled by a last minute organisational decision to cut my production of Maxim Gorky’s ‘The Lower Depths’ from two hours to an hour and a half. It changed a dreamy mood piece into a fast moving melodrama - and ruined it.

It also found me with a ninety minute adaptation of ‘The Collector’; John Fowles’s best-selling novel where an obsessive young ‘anorak’ collects a girl he has been stalking and imprisons her in his basement (a la butterflies). The film version established Terence Stamp - too good looking for the role - and Samantha Eggar, as his victim.

I was once more in studio 6A - my ‘Lucky Strike’ not my Room 101 - with a radio star, Nigel Anthony, who has been acting his gifted socks off since a kid: his opposite number, an eight and a half months pregnant Judi Dench, magnificent again as we got through our simple badinage - the kettle is on the boil etc …

The second day of rehearsal she told us of the spooky little event the evening before. Whilst struggling up the hill towards her Hampstead home a stranger had opened his car door to offer her a lift because of the heavy pregnancy. She felt ‘mesmerized’ into accepting. No problems, she was safely delivered to her house. The man had stopped just where William Wyler had ‘filmed’ Samantha Eggar chloroformed in ‘The Collector’s’ van.

The same studio linked me with the actor/writer/drama school voice coach David Gooderson.

His stories always based on real events included ‘Woodbine Willy’ in the first World War and the mixed bag of Brits who braved five hundred miles of jungle to escape the Japanese (Walk or Die - Second World War). But in 6A our focus was on Kenneth Graham (Edward Hardwick) his wife (Barbara Jefford) and the poignant tale of spoiling their one and only child, part ‘model’ for Mr Toad. This was the son who went to Oxford but committed suicide in the course of his studies lying down on the Oxfordshire railway track. His ‘in denial’ parents preferred the coroner’s inquest report of ‘accidental death’.

The title of the play ‘The Killing of Toad’; as further reference to ‘The Wind in the Willows’ I will add that David has since met weasles in the wild wood whilst searching for other commissions.

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