Originally posted January 2008
A lot of you probably recognize the blond bird in the middle of this photo as Britt Ekland: actress, sex symbol, Bond girl and former main squeeze of Peter Sellers and Rod Stewart. Some of you might know that the guy on the left is actor/director Lionel Jeffries, best known for his roles in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Railway Children. But who’s the bloke on the right grinning like he’s the happiest person in the world at that moment? That’s my old man, that is.
The picture was taken in 1972 on the set of a movie called “Baxter!” that Jeffries was directing and my old man had a bit part in it. In the 60s and early 70s Dad was a London taxi driver with dreams of being an actor, and one day he picked up Jeffries in his cab. The two got chatting and my old man told him he was an aspiring actor so Jeffries offered him a part in his new film — playing a taxi driver. If you’ve never heard of “Baxter!” that’s because it was a flop and sank without trace when it came out, it’s never even been out on video far as I know. I’ve only ever seen it once and if you blink you’ll miss my Dad and his one line of dialogue (he picks up Britt in his cab and says something like “Cheers, love” when she tells him to keep the change.) It wasn’t much but still, he was in a movie with Britt Ekland — not bad for a cab driver from Shepherd’s Bush. Unlike me he preferred blonds which partly explains his huge grin in the photo.
After this brush with fame Dad bought himself an old Rover P4 which he called Baxter. It was a beautiful car, tan exterior with cream leather seats and an 8-track player which was the latest in high-fidelity mod cons back then. Of all the albums my Dad had on 8-track the one that most reminds me of that car is Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, especially the track “Joy Inside My Tears.” It was never my favourite on the album, it followed the ridiculously catchy “Isn’t She Lovely” and always seemed such a downer after that — it sounds like it was recorded at the wrong speed and sort of plods along like it’s all woozy on cough medicine. But there’s something hypnotic about it and when I hear it now it’s that foggy and muggy warmth which reminds me of sitting in that car on a cold day with the windows misted up, having a day out with my Dad which usually involved a lunch of egg and chips with a banana milkshake and going to the pictures.
Download: Joy Inside My Tears – Stevie Wonder (mp3)
The acting thing didn’t work out for my Dad, after the movie he had small parts in television commercials for The Sun newspaper and Slimcea bread but that was all far as I remember. He did far better behind the scenes though and became a Stage Manager at the National Theatre in London where he had a very successful career — his first boss was Lawrence Olivier and he counted many famous actors and writers among his friends. He even got to meet the Queen, not too shabby.