My brush with fame...and the delectable Faye
The director Michael Winner dispenses with formalities as he eyes a small group of extras penned like cattle behind a fence. “You,” he barks, pointing his cigar straight at me. “When the stagecoach stops, roll down the steps, open the door and help her out.” My heart begins to thud. The big moment is here at last. "Her" is the delectable Faye Dunaway, playing the part of The Wicked Lady, a beautiful aristocrat forced to turn to highway robbery to restore her family’s fortunes.
And I am a humble footman, wearing a hat and stockings several sizes too tight on a sweltering summer’s day. And I am to play an important role in a key scene. As the coach and four rattles to a halt outside the main door of stately Compton Wynyates in
south Warwickshire, I spring forward, rolling down the steps, flinging open the door and extending my arm to the divine Ms Dunaway. As she passes me in a tornado of perfume and silk tresses, she whispers softly "well done". “Cut”, bellows Mr Winner from a nearby grassy bank, where he’d been lining up the shot. Unseen by us, the coachman’s hat has fallen off in his desperate attempts to bring the horses under control and we’re going to have to do it all again. Dear Michael is not a happy man. Neither am I really, for the magic and the spontaneity has gone. I’m a sweating puddle of nerves and barely manage to get the steps rolled down in the right order. It’s a relief to be herded back into the pens
where my fellow extras await. We’re a mixed bunch; old hands from Warwickshire who once had a walk-on role in Miss Marple, a group of young lads from Coventry on a day out and looking for a bit of a lark and me, a Coventry Telegraph feature writer under cover in seventeenth century ruffs, a thick padded coat and those stockings.
It’s the city lads who don’t take well to being shouted at. “I’ll deck him in a minute,” mutters one as lovely Michael screams “get out of the f…ing way” as we suddenly find ourselves in the path of charging nobs on horseback. As twilight falls, we are marshalled for a sumptuous banquet scene on Compton Wynyates’ spreading lawns. There’s real food in the shape of apples and pears and as we have been given nothing to eat all day a stampede led by the city lads strips the tables of everything before the Rons and Berts of the camera crew can get set up. Dear Michael throws an extended wobbly this time, unsettling even the Alistairs and Jolyons in his personal entourage, who run to his side with coffee and cigars. And then one of our number (not me, thank goodness) is selected to run skipping and dancing through the banqueting crowds with a live piglet under his arm. You should have heard the squeals. And the piglet was noisy too.
PS. Michael Winner’s 1983 version of The Wicked Lady turned out to be a stinker. My contribution, I’m almost glad to say, ended up on the cutting room floor.
Pictures (from top): The Wicked Lady which turned out to be a stinker; the delectable Faye Dunaway, and our very own Peter Walters who gave up on a film career and is now a highly respected local historian and writer.