Publicity portrait, 1964
Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde
28 March 1921
|Died||8 May 1999 (aged 78)|
|Website||dirkbogarde.co.uk (Dirk Bogarde Estate)|
Sir Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde (28 March 1921 - 8 May 1999), known professionally as Dirk Bogarde, was an English actor and writer. Initially a matinée idol in films such as Doctor in the House (1954) for the Rank Organisation, he later acted in art-house films. In a second career, he wrote seven best-selling volumes of memoirs, six novels and a volume of collected journalism, mainly from articles in The Daily Telegraph.
Bogarde came to prominence in films including The Blue Lamp in the early 1950s, before starring in the successful Doctor film series (1954-1963). He twice won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, for The Servant (1963) and Darling (1965). His other notable film roles included Victim (1961), Accident (1967), The Damned (1969), Death in Venice (1971), The Night Porter (1974), A Bridge Too Far (1977) and Despair (1978). He was appointed a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1990 and a Knight Bachelor in 1992.
Bogarde was the elder of two sons born to Ulric van den Bogaerde (1892-1972) and Margaret Niven (1898-1980). Ulric was born in Perry Barr, Birmingham, of Flemish ancestry. He was Art Editor of The Times. Margaret Niven was Scottish, from Glasgow and was a former actress.
Dirk Bogarde was born in a nursing home at 12 Hemstal Road,West Hampstead, London. He was baptised on 30 October 1921 at St. Mary's Church, Kilburn. His brother, Gareth Ulric Van Den Bogaerde, an advertising film producer, was born in July 1933, in Hendon. He also had a younger sister, Elizabeth.
Conditions in the family home in North London became cramped and Bogarde was moved to Glasgow to stay with relatives of his mother. He stayed there for over three years, returning at the end of 1937.
He attended University College School, and the former Allan Glen's High School of Science in Glasgow, a time he described in his autobiography as an unhappy one. From 1937 to 1938 he studied at the Chelsea School of Art. He began his acting career on stage in 1939, shortly before the start of the Second World War, with his first on-screen appearance being as an uncredited extra in the George Formby comedy, Come On George! (1939).
During the war, Derek "Pip" Bogaerde served in the British Army, initially with the Royal Corps of Signals before in 1943 being commissioned at the age of 22 into the Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) as a second lieutenant. He served in both the European and Pacific theatres, principally as an intelligence officer. Taylor Downing's book Spies in the Sky tells of his work with a specialist Army unit that accompanied air force units for the interpreting of aerial photo-reconnaissance information, after D-Day moving to Normandy with RCAF units which by July 1944 were located at the "B.8" airfield at Sommervieu, near Bayeux. As an "Air Photographic Interpreter" with the rank of captain, and subsequently major, he was later with the headquarters of the Second Army where he selected ground targets in France, Holland, and Germany, for the Second Tactical Air Force (2TAF) and RAF Bomber Command to attack. In a 1986 Yorkshire Television interview with Russell Harty, Bogarde said:
"I went to see quite a lot of them" [the targets that he had selected to be bombed], "I mean I went back to the villages, and saw what I had done. I used to go painting, as you know, when I had any time off, and I went to one village in Normandy, and painted it, because I had picked it particularly and it was a waste of time, because everybody" [the Germans] "had got through," [villages on key roads were heavily bombed to block the roads and hinder the Wehrmacht's movement of armour and other vehicles that were hurriedly attempting to reach the invasion lodgement areas before the Allies gained too firm a foothold] " and I found what I had thought in the rubble were a whole row of footballs, and they weren't footballs - I was sitting right beside them, painting - and they weren't footballs, they were children's heads, and what it was, I discovered later, was a whole school of kids, a convent, had been pulled out of school, out of class, and lined up in this little narrow alleyway between the buildings to save them from the bombing, and the whole thing had come in on top of them, plus the nuns, but by that time [when he was there] they were lice-ridden, and there was nothing. I can talk about it now at 65 because it's sort of, dispassionate about it, and I've seen worse things since, but that gave me a bit of a turn, yes, I didn't enjoy that. A row of kids' heads that you thought were footballs and you kick one and it wasn't, and it rolled away down the rubble."
Bogarde was one of the first Allied officers in April 1945 to reach the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, an experience that had the most profound effect on him and about which he found it difficult to speak for many years afterward.
"I think it was on the 13th of April - I'm not quite sure what the date was" [it was the 15th] "- in '44" [sic, the camp was liberated on the 15th April 1945, and it was the 20th April 1945 when Bogarde made his visit] "when we opened up Belsen Camp, which was the first concentration camp any of us had seen, we didn't even know what they were, we'd heard vague rumours that they were. I mean nothing could be worse than that. The gates were opened and then I realised that I was looking at Dante's Inferno, I mean ... I ... I still haven't seen anything as dreadful. And never will. And a girl came up who spoke English, because she recognised one of the badges, and she ... her breasts were like, sort of, empty purses, she had no top on, and a pair of man's pyjamas, you know, the prison pyjamas, and no hair. But I knew she was girl because of her breasts, which were empty. She was I suppose, oh I don't know, twenty four, twenty five, and we talked, and she was, you know, so excited and thrilled, and all around us there were mountains of dead people, I mean mountains of them, and they were slushy, and they were slimy, so when you walked through them ... or walked - you tried not to, but it was like .... well you just walked through them, and she ... there was a very nice British MP [Royal Military Police], and he said 'Don't have any more, come away, come away sir, if you don't mind, because they've all got typhoid and you'll get it, you shouldn't be here swanning-around' and she saw in the back of the jeep, the unexpired portion of the daily ration, wrapped in a piece of the Daily Mirror, and she said could she have it, and he" [the Military Police] "said 'Don't give her food, because they eat it immediately and they die, within ten minutes', but she didn't want the food, she wanted the piece of Daily Mirror - she hadn't seen newsprint for about eight years or five years, whatever it was she had been in the camp for. ... she was Estonian. ... that's all she wanted. She gave me a big kiss, which was very moving. The corporal" [Military Police] "was out of his mind and I was just dragged off. I never saw her again, of course she died. I mean, I gather they all did. But, I can't really describe it very well, I don't really want to. I went through some of the huts and there were tiers and tiers of rotting people, but some of them who were alive underneath the rot, and were lifting their heads and trying .... .... trying to do the victory thing. That was the worst."
"After the war I always knew that nothing, nothing, could ever be as bad ... ... but nothing could frighten me any more, I mean, no man could frighten me any more, no Director ... ... nothing could be as bad as the war, or the things I saw in the war."
The horror and revulsion at the cruelty and inhumanity that he witnessed still left him with a deep-seated hostility towards Germany; in the late-1980s he wrote that he would disembark from a lift rather than ride with a German of his generation. Nevertheless, three of his more memorable film roles were as Germans, one of them as a former SS officer in The Night Porter (1974).
Bogarde was most vocal, towards the end of his life, on voluntary euthanasia, of which he became a staunch proponent after witnessing the protracted death of his lifelong partner and manager Anthony Forwood (the former husband of actress Glynis Johns) in 1988. He gave an interview to John Hofsess, London executive director of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society:
"My views were formulated as a 24-year-old officer in Normandy ... On one occasion the jeep ahead hit a mine ... Next thing I knew, there was this chap in the long grass beside me. A bloody bundle, shrapnel-ripped, legless, one arm only. The one arm reached out to me, white eyeballs wide, unseeing, in the bloody mask that had been a face. A gurgling voice said, "Help. Kill me." With shaking hands I reached for my small pouch to load my revolver ... I had to look for my bullets--by which time somebody else had already taken care of him. I heard the shot. I still remember that gurgling sound. A voice pleading for death ....
During the war I saw more wounded men being "taken care of" than I saw being rescued. Because sometimes you were too far from a dressing station, sometimes you couldn't get them out. And they were pumping blood or whatever; they were in such a wreck, the only thing to do was to shoot them. And they were, so don't think they weren't. That hardens you: You get used to the fact that it can happen. And that it is the only sensible thing to do."
His London West End theatre-acting debut was in 1939, with the stage name "Derek Bogaerde", in J. B. Priestley's play Cornelius. After the war, Bogarde's agent renamed him "Dirk Bogarde" and he was handsome enough to begin a career as a film actor. He was contracted to the Rank Organisation under the wing of the prolific independent film producer Betty Box, who produced most of his early films and was instrumental in creating his matinée idol image.
One of Bogarde's earliest starring roles was in the 1949 film Once a Jolly Swagman, where he played a daring speedway ace, riding for the "Cobras". This was filmed at New Cross Speedway, in South East London during one of the post-war years in which speedway was the biggest spectator sport in the UK.
During the 1950s, Bogarde was a matinee idol under extended contract to the Rank Organisation. His Rank contract began following his appearance in Esther Waters (1948), his first credited role, replacing Stewart Granger. Another early role was in The Blue Lamp (1950), playing a hoodlum who shoots and kills a police constable (Jack Warner) while in So Long at the Fair (1950), a film noir, he played a handsome artist who comes to the rescue of Jean Simmons during the World's Fair in Paris. He also had roles as an accidental murderer in Hunted (a.k.a. The Stranger in Between, 1952); a young wing commander in Bomber Command in Appointment in London (1953) and a wrongly imprisoned man who regains hope in clearing his name when he learns his sweetheart, Mai Zetterling, is still alive in Desperate Moment (1953).
Bogarde featured as a medical student in Doctor in the House (1954), a film that made him one of the most popular British stars of the 1950s. The film co-starred Kenneth More and Donald Sinden, with James Robertson Justice as their crabby mentor. The production was initiated by Betty Box, who picked up a copy of the book at Crewe during a long rail journey, and saw its possibility as a film. But Box and Ralph Thomas had difficulties convincing Rank executives that people would go to a film about doctors, and that Bogarde, who up to then had played character roles, had sex appeal and could play light comedy. They were allocated a modest budget, and were only allowed to use available Rank contract artists. The film was the first of the Doctor film series based on the books by Richard Gordon.
In The Sleeping Tiger (1954), Bogarde played a neurotic criminal with co-star Alexis Smith. It was Bogarde's first film for American expatriate director Joseph Losey. He did his second Doctor film, Doctor at Sea (1955), co-starring Brigitte Bardot in one of her first film roles; as a returning colonial who fights the Mau-Mau with Virginia McKenna and Donald Sinden in Simba (1955); Cast a Dark Shadow (1955), as a man who marries women for money and then murders them; The Spanish Gardener (1956), with Michael Hordern, Jon Whiteley, and Cyril Cusack; Doctor at Large (1957), again with Donald Sinden, another entry in the Doctor film series, with later Bond-girl Shirley Eaton; the Powell and Pressburger production Ill Met by Moonlight (1957) co-starring Marius Goring as the German General Kreipe, kidnapped on Crete by Patrick "Paddy" Leigh Fermor (Bogarde) and W. Stanley Moss (David Oxley) and a fellow band of Cretan resistance fighters based on W. Stanley Moss' real-life account, (Ill Met by Moonlight), of the Second World War abduction; A Tale of Two Cities (1958), a faithful retelling of Charles Dickens' classic; as a flight lieutenant in the Far East who falls in love with a beautiful Japanese teacher Yoko Tani in The Wind Cannot Read (1958);The Doctor's Dilemma (1959), based on a play by George Bernard Shaw and co-starring Leslie Caron and Robert Morley; and Libel (1959), playing three separate roles and co-starring Olivia de Havilland.
After leaving the Rank Organisation in the early 1960s, Bogarde abandoned his heart-throb image for more challenging parts. He starred in the film Victim (1961), playing a London barrister who fights the blackmailers of a young man with whom he has had a deeply emotional relationship. The young man commits suicide after being arrested for embezzlement, rather than ruin his beloved's career. In exposing the ring of extortionists, Bogarde's character risks his reputation and marriage in order to see that justice is done. Victim was the first British film to portray the humiliation gay people were exposed to via discriminatory law, and as a victimized minority; it is said to have had some effect upon the later Sexual Offences Act 1967 ending the illegal status of male homosexual activity.
Other later roles included decadent valet Hugo Barrett in The Servant (1963), which garnered him a BAFTA Award, directed by Joseph Losey and written by Harold Pinter; The Mind Benders (1963), a film ahead of its times in which Bogarde plays an Oxford professor conducting sensory deprivation experiments at Oxford University (precursor to Altered States (1980)); the anti-war film King & Country (1964), directed by Joseph Losey, in which he played an army officer at a court martial, reluctantly defending deserter Tom Courtenay; a television broadcaster-writer Robert Gold in Darling (1965), for which Bogarde won a second BAFTA Award, directed by John Schlesinger; Stephen, a bored Oxford University professor, in Losey's Accident, (1967) also written by Pinter; Our Mother's House (1967), an off-beat film-noir and British entry at the Venice Film Festival, directed by Jack Clayton, in which Bogarde plays a ne'er-do-well father who descends upon "his" seven children on the death of their mother; German industrialist Frederick Bruckmann in Luchino Visconti's La Caduta degli dei, The Damned (1969) co-starring Ingrid Thulin; as ex-Nazi, Max Aldorfer, in the chilling and controversial Il Portiere di notte (a.k.a. The Night Porter) (1974), co-starring Charlotte Rampling, directed by Liliana Cavani; and most notably, as Gustav von Aschenbach in Morte a Venezia, Death in Venice (1971), also directed by Visconti; as Claude, the lawyer son of a dying, drunken writer (John Gielgud) in the well-received, multi-dimensional French film Providence (1977), directed by Alain Resnais; as industrialist Hermann Hermann who descends into madness in Despair (1978) directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder; and as Daddy in Bertrand Tavernier's Daddy Nostalgie, (a.k.a.These Foolish Things) (1991), co-starring Jane Birkin as his daughter, Bogarde's final film role.
In some of his other roles during the 1960s and 1970s, Bogarde played opposite renowned stars, yet several of the films were of uneven quality, due to demands or limitations set by the studio or their scripts: The Angel Wore Red (1960), playing an unfrocked priest who falls in love with cabaret entertainer Ava Gardner during the Spanish Civil War; Song Without End (1960), as Hungarian composer and virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt, a flawed film made under the initial direction of Charles Vidor (who died during shooting), and completed by Bogarde's friend George Cukor, the actor's only disappointing foray into Hollywood; the campy The Singer Not the Song (1961), as a Mexican bandit co-starring John Mills as a priest; H.M.S. Defiant (a.k.a. Damn the Defiant!) (1962), playing sadistic Lieutenant Scott-Padget, co-starring Sir Alec Guinness; I Could Go On Singing (1963), co-starring Judy Garland in her final screen role; Hot Enough for June, (a.k.a. "Agent 8¾") (1964), a James Bond-type spy spoof co-starring Robert Morley; Modesty Blaise (1966), a campy spy send-up playing archvillain Gabriel opposite Monica Vitti and Terence Stamp and directed by Joseph Losey; The Fixer (1968), based on Bernard Malamud's novel, co-starring Alan Bates; Sebastian (1968), as Sebastian, a mathematician working on code decryption, who falls in love with Susannah York, a decrypter in the all-female decoding office he heads for British Intelligence, also co-starring Sir John Gielgud, and Lilli Palmer, co-produced by Michael Powell; Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), co-starring Sir John Gielgud and Sir Laurence Olivier and directed by Richard Attenborough; Justine (1969), directed by George Cukor; Le Serpent (1973), co-starring Henry Fonda and Yul Brynner; A Bridge Too Far (1977), in a controversial performance as Lieutenant General Frederick "Boy" Browning, also starring Sean Connery and an all-star cast and again directed by Richard Attenborough.
Bogarde claimed he had known General Browning from his time on Field Marshal Montgomery's staff during the war and took issue with the largely negative portrayal of the General that he played in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far. General "Boy" Browning's widow, the author Daphne du Maurier, ferociously attacked his characterisation and "the resultant establishment fallout, much of it homophobic, wrongly convinced [Bogarde] that the newly ennobled Sir Richard [Attenborough] had deliberately contrived to scupper his own chance of a knighthood."
In 1977, Bogarde embarked on his second career as an author. Starting with a first volume A Postillion Struck by Lightning (an allusion to the phrase My postillion has been struck by lightning), he wrote a series of 15 best-selling books; nine volumes of memoirs, six novels, as well as essays, reviews, poetry and collected journalism. As a writer Bogarde displayed a witty, elegant, highly literate and thoughtful style.
While under contract with the Rank Organisation, Bogarde was set to play the role of T. E. Lawrence in a proposed film Lawrence to be directed by Anthony Asquith. On the eve of production, after one year of preparation by Bogarde and Asquith, the film was scrapped without full explanation, to the dismay of Bogarde and Asquith. The abrupt scrapping of Lawrence, a role long researched and keenly anticipated by Bogarde, was among his greatest screen disappointments. Bogarde was also reportedly considered for the title role in MGM's Doctor Zhivago(1965). Earlier, he declined Louis Jourdan's role as Gaston in MGM's Gigi (1958).
In 1961, Bogarde was offered the chance to play Hamlet at the recently founded Chichester Festival Theatre by artistic director Sir Laurence Olivier, but had to decline due to film commitments. Bogarde later said that he regretted declining Olivier's offer and with it the chance to "really learn my craft."
For many years Bogarde shared his homes, first in Amersham, Buckinghamshire and then in France, with Anthony Forwood. Forwood, who had been married to actress Glynis Johns during the 1940s, was the father of the actor Gareth Forwood, their only child. Bogarde repeatedly denied that his relationship to Forwood was anything other than platonic. This was perhaps a lie, because male homosexual acts were criminal during most of his career, and could lead to prosecution and imprisonment. Rank Studio contracts included morality clauses, which provided for termination in the event of "immoral conduct" on the part of the actor. These included same-sex relationships, thus potentially putting the actor's career in jeopardy.
It is possible that Bogarde's refusal to enter into a marriage of convenience was a major reason for his failure to become a star in Hollywood, together with the critical and commercial failure of Song Without End. His friend Helena Bonham Carter believed he would not have been able to come out during later life, since this might have demonstrated that he had been forced to camouflage his sexual orientation during his film career.
Bogarde had a minor stroke in November 1987, while Forwood was dying of liver cancer and Parkinson's disease. In September 1996, he underwent angioplasty to unblock arteries leading to his heart and had a massive stroke following the operation. He was paralysed on one side of his body, which affected his speech. After the stroke he used a wheelchair. He then completed the final volume of his autobiography, which covered the stroke's effects, and published an edition of his collected journalism, mainly from The Daily Telegraph. He spent some time with his friend Lauren Bacall the day before he died at his home in London from a pulmonary embolism on 8 May 1999, age 78. His ashes were scattered at his former estate in Grasse, Southern France.
Bogarde was nominated five times as Best Actor by BAFTA, winning twice, for The Servant in 1963, and for Darling in 1965. He also received the London Film Critics Circle Lifetime Award in 1991. He made a total of 63 films between 1939 and 1991. In 1983, he received a Special Award for service to the Cinema at the Cannes Festival. Awarded the British Film Institute Fellowship in 1987. In 1988, Bogarde was honoured with the first BAFTA Tribute Award for an outstanding contribution to cinema.
Bogarde was created a Knight Bachelor in the United Kingdom in 1992, awarded the Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 1990, an honorary Doctorate of Literature on 4 July 1985 by St Andrews University in Scotland and an honorary Doctorate of Letters in 1993 by the University of Sussex in England.
In 1984, Bogarde served as president of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. He was the first British person to serve in this capacity.
Titles preceded by an asterisk (*) are films made for television.
|1939||Come On George!||Extra||Uncredited|
|1947||Dancing with Crime||Policeman||Uncredited|
|1948||Esther Waters||William Latch|
|Quartet||George Bland (segment "The Alien Corn")|
|1949||Once a Jolly Swagman||Bill Fox|
|Dear Mr. Prohack||Charles Prohack|
|Boys in Brown||Alfie Rawlins|
|1950||The Blue Lamp||Tom Riley|
|So Long at the Fair||George Hathaway|
|The Woman in Question||R.W. (Bob) Baker|
|Penny Princess||Tony Craig|
|The Gentle Gunman||Matt Sullivan|
|1953||Appointment in London||Wing Commander Tim Mason|
|Desperate Moment||Simon Van Halder|
|1954||They Who Dare||Lt. David Graham|
|Doctor in the House||Dr Simon Sparrow||Bogarde's first film with director Ralph Thomas|
|The Sleeping Tiger||Frank Clemmons||Bogarde's first film with director Joseph Losey|
|For Better, for Worse||Tony Howard|
|The Sea Shall Not Have Them||Flight Sgt. MacKay|
|Doctor at Sea||Dr Simon Sparrow|
|Cast a Dark Shadow||Edward "Teddy" Bare|
|1956||The Spanish Gardener||Jose|
|1957||Ill Met by Moonlight||Maj. Patrick Leigh Fermor a.k.a. Philedem|
|Doctor at Large||Dr Simon Sparrow|
|Campbell's Kingdom||Bruce Campbell|
|1958||A Tale of Two Cities||Sydney Carton|
|The Wind Cannot Read||Flight Lt Michael Quinn|
|The Doctor's Dilemma||Louis Dubedat|
|1959||Libel||Sir Mark Sebastian Loddon / Frank Welney / Number Fifteen|
|1960||The Angel Wore Red||Arturo Carrera|
|Song Without End||Franz Liszt||Nominated -- Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy|
|1961||The Singer Not the Song||Anacleto|
|Victim||Melville Farr||Nominated -- BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role|
|1962||H.M.S. Defiant||1st Lt. Scott-Padget|
|We Joined the Navy||Dr. Simon Sparrow||Cameo appearance, Uncredited|
|The Password Is Courage||Sergeant Major Charles Coward|
|1963||The Mind Benders||Dr. Henry Longman|
|I Could Go On Singing||David Donne|
|Doctor in Distress||Dr Simon Sparrow|
|The Servant||Hugo Barrett||BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role|
|1964||Hot Enough for June||Nicholas Whistler|
|King and Country||Capt. Hargreaves|
|The High Bright Sun||Major McGuire|
|1965||Darling||Robert Gold||BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role|
|Blithe Spirit||Charles Condomine|
|1967||Accident||Stephen||Nominated -- BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role|
|Our Mother's House||Charlie Hook|
|1969||Oh! What a Lovely War||Stephen|
|The Damned||Frederick Bruckmann|
|1970||Upon This Rock||Bonnie Prince Charlie|
|1971||Death in Venice||Gustav von Aschenbach||Nominated -- BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role|
|1973||Night Flight from Moscow||Philip Boyle|
|1974||The Night Porter||Maximilian Theo Aldorfer|
|1975||Permission to Kill||Alan Curtis|
|A Bridge Too Far||Lt. Gen. Frederick 'Boy' Browning|
|1981||The Patricia Neal Story||Roald Dahl|
|1986||May We Borrow Your Husband?||William Harris|
|1988||The Vision||James Marriner|
|1990||Daddy Nostalgie||Daddy||(final film role)|
For several years British film exhibitors voted Bogarde one of the most popular local stars at the box office: