Olly Reed was one of the greatest hell raisers of all time and before he died I was lucky enough to join him on a boozy bender in Minsk.
It was August 1995 and life was more than fine. My job at the time entailed traveling the world, interviewing the world’s hell-raisers for Loaded Magazine, then a national phenomenon under the helm of James Brown, selling in excess of half a million copies a month. It was the best job in the world, bar none.
Photographer Chris Floyd knew a bloke called James Pertwee whose dad, Bill, had played ARP Warden William Hodges in Dad’s Army. Pertwee Jr. was about to head off to Belarus to do a film, his co-star being Ollie Reed, quite possibly the most hell-raising of all living hell-raisers. Maybe Loaded would like to tag along? Hell, yes.
Ollie and his wife, Josephine, were seated in front of us on the flight out but he looked in rather a fierce mood so we reasoned we’d best wait to make our introductions. We made contact on our second day in Minsk, a city that makes Port Talbot look like Las Vegas.
Given his reputation, we figured that Ollie could well prove difficult to negotiate. On the contrary, he invited us up to his room and talked up a storm for three hours, before inviting us for a night out with his wife. After a tour of local bars, we ended up at the city’s most esteemed restaurant where most of the food was off the menu though, thankfully, alcohol flowed like the Ganges in full spate. To my grave I will take the memory of the long-suffering look on Josephine’s face when Ollie quizzed myself and Chris Floyd as to how to procure the finest prostitutes in the city.
We saw the best of Ollie over the four days we spent with him in Minsk. Others were not so lucky. One member of the cast was shoved by Reed through a plate-glass window during a late-night drinking session, apparently because the chap in question expressed some reserve about the artistic worth of Elvis Presley’s later recordings. No doubt, Ollie could be an insufferable bully when he was in his cups. But he was also one hell of a talker. As the following piece conclusively proves:
Twenty five years ago, Ollie Reed was Britain’s greatest actor, wowing audiences across the globe with a panache and verve to put Brando to shame. Nowadays you’re more likely to catch him down the Dog and Trumpet singing poor quality songs and whipping out his “mighty mallet”. loaded finds out what the bloody hell happened…
“DARLING! REMIND ME! DID I REALLY WAVE MY chopper around in the casino last night?” Oliver Reed has been in the Slav republic of Belarus for less than 24 hours and has seemingly wasted no time in living up to his reputation as the last mad musketeer. Reports of his previous night’s swashbuckling antics are already sweeping the streets of the Belarusian capital of Minsk quicker than a dose of dripsy through a Bangkok knocking-shop. Did he really drink three bars dry before retiring to the gambling house to treat the locals to a lingering glimpse of his tattooed todger? And did he really round off the evening by wrestling nude in the street with a small battalion of elderly Russian generals?
“How the bloody hell should I know what you were up to?” says his wife, Josephine, when pressed for an alibi. “I stayed in last night and read a book.”
And, with that, Ollie merely shrugs as though to say, “What the hell?”, the fierce twinkle in his eye suggesting that his lust for life remains undiminished and that there’s a fair bit of living still to be done.
Oliver Reed in Minsk. It’s a wonderfully unlikely scenario and one that is pregnant with all kinds of hellraising possibilities. This forlorn corner of Europe (described in its very own guidebook as, “One of the dullest, foulest and ugliest parts of the old USSR”) has seen much brouhaha in its long and troubled history but nothing, it seems, could have prepared it for the arrival of the man universally known as Good Ol’ Ollie.
The man who, in his time, has fashioned unpredictability into something like an art form, has landed in this darkly obscure region to do what he describes as, “a spot of filming”. A movie, in fact. A broad comedy entitled The Moscow Connection. The plot of which Oliver himself describes with some relish.
“It’s about gangsters in Russia,” he explains. “The women get together, seduce the men, drug them, cut off their balls and store them in a deep-freeze. Then the men have to sign contracts, promising to be good boys or they don’t get their dicks sewn back on. I think it’s fair to say that comparisons with Citizen Kane will not be too forthcoming.”
“I’m simply the result of the chemicals that were in my mother’s ovaries and my father’s balls,” he says. “I’m a loose cannon. That’s what I am and I can’t help it.”
Citizen Kane it’s not. But The Moscow Connection is not short on acting talent. Aside from Ollie himself, there’s Jan-Michael Vincent of Big Wednesday fame, and smouldering beauty Barbara Carrera from Dallas. Not least, there’s James Pertwee, one of Britain’s most promising young actors and a man whose sexual charisma has already won him comparison with the young Brando in his Streetcar Named Desire period.
Indeed, it is the handsome young Pertwee who has pulled the necessary strings to enable your Loaded representatives to hole up in Minsk for a week and quaff down generous quantities of the local grog whilst observing Good Ol’ Ollie at close quarters.
“I don’t generally talk to the press nowadays,” Ollie explains. “But I thought I’d make an exception for Loaded. My brother in law, who is a bit of an eccentric cunt, came over to Ireland with a copy. He said, ‘You have to read this. It’s the dog’s bollocks’. He’s the sort of bloke who would be naturally inclined to read lovely, unmitigated filth like Loaded. So I thought, ‘Why not?’ If I’m going to be stranded in the arse-end of Russia for a week, I might as well have some media bastards to take the piss out of. It’s all part of life’s rich pageant, is it not?”
THE MOSCOW CONNECTION IS OLIVER REED’S 84TH FILM IN A CAREER that now spans five decades. It might be argued though that his reputation as an actor rests on a relatively small handful of masterful screen performances. There was his flawless portrayal of Bill Sykes in the 1968 film version of Oliver Twist. The brooding intensity he brought to the role of Gerald Crich in the 1969 film adaptation of DH Lawrence’s Women In Love. Then, perhaps best of all, there was his astonishing performance as a libertarian priest in Ken Russell’s 1970 move, The Devils.
The majority view on Ollie’s career is that he is one in a long cinema line of habitual underachievers. That, like Malcolm McDowell and Marlon Brando among others, he peaked early and spent the rest of his career stumbling helplessly into the clutches of the artful demon that calls itself self-parody.
When this argument is lobbed in Ollie’s direction, he responds with a shrug of indifference. “I don’t really give a flying fuck,” he says. “If I’d made more great films, I’d certainly be richer. But I wouldn’t necessarily be happier. Apart from The Devils, which is probably my favourite, I never watch my own films. My wife has some of the others on video so she can watch them all when I’m dead. When I’m six foot under, she can show them to her Pekinese dogs Line them up on the bed and they can have a fucking good laugh at me. Quite honestly, I don’t give a bugger what the critics have to say about my films. The people whose opinions I respect are taxi-drivers and people on the street. Jack The Lad. Joe Bollocks. All that lot. They say, ‘Fucking good luck to you Ollie,’ and that’s good enough for me.”
It’s perhaps easy to forget there was a time in the early ’70s when he was British cinema’s most bankable star. So bankable, in fact, that he could turn to a Daily Express reporter in 1974 and say, without fear of contradiction, “Destroy me and you destroy the whole British film industry. I can afford to cock-a-doodle-doo because I’m the biggest star this country has got. I’m Mr. England and don’t you forget it, you fucking pig.”
Of course, it goes without saying that Oliver Reed stopped being famous for his films some years ago. Somewhere along the line, Ollie The Great Movie Star metamorphosed in the public eye into Ollie The Celebrity Piss Artist and All-Round Hellraiser who could be relied upon to behave exceedingly badly at the slightest opportunity.
“I’m simply the result of the chemicals that were in my mother’s ovaries and my father’s balls,” he says. “I’m a loose cannon. That’s what I am and I can’t help it. I can rope the cannon down but it always comes loose again. Of course, loose cannons have a habit of running over people’s toes if they’re not roped down. But I don’t mind running over people’s toes at all. Certain toes need to be run over occasionally.”
“I discovered a long time ago that the best way to get flames to rise is by poking the fire. Consequently, the room warms up. I happen to prefer a warm room to a cold room. So, if I find the embers dying down, I’ll act like a good boy scout and give the fire a good poke. I’ve had that urge for as long as I can remember. I think it started at school. Academically, I was fucking hopeless. So the only way I could get by was to make people laugh. Play up, play up, play the game. That was the spirit. It just went on from there. Like all thinking adults, I simply refused to grow up. And it’s too fucking late to start now.”
Once asked to explain the secret of Oliver Reed’s success, the late great Orson Welles replied, “He’s one of those rare fellows who have the ability to make the air move around them.” It’s a good a description of Reed as you’re likely to find. From way back, it seems that the air was always in motion when Ollie was around.
The product of a solid middle-class background, Ollie enjoyed a turbulent youth during which time he attended more than 15 schools. Some of these he appeared to leave of his own accord but the majority, it seems, he was expelled from. After leaving school at 17, he became a bouncer in a Soho striptease club; a position which lasted less than a month. When police raided the place one night, Ollie made his escape through a cloakroom window and never returned. After an equally short-lived and unsuccessful stint as a fairground boxer, he was drafted into national service with the Royal Army Medical Corps, doing much of his two years’ service in the Far East.
“I was your typical Virgin Soldier,” he recalls. “Pulling at a girl’s knicker elastic, that’s about as far as I’d got. I think it was the same for most of the blokes I was with. Except for some of the rough ones from Liverpool who’d talk all day long about how many nurses they’d fucked. I didn’t really believe them but I kept thinking I was missing out and that I’d better start getting my end away. Then, bang, wallop, they send me off to the fucking jungle. No crumpet within a 100 mile radius. Just a few monkeys and, thank fuck, it hadn’t quite come to that yet. So, like everyone else, I had to rely on a quick one off the wrist every now and then. Which did the trick for a while.”
“Then we found that crabs were going around. Some bastard was spreading them. Well, I was the medic so it was my job to find the dastardly culprit. Worst job I had in my whole life. All these ruffians had to parade in front of me and bend over. Then I had to spread their cheeks and take a good look up their ring-pieces. And these were my mates! Anyway, I found out who it was and I said, ‘Listen, you little cunt, get down to the medical centre right now, shave off the hair on your bollocks and pour diesel fuel all over your nuts’. And he did, the stupid bugger.”
It was only after leaving the army that Ollie finally broke his sexual duck at the age of 19. By this time, he had already made his mind up to become an actor. “It wasn’t a driving ambition as such,” he recalls. “It was just that I was drinking with these chaps who were earning a few bob working as extras in movies. So I thought I’d give it a go.”
“I was your typical Virgin Soldier,” he recalls. “Pulling at a girl’s knicker elastic, that’s about as far as I’d got.
Minor parts in minor movies quickly led to bigger and better things. He won slightly meatier parts in films like Beat Girl and The Rebel. Then, in 1961, he was spotted by Hammer Films and given the lead in The Curse Of The Werewolf. After serving a useful apprenticeship with Hammer, he finally sealed his reputation in the role of a randy promenade photographer in Michael Winner’s 1964 film, The System.
“I always assumed from the outset that I was going to be successful,” he says. “It was around this time that my agent dropped in on me when I was living in Earl’s Court. I was lying in the bath with an expensive bottle of wine, sucking on the tits of an au pair girl I’d picked up. So my agent poked his head round the door and says, ‘Oliver, I think you’re going to be a big star one day.’ And I removed my mouth from one of these pendulous breasts, looked up and said, ‘You might be right, Dennis, but can’t you see I’m fucking busy right now?’ But I knew from that point I was going to make it.”
Through the late ’60s, he quickly became British cinema’s most sought-after and highly-paid actor, leaving most other contenders (including Stamp and Caine) bobbing along in his wake. The nude wrestling scene with Alan Bates in Women In Love made him a household name and a bona fide sex symbol overnight.
“Ken Russell wanted to film us in a lake so our modesty would be protected. Well, I wasn’t having that. I didn’t want to spend all day filming nude in a lake in the middle of winter. My winkle would have shrivelled up to the point of invisibility. So I said, ‘Fuck this, Ken, let’s do it inside.’ We started at six in the morning and it was bollock-freezing inside as well. For the sake of appearances, me and Alan had to resort to a little manual stimulation to increase the size of our appendages. Then we got down to it. There was a rather strange sequence when Alan’s cock was actually resting on my bum. They cut that bit out. Just as well I suppose. It was not a pretty sight.”
By the early ’70s, he was firmly established as cinema’s answer to Georgie Best and lived the role to the sodding limit.
“I realised from an early stage that I had to play the part a bit,” he says. “In the ’60s, you had solid chaps like Roger Moore poncing about in duffel coats and drinking lemonade through a straw. I was just another scruffy actor and nobody wanted to know. Then I’d turn around and spit beer at the next fellow and get into a ruck and, suddenly, the press wanted to know all about me. So I built up a reputation as a fast gun and it was very hard to live down. But that’s how it was.”
“Now I find that I’m the last of a dying breed. There was Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Richard Burton and I was the baby of the bunch. Then it reached the point where I realised that I was the only one carrying the baton. So, consequently, this myth grew up around me. And bugger me if I’m stuck with it. But that’s how it is. I’m incapable of change in that respect. Once a pirate, always a pirate. I hate being bored, you see. And, most of all, I hate it when I’m boring myself. So I pull faces. I dance around a bit. I act the goat. If I’m sitting in a pub and nothing is happening, I’ll climb up the chimney and pretend to be Father fucking Christmas. Anything to get a reaction, old boy.”
“Or, alternatively, I’ll reach into my trousers and show them my prick. My snake of desire. My wand of lust. My mighty mallet. It’s a national institution now, of course, my penis. The first time I ever got it out in public was, I seem to remember, at a press conference in 1972. Burt Reynolds had done a centre-spread for Playboy and they’d asked me to do the same. But I wasn’t interested. So these reporters started asking me about it. I told them that the simple fact of the matter was that my mallet was too big to fit in the page. Naturally they asked me to prove it. So I pulled down my trousers and started yanking it out. An elderly woman at the back asked me why I’d stopped. ‘Madam,’ I said, ‘It’s just as well that I did stop. If I’d pulled it out in its entirety, I’d have knocked your hat off.’”
“In actual fact, I don’t display my mighty mallet as often as it’s reported. I don’t just do it at the drop of a hat. I would though if it was fucking enormous. If I had 15 inches to speak of, I’d be whipping it out every five minutes and hosing down the surroundings like some heroic fireman. As it goes, I’ve got to use an eyebrow-plucker just to find the bloody thing.”
“Even so, I don’t mind taking it out occasionally. I don’t see it any differently than playing a good game of rugger and getting into the tub with the lads. A winkle is a winkle and I’ll happily pull it out to get a reaction. Just as people make bird noises in front of budgerigars to get that sort of reaction. If people get hurt or they’re outraged by the things I do, then all I can say is that they’re missing the point. The point being that life shouldn’t be about sitting around, staring at frosted glass. It should be lived and that’s all there is to it. I know that a lot of people would be happier if I turned up at the village fete buying pots of jam, tweaking the cheeks of babies and being nice to little old ladies. But being nice doesn’t particularly interest me. And the things I do, I do them because they interest me. Occasionally, they might be beneath me, but I’ll do them if I find them interesting enough.”
MOST NEWSPAPER PROFILES OF OLIVER REED APPEAR TO SET OUT with the intention of celebrating his roguish charm and invariably end up carping at length about his supposed bullying manner and chauvinistic vulgarity. Little bullying is in evidence during this interview, conducted during a break in filming at Reed’s hotel suite in the centre of Minsk. Plenty of good-natured joshing though when, for example, he discovers that his interviewer is a born-and-bred Welshman.
“Josephine!” he calls into the adjoining room. “Josephine! We’ve got a Taffy bastard in here! He looks like a fucking Welshman too! Sallow skin! Dark stubble! Hooked nose! And look at those little rabbit-ears and rat-eyes! Tell me, Taffy, did you bring any soft toilet-roll wit you? Cos this Russian stuff is killing my arse!”
Over the course of a long afternoon with Ollie, followed by a lively and eventful hike through the local bars, one gets the impression that there is a lot more to the man than meets the eye. He is, like all great characters, a stew of fabulous contradictions. Both deliciously funny and yet strangely melancholic. Acutely articulate and bracingly crude. Bullet-proof string and, at the same time, surprisingly vulnerable.
He is, of course, one of the truly great raconteurs. Give him a subject and he’ll run a furlong with it, leading a merry dance as he twists and turns it every conceivable way to achieve the maximum comic effect. Throw him a name, any name, and he’ll seize on it like a vulture on carrion, and work it up into some enormously funny anecdote. One minute he’s on his feet, reliving his legendary sword fights with Keith Moon. The next, he’s rolling about on the carpet, showing you how he wrestled Lee Marvin in the middle of the desert. Then, before you know it, he’s balanced precariously on the edge of the bed, demonstrating how he once jumped onto the bonnet of Ken Russell’s car. This particular story goes back to 1974 when they were filming Tommy together. Russell had dropped into the pub on the way back to the hotel to find Ollie dressed as a vicar and insisting on addressing everyone as Jesus. After a few swift pints, Russell made his excuses and left only to be followed by Ollie, still dressed in full clerical garb. As Russell started up the car, Ollie leapt onto the bonnet and gripped hold of the windscreen wipers. Then, as Russell sped off down a country lane at 60 mph, Ollie was left there, face pressed to the window, demanding to know, “Why the fuck won’t you drink with me any more?” To which Russell replied, “Of course I’ll drink with you, you stupid bastard. I’m only off to buy some whelks.”
Now I find that I’m the last of a dying breed. There was Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Richard Burton and I was the baby of the bunch. Then it reached the point where I realised that I was the only one carrying the baton.”
Ask him which celebrity friend he misses the most and, without hesitation, he replies, “Orson Welles. Now there was a man. Though he was more like a force of nature. I can still hear that voice now: ‘Oliver, my boy, let me take you to lunch.’ We’d be out in the middle of Greece. I’d turn up at the appointed time and find that he’d invited virtually everyone on the island. The place would be packed to the rafters. And the meals! Course after course. Hugely expensive. And, just as the coffee arrived, Orson would rise to his feet and, in that great booming voice, say, ‘Excuse me for one moment my friends, I have to pay a visit to the little boy’s room.’ We’d never see him again. He’d nip out the back, leaving some poor sod, usually myself, to pick up the tab. I lost count the number of times that happened. But it was impossible to get angry with Orson. You knew what he was up to but, at the same time, you knew that he was always going to be good value for money.”
“Now I find that I’m the last of a dying breed. There was Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Richard Burton and I was the baby of the bunch. Then it reached the point where I realised that I was the only one carrying the baton.
“I remember the last time we met. I was stranded at the airport in Paris. It was Christmas Eve and I had a suitcase full of presents for my kids. But I couldn’t get out because it was pelting down with snow and all flights had been cancelled. Then, behind me, I heard this familiar voice: ‘Oliver, my boy! Why don’t the two of us hire a private plane and make our own way to England? It’s my shout.’ And I thought, oh Christ, here we go again…”
Even so you sense that Ollie is at his happiest when relating some shit-stopper of a tale in which he takes the starring role. As with his memory of the 1986 film, Castaway, in which he co-starred with Amanda Donohoe.
“Ah yes,” he recalls, “Amanda. Very pretty girl. Great breasts. But it was definitely a look-don’t-touch situation. There was absolutely no way that I would have dared put my mighty mallet anywhere near her bush of content and pumped away. Completely out of the question. I felt like someone sucking a toffee with the paper left on. However, we did do a sex scene in the rain. I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to go about this?’ So I ended up fucking her knees. A most interesting experience in itself. Of course, I was called upon to flash my string and nuggets at one point. It was pissing down at the time. A right old storm. And it was fucking freezing to boot. I had half a frigging palm tree slapping away at my dick. The poor little bugger was in enough trouble as it was…”
You quickly twig to the notion that he feels no great responsibility for his own opinions, tossing them into the air with mischievous glee and bugger the consequences. For example, there’s his somewhat provocative slant on the subject of women that has, over the years, caused a merry how-do-you-do. There was, for instance, the occasion in 1972 when actress Shelley Winters emptied a jug of bourbon over Ollie after he suggested on an American TV show that women are only good for shagging and scrubbing floors. He was even less backward in coming forward during that now notorious edition of After Dark when, amongst other things, he suggested that the one thing that women will never forgive is that men fuck them.
“Oh yes,” he says, “I’d definitely stand by that. Absolutely. Women are the ones that are penetrated. You can’t get away from that. No matter if we do it standing up, lying down or swinging from the bathroom fittings, we’re doing the fucking and they’re the ones being fucked. We enter into their bodies and we plant our lovely seed. They are the receiving vessels and we are the donors. And don’t they bloody well love it! Whatever women say, they love being fucked by a dirty bastard. ‘Come on you rough Taffy,’ they’ll say, ‘fuck me good and proper! Scrape your dirty stubble over my charlies, you dirty shit!”
So, pray tell, what does he most like about women?
“I love their vulnerability most of all, which is why I am very protective towards them. If we’re talking about the physical side, well, basically, I’m a confirmed nipple man. I like nipples a lot. Bosoms in general. I particularly like bosoms that have seen a bit of wear. Fucking lovely. Especially if they’ve suckled a child and look like they’ve been around the block a bit. They’ve done their job and now it’s my turn. Fucking marvellous.”
Then, with confidentially intensity and apropos of nothing in particular, he asks: “Do you think that women really like the taste of sperm? I suppose they must. I remember my first blowjob like it was yesterday. All I could think about was whether she knew I was actually going to come in her mouth. I’ve never been one to take a blowjob for granted though. Even to this day, I say a prayer for each and every one.”
He’s now on his second marriage. His first, to model Kate Byrne, lasted from 1960 to 1970.
“Yes,” he remembers. “I rushed into that. I came out of national service and married the first thing that came onto me. Then I got into the movies and there were all these fantastic-looking birds hanging around me. Well, Kate wouldn’t put up with any of that. She used to come looking for me. There was one time when I went away to Paris with the Rosslyn Park rugger team with the idea of drinking a lot and kicking the shit out of each other. Good bunch of lads too. One of them, a chap called Roland, was white but, for reasons unknown, he possessed a black cock. He’d show it to absolutely anyone. Very odd. Anyway, we were holed up in this Paris hotel, passing the time by diving off the wardrobes to see if we could land in the hand-basins. Torn bums. Black eyes. Blood and broken teeth everywhere. And, in the middle of all this, Kate walks in. She’s come all the way from England hoping to catch me romping away with a nice bit of crumpet in a sheepskin coat. All she found was a load of rugger lads puking their rings up. Fucking marvellous!”
Quizzical eyebrows were raised when, in 1981, he started dating Josephine. She was 16 at the time and Ollie was a fairly ripe 42. The tabloid press went ballistic. True to form, Oliver played up the controversy at every opportunity. When ask what attracted him to her, he replied, “It was the fantasy of the virginal girl – the smell of her satchel as I dragged her off the school bus.” He wooed her with posies of flowers and an occasional leg of lamb. He gave her the ring off a Coca-Cola can and they were engaged. They finally married in 1985 and, to the surprise of many, the marriage has proved an unqualified success. Has it, though, tamed the randy beast within him? Does his glad eye still rove as freely as it was known to do in the good old days?
“Oh,” he says, “I don’t think men ever change, do they? A least not the loose cannons among us. Having said that, I do find, as I get older, that I’m more reluctant to put myself to the test. In case I fail. I cringe when I look at fellows coming on strong to some bird who doesn’t want to know. You can see it’s an elbow job and they don’t recognise it. That’s painful to observe. At my age, I would loathe to be rejected by a woman. At the same time, if I did go astray, I would loathe the pain it would cause my wife. I’ll sound like some old fucking docker now but… I’m happy to be able to say that I’ve never been unfaithful to Josephine.”
“I’ll tell you what the tragedy of my life is. It’s that women always leave me in the end. They leave me before they get to know me properly. I think I probably deserve it as well. I don’t know whether Josephine will. She might just hang on. The difference now is that I’m a lot older. I’ve managed to tame myself down to a smaller size. Part of it is that some of the swank has worn off me. I don’t show off so much now. I’m too old for all that. In the same way, a lot of the violence in me has gone. I’ve made that happen. In the past, I used to love violence. I loved the smell of trouble brewing. Now I’m more interested in self-preservation. With ageing comes the knowledge that, ultimately, nothing is worth fighting for.”
OLLIE, NOW 57, LIVES ON AN 18 ACRE ESTATE IN COUNTY CORK THAT HE intends to manage himself. These days, he describes himself as living, “in a state of semi-retirement”. The film roles keep coming but his enthusiasm appears to wane that little bit more with each passing year.
“It’s more than 30 years since I last whistled and sang on my way to a studio,” he says. “I haven’t really enjoyed acting since the days of Oliver! These days, I’m more inclined to think of it simply as a job that has to be done. Besides, I’m too old for most decent roles. Anyway, if there are any decent roles going, they’re certainly not coming my way. People are wary you see. It’s my reputation. Undoubtedly, that’s been the ruin of my career. These days, I’m good for playing a gangster or a drunken priest. But that’s about it. I couldn’t really give a shit to tell you the truth. I’d sooner be down the pub, telling jokes and singing bawdy songs. I give those performances for free and that’s fine with me.”
“Oh,” he says, “I don’t think men ever change, do they? A least not the loose cannons among us.”
Ask him about ambitions and, quick as a flash, he says in all seriousness that, “I hope one day to grow the world’s biggest cabbage.” Ask him about regrets and, without pausing for thought, he says, “There are a few. I regret the fact that I have never been able to say to a woman, ‘I love you’. I regret all the hurt that I have caused. To a certain extent, I regret the fact that I didn’t go to Hollywood when I had the chance in the early ’70s. That might have made all the difference.”
It would be all to easy to draw the smug conclusion that the real tragedy of Oliver Reed’s life is that he was blessed with an extraordinary talent and that, as soon as he found out how it could be put to good use, proceeded to squander it. That, like Georgie Best before him, and Alex Higgins after him, he simply pissed his talent up against the nearest pub wall. However, one suspects that, given the choice, Ollie would sooner be judged on his life than on his work. If, in the final analysis, his life’s work is found wanting, then the same cannot be said about his life in all its boozy poet-ruffian glory. Quite simply, the last 25 years would have been a whole lot duller without Ollie there to show that the only way to go is too far. And bugger the consequences.
“I’m not really bothered whether I’m remembered or not,” he says. “But, if I have to be remembered, then I’d simply like to be remembered as a lusty old sausage.”
And then, as though to prove that that there’s still plenty of lust left in the old sausage yet, the Last Great Bad Boy rises from his chair, stands on his head and launches into a chorus of ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’. Absolutely bloody marvellous.