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“I WASN’T THE KIND OF CHICK THEY KNEW”

Broncrop Satire starlet Eleanor Bron’s first real film role was opposite “some strange pop group with funny haircuts”. Subsequently, she stepped out to dinner with John Lennon and remained impressed by The Beatles ever after. In the week of Help!’s reissue on DVD, she treats MOJO’s Danny Eccleston with her memories…

Click MORE for the full-on “Bron”…

What do you remember of the process of being drawn into Help!?

I had just come back from working in America for over a year with The Establishment, Peter Cook’s satirical nightclub. We did an exchange with a Chicago group called The Second City, then we were taken to New York to do a stint at The Strollers Club where we were visited by all sorts of people: Jackie Kennedy and Dizzy Gillespie and all those people. Those who didn’t come for the satire, came for the jazz.

I’d done the pilot for That Was The Week That Was and then left for America, so none of The Establishment people were in TW3. When I came back we did [Another David Frost-presented, Ned Sherrin-produced TV satire] Not So Much A Programme, More A Way Of Life, which was different because it was three days a week live – I’ve never known anything so terrifying. That’s where [Help! director] Dick Lester saw me.

Anyway, when we came back there were photographs in the papers of some strange pop group with funny haircuts. But we didn’t know who they were because we hadn’t been here.

You’d been culturally insulated.

Insulated. Exactly.

How did The Beatles strike you initially, when you started working with them?

Well, there was a different ethos in those days regarding girls and boys. I was a kind of a “chick”, I think. It was my first film, so I was very bewildered by the whole process. Dick had to tell me to stop blinking because every time he said, “Action”, I blinked. I had to cure myself of that.

So anyway, there were four of them and it was rather daunting to be quite honest. I was, and still am, quite shy and they kind of moved as a mass really. But I did have a chance to observe how appallingly they were treated by people who should have known better – people who sort of looked down on them.

Oh really? Meaning who?

In the Bahamas for instance [where Help! was partly filmed], people old enough to be their parents would come up and be very rude to them actually. Taunting and dismissive. And it did bring on some bad behaviour. They would rise to the occasion and give as good as they got – or better. People resented them actually. They resented these young whippersnappers being made such a fuss of.

You mean the establishment felt that these young working class boys weren’t allowed to rise in this fashion, and they would try to find a way to put them in their place?

That’s right, yes.

But did you also feel a kind of kinship with them in terms of being part of the satire wave? They seemed so simpatico in a way with that.

No, no, not at all

Really?

No, there was no possibility of kinship with them because you know they were chaps and I was a chick, and I wasn’t even the kind of chick that they knew. I mean they were very nice, I’m just saying that a kinship would not be the word to describe it. I admired them increasingly afterwards because I was immensely impressed by the fact that they kept on wanting to learn new things. The whole thing about going to India – for which they were much derided – seemed to be part of the not settling down and giving in to the things that surrounded them which were so awful. They were constantly surrounded by screaming girls and security and so on. It’s no way to live.

You mentioned what a maelstrom it was around the Beatles in ’65. How did that affect you in terms of being on set? Dick Lester told me that he felt that the press treated you especially poorly.

Well I wasn’t really aware of how the press usually behave. I didn’t feel it in cosmic terms in those days - I wasn’t able to put it in any context. You became like someone who had touched gold in the sense that you had been in The Beatles’ presence. The press tried to whip up stories a bit. There was one famous photograph in the Daily Mail of a girl in a bikini with Paul. The implication was that it was me.

Did you hang out with the Beatles much? In the evening or anything?

I think John took me out to dinner one evening, which was very nice of him. We didn’t hang out a great deal, no; as I say, I was very “un-clued up”. I wasn’t in that world. I think that John had this thing where he always wanted to learn. He was attracted to women who knew more than he did or who were older whom he thought he could learn from.

What was dinner like with John Lennon in 1965? Were you both in disguise?

No, someone had done research for him and we went to a tiny little restaurant where he was only just not recognised. But at other times, like leaving the studio, girls would throw themselves in front of the car and scream and scrabble against the windows with tears streaming down their face. It’s no way to live really. Its also a tremendous thing to cope with. They were very young. I was very young.

What did you think of them as actors?

Well that was the other thing that impressed me. They were not very accomplished – I wasn’t very accomplished either! – but they wanted to learn. They wanted to do it properly and I thought that was very impressive. They had no need to. They could just have pretended that they were terrific but they never did that. They made a joke of it but they were serious actually. They tried very hard and did something that is very hard to do - which is to translate your personal way of being onto the stage. They were actually very true to their personalities.

Their version of cool is very prominent, I think. They are to the side of events, commenting upon themselves being in this film at the same time as being in this film.

Yes, yes, absolutely. That’s very true. And that’s not all that easy to do.

One of the first scenes is you and Ringo leaping into the sea – which was probably a kind of film baptism for you both, because I’m not sure either of you swam…

No, I swim, but I was wearing a black cloak and as soon as I dove in the cloak came up and covered my head so I couldn’t see anything. It was really quite alarming.

But Ringo was quite game until finally he pointed out that he couldn’t swim.

Yes, well he did try to please I think. He was very jokey and probably quite shy. Paul was the most socially adept but they were all very nice. They didn’t know what to make of me I think and I didn’t know what to make of them.

Paul was the most socially adept? In what respect?

Well he would make an effort to be kind of…

Friendly?

Well I’m talking from my own utterly middle-class usage. He would make an effort at conversation. Sometimes the others didn’t. Perhaps they found me rather alarming (laughs).

Did you have any interaction with the Beatles after the premiere? Have you bumped into them over the years?

I bumped into Paul. I went to Los Angeles and I went to a party that they were having but I didn’t really keep in touch with them. It became impossible to. That’s what happens with people, it just becomes very difficult to get through. I didn’t really make that much effort and nor did they - they were very busy. I was quite busy too.

How did you feel about the finished film?

Well I’ve always thought it was kind of wonderful actually. Again I was tremendously impressed with Dick and everyone because they didn’t just set out to do the same thing that they had done before with A Hard Days Night. It had made a lot of money, it was very popular, but they didn’t just try and do the same again.

It was a great British comic ensemble: with Victor Spinetti and Roy Kinnear and John Bluthal…

Oh, wonderful! And the other thing is that The Beatles adored them! They just thought that Victor and Roy, quite rightly, were simply wonderful. They loved them for what they could do and for their experience and for their knowledge of the business. That was a great quality. That is not often mentioned and it is part of their greatness. They didn’t want to just stand still and bask. They were really keen to find out and move on.

Enjoy Eleanor’s deadpan demeanour opposite the Beatles as they deliver You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away…

Posted by Danny Eccleston at 05:28PM | Categories: Interviews