As the glistening rays of Spring time slowly start to brighten our days, and as the long and testing period of lent comes to an end, let us indulge in the works of a man who dedicated his life to the arts in their many forms, someone who should be an inspiration to all of us…Sir Dirk Bogarde.
Born 28th March 1921 in the then leafy suburbs of West Hampstead, actor, writer, artist and icon Dirk Bogarde was a man of many talents. Starring in 63 films and penning 15 books in his 78 years, it’s no wonder that this creative soul was to later be awarded such prestigious awards as Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1990) and Knight Bachelor (1992) for his contribution to the arts.
Best known for his big screen appearances in films such as Doctor in the House and Death in Venice, perhaps unbeknown to some, Dirk Bogarde was an avid writer. Be it in his letters, private diaries, novels or memoirs, his abilities as a writer can be seen as early as the age of fourteen.
Good writing is economical,…I try to keep it as simple, witty and civilized as possible.
…It is an astonishing thing to me to find that I am really not a bit happy unless I am writing. Even a letter will do,…
– Dirk Bogarde
Son to Ulric van den Bogaerde, art editor of The Times, and Margaret Niven, a former actress, could it be that the young Dirk Bogarde was destined to have a way with words? Undoubtedly encouraged by his surroundings Dirk’s love of writing was apparent from a very young age, and this passion was to be a driving force that stayed with him until his last days.
Dirk was educated at University College School, the former Allan Glen’s School in Glasgow and went on to study at the Chelsea College of Art and Design. It is during this time that he wrote the letters which would go onto tell the story of a boy with vivacious imagination and so much to say. At the age of 18 Dirk made his screen debut as an extra in Come on George! after auditioning at the Old Vic School. This flourishing theatrical career was sidelined when World War 2 broke out and Dirk joined the forces of the Queen’s Royal Regiment, reaching the rank of captain. Despite the change in surroundings Dirk continued to write, contributing news reports and essays to the daily newspaper whilst based in Java.
It was in 1947, with the war over and Dirk back home safely, albeit with the atrocities of war still fresh in his mind, he was able to continue his ascent onto the big screen, taking the male lead in Esther Waters just 12 months after his demobilization.
The next 30 years were devoted to cinema for the talented young actor as Dirk quickly rose to fame as the ‘matinée idol’ and worldwide heart-throb, and writing took a back seat in many respects. During this time Dirk was nominated 6 times for Best Actor by BAFTA, winning twice, for The Servant in 1963, and for Darling in 1965.
It wasn’t until 1974 that real signs of a revival of the writer in Dirk were seen, when Norah Smallwood, member of the board of Chatto and Windus saw Dirk being interviewed and commented that ‘if he writes as well as he talks, he might have a book in him’. A Postillion Struck by Lightning was published in March 1977, telling the tales of Dirk’s childhood and subsequent exile in Glasgow. Dirk’s debut into the literary world was an instant success, and was quickly followed by a second autobiographical work, Snakes and Ladders, which proved just as popular with readers.
In 21 years Dirk wrote a total of 15 books; a mixture of novels, autobiographies/memoirs, a collection of journalism and a collection of correspondence. It is a blessing that Dirk was such a successful creator of his own destiny and, following his heart, went on to write until he could do so no more.
Loved by so many for his ability to speak to the reader so vividly, to carry us away into his world and tug at our heartstrings with the emotive prose that seems to flow so easily from his fingertips. Let the words of his fans complete the story of Sir Dirk Bogarde’s literary craft:
In the cinema it was Dirk’s intelligence, his stillness, his ability seemingly to usher the audience through his eyes and into his mind, that made him stand out as an actor. In his writing it was his directness, his economy, his ear for dialogue, his sardonic humour. He wrote as if he was in the same room as the reader,…
Extract from the official website of the Dirk Bogarde Estate.
Dirk Bogarde was a revelation as a writer. He wrote, as he seemed to do everything in his career, with great charm and aplomb, and a self-deprecating edginess that couldn’t quite disguise the depth of his natural talent.
The thrill of reading these letters (and an extraordinary privilege it is to do so, when you think about it) is the uplifting stream of consciousness they contain. Many are to other famous people. Much of the detail is fascinating, fleshing out the back story to what has previously only been a public façade. There are private insights and confirmations that we can all share similar reactions to the world. In short, this is the kind of writing that reminds you what it’s all about: empathy and reaching out to communicate.
British novelist Deborah Lawrenson describes her feelings for Dirk Bogarde as a writer.
Dirk describes the illness and death of his long time friend and companion Forwood in such a way that you cannot fail to be moved to tears. The emotion in his writing is tangible, he had a big heart and a gift for drawing the reader in and holding them there with bated breath, until he delivers another sucker punch line that gets you right in the guts.
… Many of his wonderful books are on my shelves and deserve reading over and over again.
Bloomsbury Reader titles:
Novels by Dirk Bogarde:
Autobiographies and memoirs by Dirk Bogarde: