An Interview with Actress Anneke Wills
1960s, if you watched British TV or saw British films, you could not escape the
presence of Anneke Wills. The beautiful,
appealing actress the camera loved turned up on almost every major series of
the decade (especially DOCTOR WHO
and THE AVENGERS) wrapping up the
decade with her own action series, STRANGE
REPORT. Now, a brief-series she
started the decade with is finally arriving on DVD in the U.K., THE STRANGE WORLD OF GURNEY SLADE and we caught up with her to find
out about this unique, surreal series and much, much more…
are from the staff of FulvueDrive-in.com)
THE STRANGE WORLD OF GURNEY SLADE is a series from 1960 with
Anthony Newley finally seeing the light of day on DVD and for maybe the first
time since its original broadcast. The
show about the title character leaving his TV show and going to the outside
world, only to find it is a surreal version of ours was designed to only run
six episodes. What do you remember about
First memory most of all, was of meeting Tony out on an airfield,
picking flowers, and cast as his fantasy girl. And of course I fell in love
with him! What can you do??
show is like the original TWILIGHT ZONE,
yet is also a bit more of a comedy, including sending up the arrival of TV at
the time (the way a film like SIMON
& LAURA did). How do you see the
It feels wonderful that now it is being placed in the wheel of
British humour. Before GURNEY SLADE,
we had THE GOONS, and this was massive, and had a massive effect on the
conscious of British humour. It was much easier to be surreal on the radio up
to that point. Tony was one of the first to express himself visually on telly.
Up to this point, we haven’t seen talking dogs, or conversations with stones or
indeed, ants. Don’t forget, the psychedelic hasn’t yet occurred.
you see a larger cycle of TV being spoofed like this at the time?
No, this was unique.
was working with Mr. Newley like?
Divine darling; so talented, and mesmerizing, when he smiled, the
whole world lit up.
have worked in many great TV genres shows as well as some interesting feature
films in a golden period for British film and TV production. Please tell us about what that was like?
At the time, how exciting as a young actress to be in such iconic
series as THE SAINT, THE AVENGERS, and working with some of
the best directors and talented actors. At the time, we had programs like PLAYS OF THE WEEK, and it basically
consisted of one and a half hour long dramas, one a week, created by the best
writers, best directors, the best of actors, and it’s NEVER been the same since
and we never have the same again. I was so lucky to be in many of them. One of
the best plays is called The Primitive
and sadly, all of them are lost. So much of my career is actually in the trash
is terrible how many British TV shows have simply been trashed instead of
stored, though we have had incidents in the U.S. where many taped shows were
lost because the cassettes were so expensive that the networks used them over
and over until they wore out as on our THE
TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON. Charles
Lloyd Pack was an alumnus of SLADE that worked on about seven episodes of STRANGE REPORT. Tell us more about him.
He is the father of my friend Roger Lloyd Pack (Trigger from ONLY FOOLS & HORSES), who at the
time I hadn’t yet met. But working with Charlie was a treat because he was one
of the old-school gentlemen who had trod the board for many years. And one of
the silly memories I have of Charlie, he used to always hum a little tune
during the endless waiting during filming, it goes like this “flippety flop,
they’re over the top, and they’re all after me…!” it always made me laugh
though of course, it’s actually about the trenches of the First World War.
Lloyd Pack (the father of the also very talented Emily Lloyd of A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT with Brad Pitt)
was recently in the highly underrated and underseen MADE IN DAGENHAM and Network U.K. just released his great lost spy
series SPYDER’S WEB in DVD (reviewed
elsewhere on this site) from Network U.K. DVD.
You recently participated in THE AVENGERS 50TH ANNIVERSARY
CELEBRATION at the University
of Chichester last June
2011. Tell us about how much fun that
Measure fun from 1-10, it scores 11. Such a gathering of old faces
and reunions. Honor Blackman and Linda Thorson looking beautiful; lovely Baron
Ray Austin telling great stories, and Paul O’Grady was interviewing and did the
charity auction, which raised a lot of money. The filmed interview with Patrick
Macnee was very moving. At the end, Paul O’Grady flew away in his helicopter
and the Chichester University who had planned the whole event, repaired to the
bar and a grand night was had by all… We none of us wanted to come down for a
know you had to see some of your DOCTOR WHO
episodes reconstructed due to loss of videotape footage, but other works of
yours (THE PLEASURE GIRLS) are now
on Blu-ray, slowly coming out on Blu-ray (STRANGE
REPORT) or (THE AVENGERS, THE SAINT, THE SENTIMENTAL AGENT) seem to be heading there. How does it feel to see your work being
preserved in the digital High Definition era?
Wonderful! And thank you very much! Hurrah for Network [U.K. Home
Video], because without these wonderful companies preserving the past series,
then they too would be lost in the midst of time. And what a wonderful job
they’ve done in the cleaning up of the original.
it difficult to transition between William Hartnell's Doctor and
Patrick Troughton's on DOCTOR WHO?
No it wasn’t difficult, because the weeks leading up to Will
Hartnell leaving, was fraught. So when Patrick Troughton walked into the
rehearsal room in his little grey cardigan and his Greek bag, a great cheer
went up because we knew that the series would now really take off. He was the
absolute, perfect person to do the first re-generation because he was so
lovable, the audiences couldn’t but accept him as the new Doctor.
10) Do you feel like the hundreds of stories and
many years worth of
continuity hamper or help the current series of DOCTOR WHO?
In my travels around “WHO world”, meeting up with all the new and
old fans, it’s the new fans that actually really love the old series! When I
ask them why this is, “because they have good stories!” And it was the loyal Dr. WHO fans who kept the magic alive
during those dark times, when there was no Dr.
WHO. So now most of us have launched ourselves happily into the new and
exciting series. Don’t get me on David Tennant!!!
11) A new toy company called BifBangPow! just
licensed the rights to the entire DOCTOR
WHO series and have the rights to make any character into an 8” action
figure (Palitoy/Mego did this in the U.K. in the 1970s for the Tom Baker
shows in 9” form) including yours, Polly Wright. How does it feel that your WHO character may
soon be produced as an action figure?
I LOVE IT!! Send me one!
12) If they create one, we’ll let you know and
tell the company about it since they are doing some great licensing. Please tell us what it was like to work on THE SENTIMENTAL AGENT, the interesting,
short-lived spin-off of the British series MAN
OF THE WORLD?
I haven’t seen it since I worked on it, but Network is going to
send me some! But what I do remember was that my character, was a Jazz Xylophone
player. So as my preparation for the role, I took myself off to Humphrey
Lyttleton’s jazz club in Soho and got together with Tubby Hayes, and he showed
me how to do the movements so that it would be authentic (in retrospect, how
CHEEKY was that! To go to the best jazz xylophonist in the world, and ask him
to help me; the cheek of youth)!
the link to our review of the Network U.K. DVD set of the series:
13) You said in an interview that is was fun to
work with Roger Moore on THE SAINT
in “The Helpful Pirate” episode along
with Vladek Sheybal and Ray Austin? What
were they like to work with?
I had seen Vladek Sheybal in an extraordinarily disturbing film,
and he was a luminous actor, so it was an honour to work with him. And Roger
Moore, was one of those wonderful, British gentleman with intelligence, good
looks and a wonderful sense of humour which had the whole studio chuckling and
made working with him a total. And that was the first time I met Ray Austin.
14) You did two very different AVENGERS years apart? Did you know your later work in “The 50,000 Pound Breakfast” was a remake
of an earlier show?
No I didn’t. Who played my part then? Curious, how curious…
15) That 1962 Second Season episode is called Death Of A Great Dane and apparently,
there is no equivalent to your role in the earlier version, so the great Roger
Marshall slightly shook up the older teleplay he co-wrote with Jeremy Scott and
there you were. I read you enjoyed
working with Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman.
Any more on them? What about working
with Diana Rigg on the later show?
These people were so professional, so you up your game and that
produces a special energy, and of course, the lovely Leonard Rossiter in Dressed to Kill [a 1963 episode of the
series]; I was aware of Diana Rigg’s works and it was a fabulous experience
playing a scene with such a shining actress.
16) The earlier show was done live, the later shot
in 35mm color film. Were there more or
less differences than you expected?
Working in the 50s, I was used to doing things live, so that
presented no problems. And filming simply felt rather luxurious, although the
waiting around could be boring.
17) Are there any TV shows or feature films you
turned down that would surprise us, including once you left the business?
As far as I remember, I didn’t turn anything down, always grateful
to have the work. Once I have made the decision to go to the country and grow
vegetables, I stubbornly refused to return to London to work on anything else
again. No regrets, life goes on.
18) Were you ever approached to do a Bond film?
No because I didn’t have the tits! Producers couldn’t imagine that
you could be sexy and NOT hugely endowed.
19) But the camera loves you and you always looked
great! On STRANGE REPORT, tell us about how much you enjoyed the show and
working with both Anthony Quayle and Kaz Garas?
We became a family in the end; and because it was months of very
hard work but of course, very rewarding and once again, to be working with such
talented directors and actors. Really nice for me to be treated at last like a
star, I had my own suite of dressing room, a stand-in, a chair with my name on
it (but being me, I had written “and anyone else who liked a bit of a sit
down”). Kaz Garas was a cutie pie and I was so lucky that many of my scenes
were with Tony Quayle, once again, one of our very best and such a sweetheart…
it’s the same story, Roger Moore, Pat Macnee, Patrick Troughton, Anthony
Quayle, all English gentlemen, with beauty and talent and intelligence. And my
husband was jealous of everyone!
REPORT is considered one of many shows that was said to be in the mode of THE AVENGERS. To what extent do you agree?
It never occurred to me, in fact I don’t see the similarities at
all, watch them again!
21) We will!
Believe it or not, the show is still not available on DVD or Blu-ray in
market. It is commonly suggested all the
action series” of the time were inspired and influenced by THE AVENGERS, with the similarity in this case being unusual
cases. I understand all three leads of your
show STRANGE REPORT decided they did
not want to continue the show if they had to move to the U.S., which I think killed what
would have been a big hit. Are there any
scripts you saw that you never shot?
No… we completed that group of episodes and then Tony and I were
asked, would we be prepared to move with the show to L.A.
and make the next 26 episodes from Hollywood.
And searching souls, we both came up with a no. He wanted to spend time with
his wife, go down the canals of France in his boat; I didn’t think I could hold
onto my marriage if I was work in Hollywood. And my children were more
important to me at that time. So though we knew that this was devastating to
the producers, we nevertheless stayed with our truth. So sorry folks.
22) On the Retro-ACTION Blu-ray and the RETURN OF THE SAINT DVD box set, the STRANGE REPORT episode “Kidnap: Whose Pretty Girl Are You?” was
used to show how good the show was in both cases. Is this a favorite episode of yours?
Each episode was fun to do for different reasons, unless being
nearly poisoned by a witch!
23) You have written books about your professional
and personal life. Please tell us about
them so people can find out even more beyond our interview.
In 2003, I was persuaded by the WHO fans to tell my story. So on
January 1st 2003, I sharpened my pencil, lit my candle and I went
back to the very beginning to find the early voice. It was quite an experience.
I found that memories came flooding back that’s long since forgotten. And later
on to write about the painful things was hard but necessary to tell the tale.
For me personally, it’s been a really rewarding thing to do, and to share the
journey of my life with so many people has been nothing short of an immense
gift, for which I am very grateful.
SELF-PORTRAIT is the story of the
60s, and NAKED brings us up to now
with all the tragedies and comedies in between. Get on the website, have a
look, order it all quick because they’re going out of print!
Thank you very much everyone, I send you lots of love from my
little cottage from deep in the woods of South England, and I wish you all the
you as well and appreciate answering our questions!!!
visit Miss Wills' website at this link:
read more about the new release of THE
STRANGE WORLD OF GURNEY SLADE at this link: