Well Met By Sunlight

This is from an excellent website devoted to Powell and Pressburger the producers of Ill Met by Moonlight, and recalls the  Fielding’s first meeting with Dirk Bogarde.

By Daphne Fielding (wife of Technical Advisor and SOE agent on Crete, Xan Fielding)
From her book  The Nearest Way Home (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970)

Daphne writes in her chapter, “Well Met by Sunlight”…

Xan and Daphne Fielding with Dirk Bogarde

Long before leaving England, long before our journey along the Barbary Coast, long before our marriage in fact, Xan had been asked by the film director Michael Powell to act as technical adviser on the production of Ill Met by Moonlight, the story of the abduction of the German General Kreipe by Paddy Leigh Fermor in enemy-occupied Crete. Afterwards the project had been postponed until Xan had almost forgotten it. Now, five years later, he was summoned by telegram to the south of France where work on the film was due to begin in a few days’ time.

… Xan agreed to take Salote [one of their dogs] with him, leaving me to follow with Sunflower [the other dog] as soon as I had arranged with a newspaper to write a series of articles on the making of the film, which would give me a valid reason for joining the unit.

Xan wrote to me a few days later from Nice to say that in spite of the urgency of his summons there was no sign of Michael Powell or of any film unit in the vicinity. Meanwhile he was enjoying the luxury of the Hotel Negresco, where rooms had been booked for him …

I arrived just in time. On the very next morning a car turned up at the Negresco to take us to Draguignan, which had been chosen as the unit headquarters. Here we learnt that the actor cast for the role of Paddy was Dirk Bogarde. He was not staying at Draguignan, however–there was no proper place for a star in a little market town already overcrowded with the production staff, camera crews, sound engineers … but in St. Raphael, on the coast, where Xan was to meet him before shooting started.

Though I looked forward to meeting him too, I was rather nervous about it, for in spite of my newspaper commission I still felt like an interloper. I was almost relieved when our repeated attempts to reach him were in vain: Mr. Bogarde was busy, had just gone out, was not available. Eventually, in the bar of his hotel, we ran to earth his manager Tony Forwood, whose blue eyes sized us up in a wary glance, then suddenly twinkled. “So you’re the Fieldings, are you?” he said. “Dirk’s upstairs in his room. I’ll go and fetch him.”

When he reappeared with him a few minutes late they both seemed to be enjoying some private joke, which added to my confusion, especially as I happened at that moment to be trying to extricate myself from the dogs’ leads which had wound themselves round my legs. Dirk’s smile turned to a broad grin as he watched my antics. “Just how many legs have you got?” he asked.

After the ice was broken, at ease with him, I said, “You seemed to be avoiding us on purpose.”

“I was”, he admitted. “Mickey had told me about Xan’s war record and I’d conjured up a dreadful picture of you both — ‘The Major and his Wife’, a sort of Osbert Lancaster cartoon. I couldn’t bear the idea of meeting you. If it hadn’t been for Tony …”

… “Yes”, said Tony. “I told him Xan didn’t have a clipped moustache and you weren’t wearing a regimental brooch, so we took the plunge.”

“Anyway, now we’re met”, Dirk concluded.

“Well Met by Sunlight”, I said to myself.

Two days later, after the cast had assembled, there was a final reading of the script followed by a wardrobe meeting. Though some of the costumes did not meet with Xan’s approval — “they look more Ruritanian than Cretan”, I heard him complain — Dirk at least could not have been dressed more authentically, for I lent him my Cretan guerrilla’s cloak, and Xan had brought with him a black silk headkerchief which had been part of his own wartime disguise and which he now taught Dirk to bind over his brow in the proper Cretan fashion.

Dirk was rather alarmed by this unfamiliar headgear. “What on earth do I look like?” he asked.

“The genuine article”, Xan truthfully assured him. “Very dashing. Just like Paddy.”

Next morning the whole unit was up before dawn, ready to move off for the first day’s shooting and, as the sun rose, the long convoy of char-a-bancs, headed by the director’s yellow Land Rover, was on its way to the chosen location up in the hills.

I had been slightly worried about my unofficial position. Was I entitled to a seat on one of the buses? And was about Sunflower and Salote [her dogs]? With characteristic thoughtfulness, Dirk solved the problem for me. “There’s plenty of room in my car”, he said, “for you and Xan and the two dogs. I’ll call for you.” And so we set off, in undeservedly grand style, in the star’s Bentley.

This was to be our daily programme for several weeks and I never tired of it … The locations had of course been chosen for their suitability, but to me they seemed to have been specially selected for their beauty and variety …

It was also fascinating to watch the various members of the cast at such close quarters, to see each one’s interpretation of his role. For the first time I realised what an exacting and exhausting job film-acting must be, especially for anyone as meticulous as Dirk Bogarde. Before each take he would sit by himself, so withdrawn that his nervous tension was contagious. Throughout working hours he remained apart and abstracted, hardly reverting to his own character even when off the set. But once the strain was over — during the luncheon break, for instance, or when packing up for the day — he resumed his normal personality and the relief from his intense concentration would lead to an outburst of high spirits and gaiety which usually took the form of teasing me.

Knowing that I was in awe of the director, and knowing too that shyness makes me clumsier than usual, he would score off me by suddenly saying, “Look out, Daphne, those dogs of yours are eating Mickey’s sandwiches”, or, “I didn’t like to tell you at the time, but during that last take one of your six legs was almost in shot.” I became so apprehensive lest Salote or Sunflower, or indeed myself, might unconsciously stray within the range of the camera … I took exaggerated measures of precaution … and would almost take to my heels at the sight of Michael Powell for fear of a reprimand.

During the last stages of the production we all moved from Draguignan up to Peira Cava, a skiing resort close to the Italian border, and here Paddy Leigh Fermor joined us for a few days.

Paddy’s impending visit had been dreaded by Dirk as much as the prospect of meeting Xan and me. I sympathised with him, realising how awkward it must be for an actor to play a living character when that character is watching him at it. Xan tried to reassure him:

“Don’t worry, Paddy’s not a typical army officer or guerilla leader. He’s not a typical anything, he’s himself, a romantic figure, in the Byron tradition. Very erudite, a sort of Gypsy Scholar, with an inexhaustible fund of incidental knowledge. He can talk to you for hours about hagiography or heraldry or …”

“He sounds too damned intellectual for me.”

But Paddy’s charm and adroitness immediately overcame Dirk’s prejudices, in spite of an incident on the night of his arrival which might have affected their future friendship.

One of Paddy’s wartime henchmen, Ciahali Akoumianakis, who had played a leading part in the abduction of the general, was also attached to the unit as a technical adviser and had brought with him from Crete a demijohn of tsikoudia, the potent local spirit, which he had been saving for just such as occasion as this. “We’ll have a proper Cretan glendi”, he said but, since no other member of the unit would touch the stuff, it remained for Paddy, Xan and myself to help him celebrate in the appropriate fashion — with some trepidation on my part, for I knew from personal experience that a glendi involves a great deal of noisy singing and dancing and is likely to last all night.

By midnight, long after everyone else in the hotel had gone to bed, the tsikoudia was beginning to take effect, and Paddy and Xan had broken into song. Soon the bar, empty but for the four of us, was resounding with matinades punctuated by the thump of feet performing the pentozali.

“Please stop it”, I begged them. “You’re keeping everyone awake.”

“But we’ve only just begun”, they objected, “and the bottle’s still half-full.”

“In that case I’m going to bed”, I announced, foreseeing, as I fled, an irate Michael Powell appearing in the bar like Christ in the temple.

Even from upstairs the sound of revelry, though not quite so deafening, continued for some time, unabated. I was on the point of going back to make one last attempt at stopping it, when it came to an end. A few minutes later Xan stumbled in.

“Dirk came down”, he announced.

“No wonder. Was he furious?”

“He looked a bit angry. But all he said was, ‘Some people have to work in the morning and want to get to sleep.’ He’s right of course. I don’t blame him. Anyway, Paddy and I have just slipped a note under his door to say we’re sorry.”

In the morning Dirk did not even mention the matter, nor did anyone else in the unit. But Paddy did. At breakfast he casually remarked to Michael Powell: “Who the devil was making that fiendish din last night? I couldn’t sleep a wink.”

Such frivolity and exuberance endeared him to everyone, though these qualities did not accord with the preconceived idea of him which some members of the unit had formed. “I just can’t see him capturing a German general”, Dirk’s dresser said. “He’s not the strong, silent type at all.”

“What about Major Fielding?” Dirk asked.

“Major Field? Oh, yes. He looks like a f…..g little killer.”

Whether this was meant as a compliment or not, from then on Xan was referred to on the set as F.L.K.

[At the conclusion of the film, the Fieldings drove with Dirk to Paris to catch a flight and en route stayed in the Hermitage in Digne “one of Dirk’s favourite hotels in France.”]

For Xan, however, Digne had other associations. It was here, while working as a secret agent during the occupation, that he had been arrested by the Gestapo and sentenced to death. In fact the house in which he had been imprisoned was next door and we could see it from our bedroom window. Dirk was extremely upset when Xan mentioned this to him over dinner.

“You should have told me at once”, he said. “We could easily have stayed somewhere else. We’ll move out now if you like, it must be horrid for you …’

“Not at all”, Xan told him. “I don’t mind a bit. In fact I’m glad to be back here in such different circumstances. After all this time. Twelve years … Good heavens, it’s twelve years exactly, to the very day!”

“This calls for a bottle of champagne”, said Dirk.

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4 thoughts on “Well Met By Sunlight

  1. Pingback: PADDY:AN ADVENTURE by ARTEMIS COOPER | PIECES OF ME

  2. Pingback: PADDY:AN ADVENTURE by ARTEMIS COOPER | PLANET CLARE

  3. Pingback: WESTOWN GIRL

  4. Pingback: Sir Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor (1915 – 2011) | Quixotando

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