Dirk Bogarde, 1960
© Photographer Cornel Lucas; courtesy of the Cornel Lucas Estate

If it were ever possible to sense the way an actor felt about the films they were making simply by the way they used – or abused – their scripts, then those of Dirk Bogarde, held in BFI Special Collections, may well fit the bill. There are almost 40 of them, handsomely bound in red and tooled in gold. Bogarde proudly presented them to the BFI in 1970 – a grand testament to his body of work so far, when he had yet to embark on European arthouse adventures such as Death in Venice (1971) and The Night Porter (1974)

His fans may feel they know Bogarde well from his witty and entertaining volumes of published memoirs, but he was an intensely private man and it’s a miracle that the scripts still exist. The bulk of his manuscripts, journals and letters were consigned to “death by bonfire” in the 1980s – the ultimate act of control over his own posterity. It’s our good fortune that the scripts were gifted to safety before this mood of radical self-editing overtook him.

Perhaps Bogarde regarded the scripts as an unrevealing tool of his trade – no more than impressive shelf decoration. But, speaking from the perspective of an archivist, it’s not at all fanciful to feel Bogarde’s mood from their pages – a ghostly residue reflecting a whole range of emotional states, from hopeful enthusiasm, studious reverence, boredom or, in some cases, complete disdain.

Many of the scripts are annotated, or even rewritten, as Bogarde frequently tweaked poor dialogue. They’re populated with sketches of strange landscapes and figures – some skilfully drawn; others child-like doodles impatiently scribbled as a distraction. These are rarely connected to the scene itself. At other times, Bogarde appears to use his scripts simply as convenient scrap paper to jot down phone numbers or other things to remember.

Once a Jolly Swagman (1949)

Director: Jack Lee 

Pages from Dirk Bogarde’s copy of the script for Once a Jolly Swagman (1949)
© BFI National Archive

In 1949’s Once a Jolly Swagman, Bogarde was oddly cast as a mud-splattered speedway rider whose wife threatens to leave him if he doesn’t give up the sport. It’s more of a romantic drama than its US release title Maniacs on Wheels would suggest. A sensuous female nude in pin-up pose dominates an early page of Bogarde’s copy of the script.

Hunted (1952)

Director: Charles Crichton

Pages from Dirk Bogarde’s copy of the script for Hunted (1952)
© BFI National Archive

Despite the dark theme of this 1952 drama, there were happier times during this shoot. Bogarde plays a killer on the run with a six-year-old orphan (played by Jon Whiteley) who is also fleeing captivity. The two actors formed a special bond on and off the set, and Hunted was a project Bogarde remained very proud of. The title page of Bogarde’s script has a sensitive sketch in cerise ink of the Scottish location Portpatrick in Dumfries.

The Sea Shall Not Have Them (1954)

Director: Lewis Gilbert

Pages from Dirk Bogarde’s copy of the script for The Sea Shall Not Have Them (1955)
© BFI National Archive

Tempers frayed during the making of this Second World War survival drama. Bogarde had begun the project in genuine awe of co-star Michael Redgrave, and had expressed his happiness at the prospect of acting with him. But a curt rebuttal from the older man, “This is not acting; it is just reacting”, led to a frosty atmosphere. The two did not get on at all. The situation was made more awkward by the plot’s requirement to film long hours crammed in a dinghy waiting for rescue in the North Sea. Dominating a whole page of Bogarde’s copy of the script are furious doodlings of seemingly random images.

Doctor in the House (1954)

Director: Ralph Thomas

Pages from Dirk Bogarde’s copy of the script for Doctor in the House (1954)
© BFI National Archive

It seems incredible now that Bogarde had to be persuaded into the role of handsome medic Simon Sparrow. He felt it was a comedy in which everyone else had funnier lines. Yet Doctor in the House was an enormous hit, and Bogarde reprised the role four times. Bogarde’s copy of the script has very little annotation, other than jottings on what he was wearing.

The Spanish Gardener (1956)

Director: Philip Leacock

Pages from Dirk Bogarde’s copy of the script for The Spanish Gardener (1956)
© BFI National Archive

In The Spanish Gardener, Bogarde plays sensitive Spanish youth Jose, who tends a diplomat’s garden and forms a friendship with his over-protected son (Jon Whiteley again). Bogarde was irritated that Whiteley was now more the rebellious teenager than the adoring kid brother he had been in their earlier collaboration. It was not a happy film: Bogarde felt he was wrong in the role, and there were rumours of ‘unkind talk’ about him on set from the crew.  The strange, childish doodling shown here may not be in his hand, but his annotation on the adjoining page is certainly in the same light black ink.

Ill Met by Moonlight (1957)

Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Pages from Dirk Bogarde’s copy of the script for Ill Met by Moonlight (1957)
© BFI National Archive

A swashbuckling Second World War adventure set in Crete, Ill Met by Moonlight was a pleasant enough experience for Bogarde, but director Michael Powell found the actor’s air of detachment exasperating – no more than a “picture postcard hero in fancy dress”. Indeed, Bogarde’s script has a suitably un-thumbed quality, and certainly no indication of Powell’s direction being noted down. Its only embellishments are two pages where dried flowers have been attached – one from an olive tree.

Song Without End (1960)

Director: Charles Vidor

Song Without End (1960)
© BFI National Archive

Song Without End found Bogarde playing composer Franz Liszt in a Hollywood film with an enticing fee of $100,000 and the prospect of a career boost across the Atlantic. He embraced the gruelling three-week, 10-hour-day training at the piano and formed a deep and lasting rapport with his beautiful leading lady Capucine, yet the film was doomed. Bogarde described it as a “grinding and profoundly unhappy experience” and his script doesn’t seem to have been treated with any reverence. Pages of doodlings and phone numbers and notes suggest it was simply paper he had to hand.

The Angel Wore Red (1960)

Director: Nunnally Johnson

Pages from Dirk Bogarde’s copy of the script for The Angel Wore Red (1960)
© BFI National Archive

The Angel Wore Red sees Bogarde cast as a priest during the Spanish civil war (a part wisely rejected by Montgomery Clift), with Ava Gardner as leading lady. It was another film destined to sink without impact. Boredom on set waiting for good weather did, however, lead to this beautiful sketch in blue pencil.

Victim (1961)

Director: Basil Dearden 

Pages from Dirk Bogarde’s copy of the script for Victim (1961)
© BFI National Archive

Victim was a landmark film for Bogarde. Tackling the role of a young barrister being blackmailed for his homosexuality was an enormously brave and risky step. But he was totally committed and resolved to tease out every nuance from an already well-crafted screenplay. His own copy is filled with subtle rewrites to the dialogue, giving a sense that the script was valued and respected. No random doodling here – instead we get Bogarde’s own ‘emotional graph’, a handwritten chart plotting key scenes with corresponding levels of intensity required. This helped Bogarde remain focused during a production in which scenes were shot out of story order. He gave specific instructions for it to be included in the binding. Above all the other scripts in our collection, it’s the one for Victim that suggests Bogarde’s new seriousness as an actor.


A season celebrating Dirk Bogarde’s centenary runs at BFI Southbank in December 2021.