In 1976, Sir John was appearing on the New York stage in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land alongside Sir Ralph Richardson, and during this time he wrote a screenplay. The only person who knew about it was erotic filmmaker Peter de Rome, whom Gielgud penned the story for him to direct. The film was to be called Trouser Bar. Flash forward several decades, and de Rome mentions the script to David McGillivray, a popular writer, producer and playwright, most famous in the cult film world for penning films for Peter Walker in the 1970s such as House of Whipcord and Frightmare and for Norman J. Warren (Satan’s Slaves and Terror). As a close friend of de Rome, the revelation of the Gielgud script excited him greatly. Particularly due to the subject matter and tone.
It’s this content, however, that has meant the short film, which was completed last year following de Rome’s death, may never see the light of day. The John Gielgud Charitable Trust have taken umbrage with the subject matter of the legendary Knight’s work and forbidden it to be shown anywhere. Amusingly, the short features cameo appearances from Nigel Havers, Julian Clary and the legendary comic writer/personality Barry Cryer. We caught up with Mr McGillivray to find out more about Trouser Bar, and to try to get to the bottom of the Trust’s stubbornness in refusing to allow the film to be shown.
STARBURST: When you were made aware of the script, did you instantly think ‘this must be made’?
David McGillivray: I wanted right from the very start for Peter de Rome to make the film, but he was insistent that he didn’t want to get back behind the camera and I failed to persuade him. After he died, then I decided I had to. It was such an important script. And that’s why I’m in all the trouble I’m in now!
So how is the legal side going?
It changes week to week. I got another letter from them this week. They now head all their letters ‘not for publication or circulation’ so I can’t tell you what they’re about, but I was astounded when I read it. I contacted my lawyer, and she just responded ‘OMG! This is hilarious’. So she will be formulating a reply, I’ll see what response that gets, but this is obviously going to run and run. It’s a long term project and I see no light at the end of the tunnel at all.
It’s such a shame, as it’s a piece of writing from one of Britain’s most revered and important actors…
Plus he never wrote another script - he was never a dramatist. This is his only known screenplay and that is why it’s so important. He was a prolific writer, especially of letters. His collected letters, which I read constantly, form an enormous fat tome, but he only showed any interest this one time in 1976 in writing a film. It’s just happenstance that the film was never made. At that time Peter was very prolific, and I don’t know why he never made it.
It’s my interpretation that the John Gielgud Charitable Trust is trying to suppress the film. I haven’t got any proof of that; initially, they claimed it was a copyright issue. I don’t believe that’s true, because of what Ian Bradshaw said to the Daily Mail. As it’s a matter of public record, I can repeat that he found the whole project inappropriate. Now that suggests to me that they are trying to cover up a work by Sir John Gielgud, and I don’t understand that at all in this day and age. I don’t know why they would want to do that. I’ve made an offer; I’ll give the Trust a substantial donation in return for the rights to show this film, but at the moment, they’re not interested.
If I’d have known what was going to happen, I would still have done it. I believe in what I’m doing. I want people to see this film. I think that ultimately, it will be released, but I can’t tell you when.
It would be a shame for something so unique and important to never see the light of day…
The script could so easily have been lost, it was just chance that made Peter mention that Sir John Gielgud had written him a screenplay. When I saw it, I was absolutely astonished. But if Peter hadn’t have mentioned that, the script could easily have ended up in the dustbin. It’s a great honour for me to be able to make this film for Sir John and Peter.
The world sees homosexuality different these days, so it would also be a great chance for people to get - in a non-salacious way - a better insight into Sir John’s life and thoughts.
That’s my intention. That’s why people would be so interested in the film because we only really know Sir John as an actor. He was a very private person and he didn’t reveal anything about his private life until his letters were published posthumously. Here, though, is a film about what he truly loved, which was clothes. He had a clothes fetish; he was particularly interested in certainly materials. He makes it very clear in the film what he wanted the actors to do and what he wanted them to wear. It was something that was very important to him. Why shouldn’t this be shared with his millions of fans around the world?
Have you had any input from BFI?
The BFI has been very supportive to a degree. They are huge supporters of Peters; his films are now in their archive. I think they want this film made as much as I do.
Is it that the content of the film be considered too hardcore for the audience?
I’ve been very naughty up until now in always referring to Trouser Bar as Sir John Gielgud’s gay porn film. By the standards of the day (i.e. in 1976, when he wrote it), the film probably would have been regarded as porn, but it’s very much in keeping with the style of the softcore porn that was around in the mid-‘70s. At that time, probably, the softcore film industry was at its height and these were the sorts of films that Sir John Gielgud would have been seeing. He was very fond of pornography indeed, and he writes continually about going to cinemas in order to see porn films. So it was no accident that he came across Peter de Rome. He went to Peter’s parties, he saw Peter’s films and enjoyed them, and as a result of that, he wrote Pete the script.
So, the film is certainly made in that style. The director had a problem with that, he’s only made hardcore up until now and he found it difficult getting his head around the entire concept of softcore porn. I grew up with it, I wrote about it so I probably had more of an idea about what Sir John wanted than the director.
Sir John was a very funny man, indeed. His letters are very amusing and his sense of humour comes over in the film, I think. There are gags in it. It’s essentially an erotic fantasy, but it’s also a comedy, an art movie, it’s a lot of things. I think people are going to be absolutely fascinated by it, I think it’s completely unique. He didn’t indicate that he wanted unsimulated sex, so there’s no hardcore footage in this film, I hope that doesn’t disappoint some people.
Sir John appeared in Tinto Brass’ Caligula, of course, which was released with hardcore scenes in…
I reckon this is something else the Trust lawyers are finding very hard to cope with. The fact that he did appear in Caligula, but not only that, he loved it. There are 2 or 3 references with regard to Sir John telling people - for example, his co-star Malcolm McDowell - how much fun he was having on the film, because there were so many naked people on it; he was in his element. He was a cheeky old gentleman, and made no attempt to hide that amongst his personal circle of friends.
We shall keep STARBURST readers up to date with the trials and tribulations of getting Trouser Bar released as the story progresses.