John Gibson: Poppin back home for a chatty chatty

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You could never, but never, have cast Dick Van Dyke as a baddie. Even before we met in Edinburgh, where he was on vacation, even before your could utter a chitty chitty without the bangs, it was, truly, my pleasure to meet him face to face.

Years ago and today, from the Gibsonfile, I’m recalling fragments of our conversation. He was prepared to retire then.

“Every three years or so Marjorie and I get homesick for Britain. That’s why we’re here. We sailed over in the ‘France’. I’ll tell you something . . . I’m lazy. I believe in doing things you enjoy doing.

“Comedy isn’t work for me. I’ll maybe do another two years of this series, then retire. Finally. There are lots of things I’d like to do. I’m teaching myself to play Bach on piano. There are a lot of books I’d like to read.

“I’ve discovered my ranch has Indian diggings dating back a thousand years. We have 180 acres, so I’ve 20 years of archeology ahead!”

I wondered if he’d seen his Mary Poppins playmate, Julie Andrews, lately. “Not for some time but we very nearly did a film version of ‘The Fourposter’ which had been a Broadway success. The idea was dropped when a string of Hollywood musicals went down the toilets, as we say.”

Dick and his wife had brought their nine-year-old daughter Carrie Beth with them on this holiday. They had a 20-year-old son who was a production assistant in his father’s latest series and 21-year-old married son.

The marriage had, then, survived in the jungle for close on quarter of a century. “We’ve known each other since we were 15. We’re both from the same small town in Illinois.

“I can only talk for our own marriage and I’ve got news for the columnists . . . it’s getting better all the time.”