John Gibson: Dinner with Oliver Reed

Oliver Reed pours a glass of wine. Picture: TSPL
Oliver Reed pours a glass of wine. Picture: TSPL
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WHEN the newly-shot grouse landed on our lunch table at Prestonfield House Oliver Reed salivated big style. Typically. “I’ll have that. Roasted.” First he’d plucked (ripped apart) the plumage.

“And the turtle soup with the sherry.” He’d been toying with a gin and tonic. He snapped, but politely, at the waiter: “Another bottle of Vosne Romanee.”

Reed, scoundrel and brutish with it, was in Edinburgh to brief me on his then latest film, Ken Russell’s The Devils, his orgiastic dalliance with naked nuns. He had been hounded by hordes of women ever since he famously wrestled Alan Bates on a carpet in Women in Love.

Credentials enough for me to dredge the Gibpress File, more so now that a biog on Reed has been published, What Fresh Lunacy Is This? by Robert Sellers.

Reed’s rantings at that feathery table: “I worked as a hotel porter when I was 17 and I was with the Royal Medical Corps in Malaya, so I can’t be shocked.

“When I came out of the Army I wanted to be a salesman but my father said I wouldn’t be able to sell a packet of crisps. I became a film extra and it happened from there. Cinema has been a total fantasy for me.

“I lie in late in the mornings. Why shouldn’t I? It’s a great luxury. I’m Burlington Bertie when I’m not working. I do things that everyone wants to do. You can only love one girl properly at one time, sleep in bed properly at one time and eat out properly at one time.

“Ken [Russell] takes people off the streets. I was the first professional actor he used. He’s a man of great colour. He writes with not enough punctuation, perhaps. His grammar is not perfect but neither was Dickens’.

“I’m single. I support a local cricket team and I go out on the booze.”

A sobering thought as we fled the table. Four empty bottles in his wake.