How We Met: Bill Bryden and Angela Douglas
Sunday 14 August 1994
Angela Douglas, 52, began acting when she was 14, becoming famous for her appearances in the Carry On films. At 27, she married actor Kenneth More (then 47), who died in 1982. Now a journalist, she has published two books, including the autobiographical Swings and Roundabouts
ANGELADOUGLAS: When I met Bill, at a dinner party, it was six years after Kenny's death - into what I call my crisis time. In those days friends, anxious about me spending so much time alone, asked me out a lot. When you're a widow and you walk into a room, the room comes to you. People were absolutely wonderful to me.
My first impression was 'Trouble'. Bill seemed to be smoking himself away while engaged in non-stop dialogue. I remember thinking that he hardly stopped to draw breath. He was exhausting. I felt as though he was sucking up the oxygen in the room. For six months afterwards we tiptoed around each other with the odd phone call. He kept asking me out to see a movie, but I always lied and told him I was busy when I wasn't. I admit that he was often on my mind, but part of me was frightened.
Marsha Hunt, a mutual friend, rang from time to time and always managed to slip in Bill's name. She did a good selling job, telling me how talented and funny he was. I didn't know she was doing exactly the same kind of selling job about me to Bill.
My life carried on as usual, and I was commissioned to write a piece in America for the Sunday Telegraph. When it was published, Bill called and was very complimentary. I thanked him and then just put the phone down. When one of my friends heard what I'd done, she said: 'Bill's rung you and you're not even going on a date?' I called him back and we made arrangements to see each other.
He took me to see the dress rehearsal of Parsifal at Covent Garden. At 4am we were eating fried-egg sandwiches in my kitchen, when he said: 'You'd make somebody a wonderful wife, but I won't move until you ask me.' Nothing else was ever mentioned, but from that moment, six nights out of seven, he was on my doorstep, and there were two phone calls a day.
I was in love with Bill, but I didn't want to ask any questions. He had to do it all in his own time. He was divorced, and had two children. Having lost Kenny and experienced a despair beyond despair, I didn't want another relationship unless it was going to be serious. Bill needed time and space to open up. Eventually, we met each other's friends, and it was an enormous relief to watch him loosen up. When we first met he was like a stone, and the first time he said he loved me, it was if he was shrieking in rage. In 1988, 10 days before Christmas, he moved in with me.
Although we're not married, in many ways ours is a very conventional relationship. When we started living together, I realised just how much I'd missed having a real home-life. I run the house so that Bill has time for his work and to be creative. For both of us, work is our stimulus. Friends are always asking us when we're going to get married and Bill refers to me as his wife. Early on in our relationship I had a brief pregnancy, and, possibly, if I hadn't lost the baby, we might have married.
Bill travels a lot, which isn't a problem because I love my solitude. But our greatest pleasure is to be here, in the house alone, or to go to movies. We treasure our time together and almost never entertain.
Bill's smoking upsets me terribly. Losing your husband is indescribably lousy, and I couldn't go through all that again. I feel it's so irresponsible of him to smoke as much as he does. Sometimes I get so angry, I open all the windows and hang every bit of clothing in the garden. The other thing about him which drives me crazy is that he tends to procrastinate. Letters stay on Bill's desk unopened for three months. I'm the sort of person who deals with everything straight away. It's the same if I'm hurt or angry. I'm very immediate. Bill just implodes.
When Bill and I first met, I still had my mother. She was suffering from Alzheimer's disease but used to say that she didn't want to die until she'd seen me settled. In the summer of 1990, we had her to stay for a while. Despite her illness, she could see how happy we were, and I remember her saying to me: 'He's all man, Bill. He's got the lot. When's the wedding? You know I don't hold with long engagements.' When she died, Bill was wonderfully strong and supportive. I don't know what I'd have done without him. Halfway through your life, a relationship like ours is a wonderful bonus.
BILL BRYDEN: I met Angela six years ago at a dinner party, when I was going through my divorce. Socially, I was pretty much in the doldrums, and I was looking forward to spending what I knew would be a good evening with close friends. It never occurred to me that the invitation to dinner was a plot to get the two of us together.
Angela was wearing a blue dress and looked wonderful. I don't remember what we talked about, but I know I was immediately struck by her personality. She was vivacious, very funny and full of energy. I was aware of her as an actress from the Carry On movies which I'd seen, and I knew about her book, which had been a great success. The book really surprised me because I'd expected it to be one of those showbiz biographies - 'As Told To . . .' But it was uniquely written, deeply moving and highly emotional. Angela has a genuine talent for writing, but she's so modest that sometimes I don't think she believes in her own abilities.
The fact that she hasn't written another book is probably my fault, because she spends so much energy looking after me. Our meeting took place around the time I went freelance, and, professionally, it's been a golden time for me. Angela's always been there, encouraging me. If I'm working on a play or an opera, Angela puts me first. Although she has her own life, her own space, when it comes to work, she's much more committed to other people's success than to her own. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have any problem about Angela working, and perhaps if she was passionate about another project I would be less reliant on her. I think she sacrificed her own career to Kenny, which was wrong of him and wrong of her. It was a terrible waste of talent. I'd really love to see her in a good television series.
After that first dinner party, we phoned each other quite a lot, and then she went to Barbados with friends - something she used to do quite often. One day, she called me from there, which I thought was rather romantic. Since then, I've met the friends, but I've never seen Barbados.
Our first public outing wasto the Bafta awards in 1988. Our next date was the dress rehearsal of Parsifal, which I was directing at the Royal Opera House with Bernard Haitink. Talk about a baptism by fire. The production was five-and-a-half hours long, so it was inevitable that the dress rehearsal would turn into an all-day outing. But Angela appreciated the sheer scale and beauty of the project, and that was very important to me.
My closest friends tend to be colleagues from the theatre - a set designer, lighting designer and photographer. We've shared 30 years of work, so when we're together we behave like boys in a scout hut. We have a very specific male shorthand between us. If I was planning to share my life, it had to be with someone who could understand those friendships and how much they mean to me. Angela also has a close group of friends who are very important to her.
Before we met I used to spend a lot of time and energy boozing and talking late into the night about projects and plans. In this business far too many of us waste enormous parts of our lives discussing things which will probably never get done. I suppose that the fact that I don't do that half so much now has a lot to do with having made a commitment to Angela, and having a home I actually want to go back to.
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