Our mutual interest in Afghanistan had brought us together - the us includes my partner, Ismail Merchant. Macrory had recently written a book, Signal Catastrophe, that described the disastrous retreat of British forces from Kabul in 1842, and the brand-new Merchant Ivory Productions had an idea to turn it into a movie. This was in 1966. God knows how we would have pulled off such an ambitious film. However, most authors are as optimistic and heedless of danger as young film-makers, so Macrory invited us to his house in Surrey for Sunday lunch. We brought along Felicity Kendal, whom the Macrorys had admired in Shakespeare Wallah.
The family consisted of himself, his wife, Elizabeth, and three sons: two grown-up, Patrick and Henry, and Richard, a student at Westminster School. A prospective daughter-inlaw was also on hand. The house was full of mementoes of Macrorys long gone, who had served in India and on the North-West Frontier. Eldred Pottinger, who had survived the 1842 rout, was an ancestor.
After lunch we took part in a Macrory family passion, the making of 8mm home movies. On that day we made two, one in the orchard which was a trial run for the famous retreat, with Felicity playing the feisty Lady Sales (later Vivien Leigh would be offered this part), and another one inside, called Revenants, in which I was cast as a vampire. The younger Macrorys edited these films, which were later on carried to New York to be viewed, where they caught in the projector and burnt up. Macrory was as enthusiastic about these games (he was also a magician and stalked ghosts) as his family, and when the tiny films melted he just laughed and began to plan new ones with his sons.
Signal Catastrophe was never made, but we talked seriously about it for years and tried to find financing. It would have been a very big production indeed, if we followed the historical record, for the numbers lost were enormous: 15,000 troops, camp followers, and women and children, plus a vast wagon train carrying all of the British outpost's possessions, including the pianoforte belonging to Lady Elphinstone, wife of the decrepit and indecisive commanding general.
Despite this disappointment our friendship with the Macrorys continued and Sir Patrick consented to become Chairman of the Board of Directors of the newly formed English company of Merchant Ivory. It was all about being introduced in those days if I remember, and we no doubt felt somewhat desperately that MIP needed a proper English gentleman for its chairman. We held our annual meetings of the board in the Palm Court of the Ritz Hotel and he and Lady Macrory would preside. We met at the Ritz because it was pleasant and because we could not afford office space. There were no profits to report, but neither were there the disasters he might have expected; we drank our tea, passed little pastries, and came away. When Richard, the youngest son, was old enough, he too joined the board, was made Secretary, and began keeping the minutes of these obligatory meetings.
Probably the biggest trial the Macrorys senior ever endured at the hands of Merchant Ivory was permitting themselves to be conned into being extras in A Room with a View (1986). Like all extras, they were called very early in the morning and took their turn in hair and make-up. But then, once dressed as garden party guests, they had to submit, again like everybody else, to the demoralising and ultimately degrading delays all extras face while waiting for their first shot to be taken. Macrory wrote these up in detail, a report no doubt like countless others he must have written as a director of the many other boards he sat on - a damning report of what looked to him to be shocking waste, mismanagement, and loss of worker morale. Meant to be something of a joke, his report had a sharp edge to it, and was a departure from the twinkling and ever-present affability we had always been used to.
Richard Macrory has now followed Sir Patrick as Merchant Ivory's Chairman - has inherited us, one might say. I am happy to state the son has also inherited his father's business acumen, taste for scholarship, and - dare I be so rash as to write this in 1993? - proper English gentlemanliness.Reuse content