In a private screening room in the basement of his spectacular riverside home in London's docklands he would watch old Chaplin and other black and white films but never modern films, which he held in low esteem. He worked unceasingly on new screenplays and held court to a stream of admirers including Steven Spielberg.
Insights into the last years of the film director who died in 1991 came yesterday when his house was put on the market for pounds 3m. The striking four-floor building with balconies and terraces on all levels cost Sir David pounds 6m to convert from four derelict warehouses in Narrow Street, Limehouse, close to the home of Lord Owen.
Sir David Lean's solicitor and executor Tony Reeves told how the film director supervised the architects as if he were on a film set, instructing them to make him mock ups. He planned the beautiful 120ft walled garden himself and cleared the stones to make a private beach by the Thames.
He was, said Mr Reeves, 'totally unworldly. When I met him just over 10 years ago when he was already in his seventies I had to teach him how to use the telephone. He thought you just picked it up and spoke. He never opened his post and wondered why royalty cheques didn't reach him.'
The house was a typically theatrical gesture by Lean, not just in the vistas of the river from most rooms and the expansive terraces, but in his belief that he was, according to his solicitor, 'building for posterity'. Lean wanted it to be an architectural delight the nation would appreciate.
The house is almost invisible from the street, with the frontage looking very nondescript. Inside, the choice of building materials and design, with stone walls and old timbers, give a distinctive character.
All the rooms had ornate and often overwhelmingly large arrangements when Lean lived there with his fifth wife.
Mr Reeves also told how Sir David immersed himself in film, spending all day working on a screenplay for Conrad's Nostromo, first with Christopher Hampton and later with Sir Robert Bolt. The film was six weeks away from shooting when Lean died.
Savills, who are selling the house, believe it will be attractive to someone in the arts or media.
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