An interview with Patricia Roc conducted in May 2000 by H Jaremko
© 2000, 2001 H.Jaremko /
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In May 2000, I achieved one of my long time ambitions of being able to talk to Patricia Roc about her career in films and her life. I am very indebted to her for having given me the time to conduct this interview and question her on aspects of her life about which so little is known from remaining literature and books. She was fascinating to listen to and every bit remains the star she always was.

My apologies to all for the length of time it is taken to get this interview up but unfortunately other commitments and a change of career direction have kept me pretty busy in recent times. Happily I have finally found some time to devote to this non profit but nevertheless very important venture (I feel). As the interview was quite long it shall appear on the website in installments as I find time to edit and tidy up my transcript. The original interview was audio taped and transferred to text. I then edited the text to result in the pages you see here.

Initials are used to signify who is talking (PR = Patricia Roc, HJ = me).

HJ: Could we start with your childhood? It's an area that seems neglected in the biographies I've seen.

PR: Well it was just a very normal childhood. I loved school, I didn't mind boarding school at all. I was very happy about it. I was sent to boarding school because it was just the thing to do... I mean I was in Francis Holland School in Regents Park in London to start with until I was fourteen and then I wanted to go to boarding school. My sister was there too you know and I loved it. I became head girl and thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn't want to leave!

HJ: Yes, that sounds nice. The boarding school you went to was in Kent, wasn't it?

PR: It was in Broadstairs actually, that is Kent isn't it?

HJ: I think it is... yes...

PR: It's a long time ago (laughs). It doesn't exist any more. During the war it was taken over by the airforce...

HJ: I see.

PR: ...and the girls were sent somewhere else. Of course I'd left by then...At the end of the war it didn't come back as a school again. It was a wonderful school. We loved it, absolutely loved it. It had all the things like you know, horseback riding, swimming... you know, everything... The only thing I didn't like was cricket.

HJ: Did you have to play cricket too?

PR: In the summer it was Cricket and Tennis, winter it was Lacrosse and Netball.

HJ: Were you interested in movies at that time?

PR: No, not at all. But I did a lot of elocution and a lot of diction and that kind of thing. I was very interested in acting.

HJ: But not movies...?

PR: When I was seventeen, eighteen, I had no interest... but then I went to Paris for a year, to finish as they say. When I returned I went straight to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts for two years. So you see that's when it started and I became interested. I started on the stage, and then from the stage I was seen by a scout of Korda's (that's Sir Alexander Korda) and I did my first film for him and it just grew from there.

HJ: So before that time would you say that you were more interested in theatre?

PR: At that time I was interested in acting. But I did all the arts because these were the things I was good at. Mathematics on the other hand... well, I was terrible! But dancing, painting and drawing and all that... I was good at those things.

HJ: According to an old article I read in the Daily Mail you apparently painted a mural in the chapel at this school. Is that correct?

PR: That's right, I did. I don't expect it's there now but it was still there during the war.

HJ: Do you know if the school still exists now or was it knocked down?

PR: I've no idea. As I said, it was taken over by the RAF and the airmen were there. It was used as a sort of barracks I suppose. I don't honestly know whether it still exists. Of course during the war the girls weren't there. It was a dangerous place to be, in case there was an invasion! I think they went down to Cornwall...

HJ: A bit further away from the war!

PR: Oh much further away. But I don't know any of the details because I'd already left by then. I'd already been to Paris and...

HJ: You were well on your way to becoming a star! Do you remember what year you actually left boarding school?

PR: I think I must have left school in about 1933, I think... Oh yes I was in Paris in 1934.

HJ: Can you say anything about your parents? The only information I've manged to find is that your father was a Dutchman, born in Belgium.

PR: Well, he wasn't born in Belgium, he was born in Holland.

HJ: Ha! They got that wrong then.

PR: They did (laughs).

HJ: ...and then the other bit of information I have is that your mother was half Spanish and half French?

PR: Well my mother was born on the Isle of Jersey and she was half French. I suppose she did have a little Spanish in her, at least we always said she did. In our family, I had the light hair, and my sister had the black hair. My mother was very dark. Not in skin colouring but in her hair, she had blue eyes and black hair.

HJ: What did your sister go on to do?

PR: Oh, nothing. She got married. She died about fourteen years ago (1986?), she had cancer...

HJ: Oh I'm sorry.

PR: That's my youngest sister. My other sister was married to Fred Perry, you know, the tennis star. He was my brother in law. But she had her whole life... she was caught in Hollywood when the war started so she didn't come back to England for four or five years and got married in between.

HJ: What were their names?

PR: My youngest sister was called Marie-Louise, and my other sister was Barbara. We always called her Bobby.

HJ: Was there a big difference in age between you?

PR: There was eight years difference between my youngest sister and I, and four years between my other sister - I was the eldest.

HJ: How did your parents feel about you going into acting?

PR: Oh they didn't mind a bit. I could do what I wanted to do. They were glad I was interested in something (laughs). They didn't mind a bit and of course I was very lucky as I had quite a success almost immediately in doing a film for Korda. It was a wonderful part. Then there were all the wartime films... It was an unbelievable time. Many times we had to sleep in the studios because it was just too dangerous to travel back and forth around London. When I was at Denham Studios we had to stay down there at Gerard's Cross which is near Denham because we couldn't travel home with the air raids... then at Shepherd's Bush while I was working for Gainsborough, you stayed overnight at the studio because it was just too dangerous to travel back and forth! There are so many stories about the war.

HJ: I'd love to hear them all!!!

PR: Some I can't remember properly anymore, but... I was in London all during the war except for six months when I went up to Birmingham for the filming of "Millions Like Us". We lived in the hostel there and we worked at Castle Bromwich which is the factory we used in the film. That of course was bombed as well, in October, it was very real indeed.

HJ: Can you say anything about your husbands, we don't learn much about them from the remaining biographies that exist either!

PR: They're all dead! I've had three and they're all dead, unfortunately. But the one in the middle, I was only married to for five years and he died. That was a very big tragedy. He was a frenchman and we were living in Paris. He was Michael's father. Michael, my son, was born in Paris.

HJ: So was that André Thomas, the film photographer?

PR: Yes...well, he died... He was a director of photography for films, he wasn't just a film photographer if you see what I mean. He was really very highly thought of actually... The women adored him because he made them so beautiful. He was fantastic, he really knew how to paint them in light. It was wonderful.

HJ: He did the work in "Blackjack", which was wonderful.

PR: He did the work in "Blackjack" and he also did the work in "One Night With You", which was a delightful film made at Denham. And he did so many other films. In France he was working for Réne Claire...

HJ: And you got married again after André to... I think it said to a Swiss businessman?

PR: Well, then I was a widow for about twelve years after that, bringing up Michael and working et cetera, et cetera, and then I married Walter, Walter Reiss, and he died fourteen years ago.

HJ: He was a Swiss business man?

PR: No, he wasn't...

HJ: Oh they got that wrong too, then?

PR: Yes, very wrong. He was actually Viennese but he came to England in 1933. He had a British passport and he was in import and export. He was a member of the Baltic Exchange. He did a lot with Canada and South Africa, he was in South Africa for quite a while. And then I met him in London and well, there we are. I mean Michael was already fourteen!

HJ: With your first husband, during the war, did that break up because of your career?

PR: No, that broke up because he didn't want to have children and I really wanted to have a child. And of course, it was wartime and one thing and another. He was a Canadian, but such a delightful man. A charming man. He was an osteopath, in the medical profession. He was delightful but very much older than I was - actually twenty years older. I started working and becoming important and you know, sometimes you just can't tell what really happens actually. It was a long time ago.

HJ: Well there was so much going on at that time as well, wasn't there?

PR: We got married in 1939, as the war broke out, you know. All during the war I was in London, we were bombed out several times. Well, it's one of those things, you know.

HJ: Well, going on to other subjects... these have been mentioned as your hobbies; painting; riding; cooking; swimming; iceskating; serious music; reading and boating.

PR: I did all those things but I don't do them any more. I am 85! (laughs) Get me round the skating rink now? I don't think so! I do a tremendous amount of reading, but I don't know if you could call it a hobby. It's just something I do.

HJ: Do you have any favourite writers or types of books?

PR: I like biographies very, very much. All kinds of biography. I also like historical books. But as far as fiction goes, it has got to be a very good novel for me to really like it. How can I put it? Books are my children... I have a wonderful array of books here, so many of them! A lot of reference books too which interest me. Music also interests me a great deal too.

HJ: What sort of music? The more orchestral, older types of music?

PR: Yes, and opera and ballet I'm very fond of. Anything like that I love very much. I'm not too fond of the too heavy stuff in Opera. I have a tremendous collection of videos of opera and I've got all the Shakespearean in video (laughs)

HJ: Did you ever get anywhere with your painting?

PR: No, I was a very good copyist, meaning that I could copy anything. But I didn't have what I would call an individual style. I was not what might be called a "real artist". A "real artist" can just do it... I was very interested in the Dutch school, the Italian. I prefer pictures to look like pictures, if you know what I mean. And I like Monet, Manet and the Impressionists very much. I particularly loved the Dutch school though. I have quite a collection of good paintings, actually. But as far as my own attempts at painting went, I started at school and I loved it. I thought I might do that for a career, that I might go to art school and work down there.

HJ: It's very hard to make a living as an artist though, isn't it?

PR: I wasn't thinking of it like that, it's just something that I liked to do. From quite an early age I did a lot of painting. I loved doing watercolours but I wasn't very good with oils.

HJ: Were these things that you liked doing in your spare time back in the 1940s? What other kinds of things did you like doing then?

PR: Oh no, I was working like mad then!

HJ: So you didn't have time for any of these things?

PR: I didn't have time to do anything. I never even learned how to play bridge! Mind you cards don't interest me, you know... (laughs)

HJ: I just wondered if your taste in music was different in those days? Did you go out dancing to the orchestras and big bands?

PR: Well, I went dancing, but you know, when you're working you don't have time to do that. I was up every morning at five o'clock, I walked the dog to the studio, you know. I had a cocker spaniel then, and that was his walk in the morning, and he stayed in the studio, in the dressing room, and I walked him back again in the evening. It's a hard day's work when you're filming.

HJ: Would you say you never went out much in that period then?

PR: Certainly when I was working, no. With the bombing it just wasn't very advisable anyway. If you were making a film and you were bombed... thinking about us the film executives would be worried sick! We could be gone the next day. It was a big risk!

HJ: I can imagine! Especially if they have lots of money tied up in the film!

PR: Exactly, yes. But I've always liked a lot of music. I used to play a lot of music at home. Of course I'm the old school... I love the Frank Sinatra's and all that. The people around today, you can't understand a word of what they say, or what they're singing either, they just keep beating time... But The Beatles, they were great. I don't think these others have a patch on The Beatles. The Beatles were really quite geniuses in their own way.

HJ: They were one of the most successful British groups.

PR: Exactly. I think they were wonderful. My son went mad about them, every Beatles record there was! But I like Domingo and Maria Callas, I like to hear the voice, you know. I have a lot of videos of that sort which I absolutely adore.

HJ: On the subject of fans: I wonder if you had any interesting stories about fans? I remember reading an amusing letter in a film magazine once making a long argument for you not to cut your hair, which I thought was quite funny. Do you have any amusing stories about your fans back then?

PR: Offhand I can't think of one now... But you know I still get quite a bit of fan mail. The trouble is I don't have any photos to send out any more. After all I haven't been doing anything for practically forty years! I usually just write and say, well, I'm sorry, but I haven't any pictures at the moment, but I hope you'll be satisfied with my autograph, will that please you? And usually I don't hear from them any more... (laughs) But I've had letters from everywhere... even a Califorian prison! I don't know how they get my address! I don't know, maybe it's on the internet or something. I do get some extraordinary letters. I try and answer most of them but when they say 'Dear Miss Roc, can I have a photograph?' and that's all, what can I do? But I've had some wonderful letters also. Did you know that back in the 1940s I had a marvellous fan magazine up until I went to Hollywood?

HJ: Oh, I didn't know about that.

PR: I've got about ten copies of it still, which I'm keeping for my son. That was great fun. I used to get around five thousand letters a week, and I had two secretaries just to answer the letters! (laughs)

HJ: That's something for me to look out for then, because there seems to be quite a lot of things done about you during the war which just seem to have vanished without a trace. In Picture Post for example, they did an article about you and said that they were shooting about five hundred publicity photographs of you. I wonder what happened to those? There only seem to be a few publicity stills that remain available these days...

PR: That's right, I spent some weeks doing publicity going all over the country. I did all sorts of things for that. There was a man called Mr. Field-Cowan who was our publicity man at Rank, and he was a real friend, and he made all these arrangements for personal appearances. He was wonderful and organised it all for us. Margaret Lockwood and Phyllis Calvert and I... I am afraid he no longer lives, but he was a great asset to us girls. I mean he was a great help. But in the old days one did an awful lot of publicity and personal appearances you know. Of course Picture Post was quite a good magazine, and they did a big article of me when I did "The Brothers". I had to do a scene where I was to swim naked, and that was...

HJ: I meant to ask you about that scene... whether that caused controversy back then when such things were not so common in mainstream cinema?

PR: Not at all. It was all done very distantly...

HJ: Was it cold?

PR: Oh, it was, bitterly cold (laughs). You know, although it was August the Loch was extremely cold, and that's the only time when I really quite enjoyed a whisky afterwards! The Skye whisky is lovely. It's the colour of champagne. Not like the colour of the regular whisky you can buy in the shops at all. They don't send it out anywhere, its local, and never gives you a headache, and it never gave me a headache! I really don't drink at all normally. A little wine perhaps, but I don't drink Whisky or Gin or anything like that. I never have. I just don't like it normally, the taste that is. I also don't much care for beer, but I do like wine and I've had quite an education with wine. But only if I have friends. Normally, unless my son's here, I never open it up, I forget about it. I've never been able to drink and work. I just don't like it and I'm not a very good drunk either if you know what I mean. I just get terribly sleepy. Perhaps one glass and maybe I'm a bit happy, but two glasses and I'm ready to go to bed! (laughs)

Go on to part two

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