I can remember my mum watching films on Sunday afternoons in the seventies as I played with my toys; it was usually light-hearted romantic stuff (her favourite series was the series The Loveboat.) I can recall one afternoon when I was playing with my cars and she was watching one of the Doctor In The House films starring Dirk Bogarde. It was the first time I noticed she quite liked someone besides my dad and I was mildly shocked.
While in London I decided to find Dirk’s last home where he died of a heart attack. I’ve read and re-read his series of autobiographical books which paint a full life from boyhood in London to army years (he used to pick targets for the Royal Air Force to bomb) to his film star era to life in exile in Provence and back to London again. The last autobiographical book A Short Walk From Harrods tells how he knew life was tapering to an end (he smoked 40-50 fags a day) and he returned to spend his final years in London.
The flat he bought really is a short walk from Harrods but finding it was not simple. Just off Sloane Square in Chelsea are Cadogan Gardens and Cadogan, timeless red-brick mansion blocks standing sentinel over one another but they’d confuse a postman on his first day.
I walked around looking up so long that my neck ached. I had a photograph of the top-floor apartment, a screen-shot from a paused documentary. I found it thanks to the building restrictions imposed on mansion blocks the apartment remained unchanged – a high-up lair on the fourth floor. This was a home for someone who guarded their privacy yet wanted to be in the middle of things. It overlooks Cadogan Gardens but the gates were locked. In commiseration I sat on some steps to another mansion block and had a coffee and peanut-butter sandwich. A callow girl exited the door and affected an expression that said, “not on there please” though she seemed too polite to articulate it.
I found the door Dirk used to access his hidey-hole home (which is now worth about £2,300,000.) Mmmm...deja vu; I’d walked along here a few years ago looking for the house where Judy Garland’s life ended in a whirl of drugs 12 days after her 47th birthday. It’s within a stone’s throw.
Dirk reluctantly returned to England after living in rural Provence for nearly twenty years. His partner John Forwood (they always claimed it was a profound platonic friendship) was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and cancer. They sacrificed the beloved farmhouse for medical treatment in various London hospitals. While renting a house Dirk suffered a minor stroke while nursing John. Following the death of his partner he bought this apartment for £380,000.
He lived a fairly solitary life writing and reviewing books. After a long relationship with the camera, film star status (he was the original “idol of the Odeans”) and a second career as a writer he could have dined out in high social circles but retreated to this quiet corner of Chelsea. He had come full circle - born in Hampstead, joined the armed forces at 17, became an actor at 27, moved to France at 48, returned to London at 67.
Aged 75 he underwent angioplasty to unblock arteries leading to his heart. He’d been smoking 40-50 cigarettes a day and this arties were in a bad way. It didn’t go well and he suffered a massive stroke after the operation. He died and had to be resuscitated. One side of his body was paralysed, his speech was affected and he was left needing a wheelchair. He employed a live-in nurse to administer to his needs.
On 7th May 1999 Lauren Bacall called at the flat to see him not knowing her friend would die of a heart attack the following day aged 78. His wishes were to be have no funeral service, be cremated without fuss and have his ashes were scattered at his former estate in Grasse, Southern France.
When I see Dirk on television now I think of my mum, one of his many fans. If we’d have been down in London and seen Dirk buying a toaster from a shop in Sloane Square she’d never have forgotten it.
At the end of the row is a sign for Cadogan Gardens (Dirk lived at number 2)…
At the entrance…
He loved the privacy of a high-up flat and Cadogan Gardens….