Sir Dirk Bogarde was born Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde of a Scots mother and a Flemish father who was the art editor of The Times. The young Derek Bogaerde was brought up in Sussex by his sister Elizabeth and his nanny. Educated at Glen’s School in Glasgow and London University, then at Chelsea Polytechnic in commercial art where he dropped out for drama school. He earned money in commercial art and made little impact in acting efforts before World War II.
In 1940 he joined the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment as an officer. He was awarded seven medals in the five years service and ended the war a major, during which time he served in the Air Photographic Unit and tookpart in the liberation of Bergen Belsen concentration camp which he described as “looking into Dante’s Inferno”.
After demob he returned to acting when his agent rechristened him Dirk Bogarde. A Rank agent saw him in a play and secured him on a seven year contract. After a slow start he became a sensation as the young thug in The Blue Lamp who killed policeman Jack Warner(1950). He continued to act on stage also but could never get over stage fright. I saw him in Jezebel, his last stage role ever, at the Oxford Playhouse in 1958. The Rank contract cast him in a number of roles as a neurotic criminal, but he became a hugely popular matinee idol from his “Doctor” roles: In The House/ At Sea/ At Large between 1954 and 1957.
He wanted to be in serious roles when his Rank contract ended in 1960. He took a huge gamble when he accepted the role in Victim, of the married barrister who is being blackmailed over his closeted homosexuality. Sex between men was a crime until 1967 and Bogarde knew that he could not expect to continue as a romantic lead after Victim. He sought challenging roles and found his big break through when he acted for Joseph Losey in The Servant in 1963 which was scripted by Harold Pinter.
This role was more psychologically complex and disturbing than British cinema had ever attempted and it ranks as one of the best ever by any actor. Losey used Bogarde again in King and
Country 1964, a powerful anti war film in which he acts as a military lawyer defending a deserter (Tom Courteney). Their next collaboration was with Pinter again, for Accident which skewered the not so nice world of rival academics at Oxford. The UK’s biggest film box office attraction had moved over firmly to art house movies.
Bogarde won two best actor BAFTA awards out of six nominations, for The Servant and Darling in 1964 and 1966. He was also nominated for Victim in 1962, Accident in 1968 and for Our Mother’s House in 1967 and finally Death in Venice in 1971. He always appeared in the top ten British film actors lists in public votes. He had a quality which people related to as expressing the tensions and connivances of the time. In a way all his films were really about him in a subliminal way.
During this 1960’s period he reconnected with Surrey when he purchased Cobblestone House at Hascombe in 1962 where he lived with his partner Anthony Forwood till 1971. He found the large farmhouse whilst filming the comedy The Password is Courage in the area (he was covered in “mud and blood” when he first saw it). He entertained many cinema luminaries there, including Ingrid Bergman, who was acting at the Yvonne Arnaud in A Month in the Country, and Judy Garland with whom he prepared for her semi autobiographical I Could Go On Singing (1963).
This retreat from hectic film acting, premieres and London business meetings, was vital at this time of change.
Forwood, who had been married to Glynis Johns, was also his manager, whom he had met in 1939
They decided to move to France at the end of the 1960’s, to a 15th century farmhouse near Grasse and lived there till 1983. He wrote his popular novels and biographical books there. When Forwood needed cancer treatment in London they moved back; he died in 1988. Bogarde never fully emerged from the closet but his performance as the artist besotted by a teenage boy in Death In Venice in 1971 was as honest a statement as Victim had been a decade earlier.
This decade was his greatest acting period and the Hascombe retreat for him and Forwood played a major part in this peak creative time. Dirk Bogarde was almost unique in the UK in having been a great film actor who was not a star on the British stage, and his career was almost entirely in British and European films.
He was knighted in February 1992. He died of a heart attack in 1999 in his home in Chelsea. Lauren Bacall was with him for the previous day when they had a good time. He was a long term loyal friend with some outstanding women. His ashes were scattered in Provence according to his wishes.
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