Jollies with Ollie

ROBIN McGIBBON raises a glass to the memory of hell-raising actor Oliver Reed

THIS happy photo was taken on a warm afternoon, in the summer of 1982, in a converted barn, at Broome Hall, the 19th-century country estate in Surrey Oliver Reed bought from The Who's drummer Keith Moon.

I'd been invited there to write a piece for Woman's Own, majoring not on Ollie's rumbustious lifestyle, but his passion for preserving the countryside. 

Indeed, within minutes of meeting, he was taking me — and snapper Jim Selby — on an enthusiastic tour of his enormous garden, keen to tell us how he'd transformed its manicured lawns into a higgledy-piggledy haven for all forms of wildlife.

For the next two hours or so, Ollie talked non-stop about how the countryside, particularly the hedgerows, was being destroyed. He didn't seem in any hurry for us to go and, to be honest, I could have stayed there all afternoon, enthralled by his knowledge and eloquence.

But I'd only just been taken on as a casual Express Features sub, courtesy of my old Sketch mate, Jon Zackon, and was due at the paper for a 5pm shift. 

“Let's have a drink before you go,” said Ollie, motioning towards the barn, which, he said, he'd converted into a sort of clubhouse. "You must try something I've just brewed."

Obviously, with hindsight, I should have declined the offer of what Ollie said was homemade cider. But I was caught up in the magic of the afternoon, thrilled I'd got a good magazine piece, and didn't.

The rest of the afternoon is, I must admit, a blur. How I managed to drive to the Express — and park! — is a mystery. What I do remember is Features Chief-Sub Colin Margerison being very understanding of my inebriated state and organising several coffees to sober me up.

Five years later, after I'd been taken on the staff — as a news sub — I got the chance to tell Ollie the effect his scrumpy had had on me, when I met him again, in the Seychelles, where he was filming the movie, Castaway. 

'Ross was a lovely man
and to me, so was Ollie'

At the time, I was trying to persuade tourist boards to give celebrities free holidays in exotic locations, in return for publicity in regional and local papers throughout the UK.

I knew Ollie was filming on the island of Praslin. And I knew from Woman's Own editor Iris Burton, a pal from local newspaper days, that Ollie had loved the piece I'd written on his wildlife passion. 

So I made an offer to the Seychelles tourist board: if I could set up an interview with Ollie for publication nationally and locally, in the UK, would they give my wife, Sue, and I a free two-week holiday.

They went for it, and arranged with the film company for us to stay on the island free of charge for a few days.

My interview, in Ollie's hotel bar, was a delight. Indeed, it was not much an interview as a boozy, and very friendly, chat. It got so cosy that, well into the afternoon, I asked Ollie if he'd show me the much-publicised tattoo of a cockerel on his willy...whereupon he promptly stood up, dropped his trousers, and proudly bared all.

I told him I'd heard he was good at arm-wrestling and offered to take him on. He didn't want to know, but I persisted. Finally, he said okay, but not in front of Sue and his own wife, Josephine, who were sitting nearby.

He got down on the floor behind them and motioned to me to join him. Then we “wrestled", not with our arms, but our thumbs. It was all over in a second, and, not surprisingly, Ollie won. I had no idea what was going on, but he refused my demands for a re-match!

A couple of weeks later, at the Express, Bernard Shrimsley liked my interview and designed a spread, which our dear, much-missed friend, Ross Tayne, was given to sub. 

Sensing I was concerned what he might do it, he told me not worry, but to sit beside him while he ticked it up. What a gesture!

Ross, as we know, was a lovely man. And, to me, so was Ollie. 

The pub where Ollie died

TERRY MANNERS tells how Oliver Reed’s favourite bar in Valletta became his local too

A few years after Robin told me these stories of his friend Ollie Reed I found myself in Valletta, Malta, on a contract as Consultant Editor to the Malta Times. Lots of sunshine and history … but sadly no beaches to speak of. Not at all like my beloved island, Tenerife.

The cruise ships were forever sailing into the Grand Harbour where the newspaper was based, not far from the steps Napoleon often climbed to get ashore. And not far from the fifth most legendary pub in the world, where ‘tough-nut’ actor Reed died. 

Never mind the historic jails, castles, Roman cellars and secret tunnels of the medieval knights, the place many tourists made for first with their guidebooks was Ollie’s tomb – a little snug bar, squeezed between buildings in a backstreet of downtown Valletta.

It was here in ‘The Pub’, that Ollie passed away on a bench as locals tried to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after a marathon drinking session and a fierce arm-wrestling contest with Royal Navy sailors from HMS Cumberland. 

This almost unnoticeable bar just off the bustling market became my local and I became friends with the landlord John and his wife and the local ex-pat community. All proud members of the Royal British Legion of course.

The bar was so small that it made Ena Sharple’s snug in Coronation Street look huge. This wooden room with bench seats, stools and tables was Ollie’s favourite haunt on the island and I often wondered how he made it up the steep hill past the Times offices after a heavy drinking session to the hotel he stayed in whilst filming The Gladiator. 

'At the top of the stairs was 
a room worshipping Ollie'

The corner of the pub is a shrine to him … press cuttings, photos and Ollie T-shirts are pinned on the wall and it is something of an honour to be pictured on the bar stool he fell off after drinking eight pints of lager, twelve double rums and half a bottle of whiskey that fateful day. Of course I had to sit on the stool too.

His drinking bout was considered normal, the landlord told me. Most believed it was the arm-wrestling matches during the day that brought on the star’s heart attack. He must have been a lot fitter the day Robin took him on. 

Perhaps the most incredible thing that struck me about The Pub though was the gents’ and ladies’ toilet which was up a long and narrow flight of creaky wooden stairs. At the top was a room, completely covered in graffiti of one sort of another, particularly worshipping Ollie. 

In the middle of the room was a tatty cubicle, toilet and cistern, with space for one person at a time of either gender. This must have been the multi-millionaire star’s loo. I never got over that. The other side of Hollywood stardom. Never mind making it up the stairs, how did the charismatic actor ever make it down?

Judging by Robin’s story I am lucky I never met the star there. Otherwise I would probably have fallen off the stool with him too.

Ollie, you’re pissed shouted Glenda

JAMES DAVIES remembers a particularly heavy drinking session with Oliver Reed

Robin McGibbon's and Terry Manners' stories about Oliver Reed triggered a long-distant memory of a similarly intoxicating encounter I had with him.  It was 1978 and he was making a film with Glenda Jackson called The Class of Miss MacMichael.

They were shooting it in an abandoned primary school in the East End of London and Ollie had made some injudicious remarks about the child actors playing the schoolkids.  Principally along the lines that they were all from theatre school and were so posh they wouldn't have had a clue what going to a school like that would have been like.

I arrived about noon and he seemed perfectly willing to talk to me provided it wasn't on set. "I have found a nice little boozer round the corner," he said. He had indeed. It was a typical Victorian-era east end pub, one of the few round there that had survived the Luftwaffe and the mad sixties planners, and we settled in.

For the next five hours (the landlord was happy for a lock-in with his distinguished guest!) Ollie was at his wonderfully indiscreet best about well-nigh everyone in the industry, including his co-stars, while both of us got steadily wrecked.  Finally, he said: "If I remember correctly I am supposed to be doing a scene with Glenda this afternoon."

I said I would accompany him back to the school. We arrived to find an apoplectic Glenda Jackson demanding to know where he had been and who was I.   "You're pissed," she shouted, stating the absolute  bloody obvious, and then, ignoring all entreaties from the director, stormed off, causing filming to be abandoned for the day.

Ollie slunk away — probably back to the pub — and I staggered back to the office where I could not read what few notes I had made and hit all the wrong letters on the typewriter anyway.   I can't remember whether it got in the paper or not, but it was a great day out.

He played a mean game of arrows

ALASTAIR McINTYRE once bumped into Ollie in a pub (surprise, surprise) and discovered that the actor was a virtuoso on the dart board

I first met Oliver Reed when I was just 17 and drinking illegally in the King of Denmark pub on the Ridgway in Wimbledon.

The year was 1963 and I was living in digs in Worple Road. I and my fellow residents, who were students at Imperial College, London, would escape most evenings to the Swan, a hostelry down the road from the King. It was, I suppose, an early form of sloping which, 15 or so years later, became an Express tradition.

We loved the Swan, despite the Watney’s Red Barrel, because it was frequented by celebrities including Peter Cook and Cuddly Dudley Moore and the actor Ronald Fraser, whose favourite tipple was a gin “with just a kiss of lime”.

One night, fancying a change, we strolled down the road to the King of Denmark, when who should be in the bar but Ollie, who was looking for fun. "Fancy a game of darts?” he asked us. We did indeed.

Consequently we visited the King more often and Ollie and his pal were nearly always there sinking pint after pint of ale. As for the darts, I can’t remember ever winning a game against him even though he was far more pissed than the rest of our impoverished crowd.

To be perfectly honest I found testosterone-filled Ollie scary. But we sort of made friends — fame is the spur.

*The King was demolished in 2011 and now is a Coop supermarket. Our hero would turn in his grave … but they do sell strong liquor.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre