valerie leon

Valerie Leon

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Gustav Temple meets the actress once described as ‘the English Raquel Welch’, who appeared in the Carry On films, episodes of The Persuaders and The Avengers, two of the James Bond films and Hammer House of Horror’s Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb. This interview first appeared in CHAP Spring 22.

When you took acting jobs in Bond movies, Carry On and Hammer House of Horror films, did you have any idea at the time that they would become cult movies in the future?

I am lucky to have been associated with three major British film series that have all become cults. As to whether I knew at the time, how could I have had any idea? I had no crystal ball! At the time those films weren’t iconic.

But by the time you were asked to appear in The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977, the James Bond franchise was already huge, wasn’t it?

Yes, it was a big deal. I remember meeting Cubby Broccoli the Producer, at Pinewood Studios, and I told him I didn’t want to be killed off. And that’s a crazy thing to say, because when you’re killed off you generally have a better role. Despite that, I got the role as the hotel receptionist, had a dress made especially for me and I got flown to Sardinia to this amazing hotel and complex owned by the then Aga Khan for the role.

A Bond Girl is forever! It doesn’t matter if you have a small cameo role or are the leading lady, you are forever known the world over as a Bond girl. Just yesterday I had an order from Jakarta in Indonesia for a signed photograph from The Spy Who Loved Me.

What was the outfit you wore for the audition for Never Say Never Again, which got you the part?

I never knew quite what to wear to castings, but for that one I wore a maroon catsuit with a gold brocade coat over it, which had belonged to my mother. The producer looked aghast and said, ‘What kind of outfit do you call that?’ I cheekily replied, ‘a Bond girl outfit’! It got me the job!

Tell me about working with Roger Moore and Sean Connery. Were they at all similar?

Absolutely not, in any way, shape or form! Roger used to say that he was the lover and Sean was the killer. Sean of course is always seen as the definitive Bond, but there have been so many and each one has brought something different to the role. Sean had swarthy charisma and Roger had his humour. Timothy Dalton they say took a more romantic approach, and Craig of course is very gritty.

Have you kept any of your outfits from the Bond movies?

Unfortunately I sold them, and probably undersold them at the time, which is a great shame. The leather catsuit I wore in Revenge of the Pink Panther especially, as my daughter wore it once to a party, so perhaps I should have kept it for my granddaughter?

What about Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb, did you keep anything from that?

I do still have the script from that. I’m told that could be worth a lot of money, so I’m hanging on to it. The amazing thing about Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb is that it was such a jinxed movie. First of all, I did the first day’s filming with Peter Cushing, who played my father. But at the end of the day’s shoot, he heard his beloved wife Helen was desperately ill, so he had to pull out. Another Hammer actor called Andrew Keir took over virtually immediately.

I went in to the studios one morning to be told that the previous night Seth Holt had given a dinner party with his wife. As the guests were leaving, he turned to her and said, “I’m going.” And he died right there and then of a heart attack. I’d worked with Seth previously, on a film called Monsieur Lecoq that never saw the light of day. I was only standing in for an American actress called Julie Newmar and I never thought that one day I’d be Seth’s leading lady. I was devastated when I heard about his death and I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral. The producer Michael Carreras took over as director. I remember crying and they had to patch me up. The show must go on sort of thing. Hammer Films and Carry On films were done on a very low budget, only a six-week schedule or something, so they didn’t want to interrupt filming.

You managed to resist offers for roles that required nudity, except for 1969’s Zeta One.

I was with a friend for dinner last night and I mentioned that film, which had all sorts of great people in it, like James Robertson Justice and Charles Hawtrey; it was a very strange movie! A few years ago I brought out an A5 booklet of photographs called Everything But the Nipple, which referred specifically to that role in Zeta One, and it sold extremely well. I’ve only got one copy left and I’m sure it would be very desirable.

Were you offered roles in other films like that which you turned down? When you look back, do you heave a sigh of relief that you didn’t go down that road?

Obviously, because of the glamorous image I’d created – which was not really me – I was offered roles like that, but I didn’t do them.

Carry On Camping

Whereas the Carry On films don’t have quite the same taint of sleaze, do they? They’re seen as a bit naughty and silly, but harmless.

People love the Carry On films! I met this man who does these tours called Brit Movie Tours. They take people around old film and television locations in a coach. He booked me to take part in three last year and they sold out immediately. I’m driven to a pub in Buckinghamshire where they did some filming for one of the Carry On films, and I meet and greet the punters when they come off the coach and tell a few stories. It’s remarkable that after all these years people are still interested in the Carry On films. And it isn’t just old people on these tours; they have plenty of young people too.

Of all the Hollywood stars you worked with, which one made the best impression on you?

My favourite of all time was Roger Moore. I worked with him four times but the most memorable time was when I did an episode of The Persuaders, which he happened to be directing. This episode was called The Long Goodbye. I was playing an out-of-work actress driving a space rocket car promoting soap. Roger was such a tease; during filming he gave me a completely unscripted kiss. I just closed my eyes and enjoyed this kiss, opened them and gave a huge grin, all of which they kept in. I’ve never forgotten that! And therefore Roger is my favourite of all time.

You still continue to work in film and television. Has behaviour on set changed a lot since your heyday in the sixties and seventies?

Yes, they’re very strict around sex scenes, and there has to be someone there on set to make sure no-one’s being exploited. They didn’t do that in my day. Although my bed scene with Sean Connery didn’t involve any sex. In the morning when we were rehearsing, we had a lovely time in bed, but when his wife came in to watch the filming in the afternoon, Sean couldn’t get out of bed quickly enough!

What about the famous hellraising that went on in the old days on film sets?

Every day, everybody would go to the bar at lunchtime, but I’d go to my dressing room alone, shut the door, eat my sandwich and learn my lines. I didn’t socialise much when I was younger. I cannot emphasise how shy I was back then. We all wish we could have our time over and do things differently. I was really odd when I was younger. I think I’ve only really grown up in the last twenty years.

It sounds as though you’ve got over your shyness, with all these talks you’re doing?

Yes I certainly have! I’ll be talking about Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb for a Talking Pictures event in  March, then I’m doing a few film conventions later in the year. I do a lot of those. Although the acting roles seem to have dried up, at least I’m lucky enough to be making a future from my past.   

For more about Valerie’s live events and talks, visit www.valerieleon.com

The Chap was founded in 1999 and is the longest-serving British magazine dedicated to the gentlemanly way of life, with its own quirky, satirical take on a style that has recently entered the mainstream.

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