Actor and officer in the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment
Dirk Bogarde (1921-1999) was born Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde in West Hampstead, London. With his heroic roles and handsome looks he was a matinee idol to millions.
Among the records of the Surrey Regiments held at Surrey History Centre is a letter from the publicity secretary at the J Arthur Rank Studios at Pinewood Studios declaring that she had spoken to Mr Bogarde who had confirmed that in 1942, he was commissioned into the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment and spent two weeks with them in Truro (SHC Ref QRWS/30/BOGA/1-2). Bogarde then transferred to an independent brigade before joining General Montgomery’s staff in 1943 and later becoming an Intelligence Officer. His wartime exploits are related in his autobiography Cleared for Take-Off (1995).
A controversial role
Following active service Bogarde signed a contract with Rank and enjoyed a highly successful film career. In 1961, against all good advice, he took the lead role in Victim, the story of a successful married man blackmailed over a homosexual affair. On this brave role, Bogarde commented, ‘I realised it was a risk, I knew a lot of people would rather see me kill my wife on screen than play this role but I decided it was a risk worth taking this was a film about a real person with a real problem’. The film caused a stir and spearheaded a major cultural change in society’s attitude to male homosexuality at great risk to a highly lucrative career.
Bogarde’s Hollywood front
In his autobiographies Bogarde carefully avoided any mention of his sexuality. Possibly his most acclaimed role was in ‘Death in Venice’ in which he plays a dying composer who falls in love with a teenage boy and towards the end of his life he did relax his guard somewhat about being gay. He lived for 40 years with his agent Anthony Forwood, the former husband of actress Glynis Johns, a secret he shared with only a privileged few. He repeatedly denied that their relationship was anything other than friendship, understandable given that homosexual acts were illegal during most of his career, but also he was loath to jeopardise his following among female admirers.
It is widely known that Bogarde himself destroyed a large part of his personal archive, but he carefully deposited his annotated film scripts with the British Film Institute and his literary manuscripts with Boston University – he simply said ‘Just forget me’.
Hollywood in the Surrey Hills
Bogarde’s connection with Surrey continued when, in 1962, he purchased the large farmhouse Cobblestone House at Hascombe, near Godalming. He lived there with his partner and manager, Antony Forwood, until 1971.
Dating back to the Sixteenth century, Cobblestone House was formerly part of the Nore estate and had previously been the home of Henry Haversham Godwen-Austen (1834-1923), who was the first to explore and map the area around K2, the second highest mountain in the world in the Himalayas. It was also allegedly where Captain Scott spent his last night in England before boarding ship for his fatal mission to the South Pole.
A chance find
Bogarde was desperate to find his Home Counties country idyll to rest between acting jobs. It was while filming an army comedy, The Password is Courage, in the harsh winter of 1962 that he apparently discovered Nore. In his autobiography Snakes and Ladders he recalls how Forwood persuaded him to view to house despite being covered in fake blood!:
“It’s pretty marvellous”.
“Where is it?” I was numb with cold and past caring.
“Just up the hill there, staggering view. I can run you up in the car now”.
“I can’t come and see a house like this, covered in mud and plastic blood …this filthy uniform”.
“I think you should. It’s exactly what you want”
It was. And I moved in…six weeks later.’
Hollywood comes to Hascombe
Bogarde entertained several of his Hollywood co-stars at Nore. Among them was Ingrid Bergman, who came to stay for six weeks in 1965 while she was playing A Month in the Country, the first production at the newly opened Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford. He wrote of her in his autobiography that she “was constantly amused by my evening walk down to the vegetable gardens to pick the mint for supper”. Screen legend Judy Garland also came to Nore, in 1963, to show Bogarde a script of her semi-autobiographical film I Could Go On Singing. Unfortunately, as Nore was only a temporary home, Bogarde does not appear in any of the Hascombe electoral registers.
After filming Death in Venice in 1971, Bogarde moved to West Sussex and then France; Nore estate was sold and subsequently divided up. Bogarde describes leaving Cobblestone House in his biography Snakes and Ladders (1978):
“…The removal vans trundled slowly down the long drive in a flurry of sleet and snow-showers, leaving the house empty, bare and strangely silent after the long racketing week of packing and crating-up of one’s life.”…
Bogarde features as an LGBT history icon.