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'Im' a butterfly!'
The brawling, boozing days are over for Ollie... well almost! OLIVER REED is deceptively mild-looking for a man whose courtship of his latest wife involved dragging her off a school bus by her satchel, and whose bar-room brawls are welcomed by glass and furniture suppliers and repairers everywhere. Oliver Reed is a very fine actor, as The Trap and Women In Love testify, but that fact tends to be overshadowed by his hell-raising lifestyle. One approaches him with caution, particularly after learning that the autobiography he plans to write is to be called Sit Down Before I Knock You Down, and that the last journalist who didn't take the advice ended up with broken ribs. He has just been filming a science-fiction epic in South Africa. The movie is called Gor, and Reed plays a warrior-priest-king. We met at his Johannesburg hotel, where I found him reading The Last Days Of Dylan Thomas. Oliver knew Dylan and says, sadly for poetry-lovers, that towards the end of his life, Dylan was "dirty, drunk and smelly". There's a tinge of irony in Oliver Reed sitting quietly quaffing brandy and coffee and reading of the final, sad days of a great man who fell foul of the bottle and his own reputation. The irony is, of course, because Oliver Reed has a similar sort of eccentric, bottle-punishing reputation to that of Thomas. The difference is that Oliver, when he reached his mid-40s, noted he was coming second too often in impromptu pugilistic encounters and came to the conclusion that maybe it was time to make the coffees more frequent and the brandies smaller. "I don't brawl much any more," he says. "These days I'm a butterfly. It's quite sad really, because I don't know who's going to carry on the tradition. Burton's dead, Richard Harris has pulled in his horns and now there's only me and I'm giving it up." Oliver is now in semi-retirement. Last year he married a delightful girl called Josephine and moved to Guernsey. He planned to give up acting altogether and to settle down to a sedentary life writing children's books. It hasn't worked out that way because the film offers keep coming and, although Oliver says he is not poor, the money is useful. Before his role in Gor he was starring in Castaway, which is based on the real-life experience of Lucy Irving, a lady who had herself voluntarily cast away on a desert Island with a man she discovered she didn't like ... Oliver Reed plays the man. The movie was shot in the Seychelles. Oliver liked the islands so much that he decided to take Josephine there on a second honeymoon. Their route to the islands, called for a stopover in Johannesburg and while there Oliver bumped into an old friend who offered him the role in Gor. "It was an offer too good to refuse, so we forgot the honeymoon and took the money," he says. In answer to the inevitable question about why he Is prepared to work in South Africa at a time when everyone else is avoiding the place, he replies: "While I am against apartheid, I can't believe that dancers and mummers, which Is all we actors are, coming or not coming to South Africa will make the slightest difference to the situation here." Oliver has strong connections with South Africa. One of his former amours originally came from Pretoria and Oliver has a half-South African daughter by her. Josephine, his current love, became his wife last year when she was just 21 years old. The prospect of marrying Oliver Reed would be enough to give even the most love-besotted bride pause for thought and Oliver recounts with glee how, at the wedding, Josephine turned to her mother and said: "Mummy, what have I got myself Into now?" In fact, Josephine knew pretty much what to expect. She has been Oliver's friend and companion since she was 16 and is now so used to him that she is completely unperturbed by anything he does. For example, when, during our interview, her husband, clad only in his underpants, crawled out on to the unguarded ledge which ran in front of their 17th-floor bedroom window, Josephine was unfazed. "Oh do come back in, Oliver," was the extent of her reaction. Because Oliver is 26 years older than his wife and more especially because he fell in love with her when she was still a schoolgirl, the English press had a field day with their romance. He complains that all sorts of lurid untruths were written about them. "I used to drink in a pub called The King's Head in Rudgwick and these ducklings used to come in after school and drink orange juice," says Reed. "I noticed one with pretty eyes." "The next time I saw her she was on her school bus and when it stopped I jumped on and dragged her off by her satchel." "Then I went down on my knees before her on the road." Brings tears to your eyes, doesn't it? The romance flourished and before long Oliver had whisked her away for a holiday in the Caribbean. Courtship is difficult when every time you turn to whisper sweet nothings in your lady's ear a photographer's flash goes off and Oliver became somewhat perturbed. Oliver escaped from the prying eyes of the press with the help of a friendly ice-cream man. "He used to pull up to my house in his 'stop-me-and-buy-one' van and I sneaked in the back. Then he'd drive me to a rendezvous point where I would meet Josephine." There were those who seriously doubted the relationship would last, but it did, and last year their love was sealed in the bonds of holy matrimony. Oliver says that Josephine has been good for him, that he drinks less than he did and that he roisters seldom. "I'm well-behaved these days. Why, the last time I got nicked in Guernsey all I got was a $20 fine for breaking the major's window and $100 for the drunk driving." "Mind you, they did keep me inside for 72 hours. At the time Josephine wasn't as experienced as she is today. She stood by as I was led away to the cells. These days if police try to drag me off she's there, demanding to know what the charge is." Oliver is protective of Josephine and takes his responsibilities to her very seriously. He explains that when a journalist was rude to her he had no option but to take action. ' 'He was in our house so I stood up to throw him out.'' says Oliver with dignity. "Unfortunately, I tripped over the carpet and fell on top of him. Next thing I knew, he was complaining of broken ribs, black eyes and all sorts of other injuries. I ended up in court." Oliver and Josephine feel that Oliver is much misunderstood. "I get picked on in bars because of who I am," he says. "Then when the furniture starts flying I'm the one who always ends up in jail." "But I never hit policemen." Oliver has a reputation for eccentric behavior and you can't be very long in his company without noticing that he knows his way through a bottle of brandy. Josephine hasn't quite weaned him from the demon drink, but on a film set the eccentricities and the brandy, while not exactly disappearing, are kept in tight check. In fact, I'll let you into a secret, Oliver Reed is a pussycat. I proved it. It's a long time since I saw The Trap, a film about the relationship between a fur trapper and a mute girl. For some reason I thought that in the movie it was Oliver who didn't speak. When I announced my belief, the man blanched, quivered, stood up, clenched his fists. But the man did not hit me. I put it down to his wife's calming influence. Thank you, Josephine.David Barrit, TV Week (Victoria), January 1987 Return to Listing