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Books: Man behind the screen legend; Dirk Bogarde: The Authorised Biography by John Coldstream, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pounds 20.

Byline: Reviewed by Mike Ripley

Dirk Bogarde could have been the perfect spy. He had wartime training in military intelligence and interpreting aerial photography and he could conceal his private life from even close friends while under the scrutiny of an adoring public.

And, of course, he was a very good actor.

Film acting was where he made his reputation, or rather, one of his reputations, for his later career as a writer may be the one that lasts the longest.

John Coldstream's exhaustive (and exhausting at times, for it weighs almost three pounds) sets out to peel back the layers of a man who, as an actor, an author and a discreet homosexual, was practised at weaving fact and fiction into an impenetrable web.

Indeed, Bogarde left us his version of his life in some 15 books, novels and memoirs, and then made a bonfire of most of his private papers, leaving instructions: 'Just forget me'.

The man born Derek Niven Van den Bogaerde made his theatrical debut just before the Second World War. By the time he was demobbed after a tour in the Far East, the British film industry beckoned and Dirk Bogarde, as he was now known, found himself in demand playing 'neurotic desperadoes' - most famously the young tearaway who shot PC Dixon (of Dock Green) in The Blue Lamp.

His dark good looks and the fact that he could portray a decent sense of menace, lead to comparisons with American stars John Cassavetes and Marlon Brando, though Bogarde was never to make it in Hollywood.

Instead, he became the heart-throb of the Gaumont and best known for the role of Dr Simon Sparrow in the Doctor in the House series of romantic comedies - a role he probably despised. For most of the 1950s, he and Rock Hudson featured first and second in every poll of 'movie dreamboats' voted for by female cinema-goers.

But Coldstream's biography does not dwell on Bogarde's acting career, although there was much talk in the late 1950s of Dirk appearing in a version of Lawrence of Arabia. After all, on his death in 1999, Dirk had not made a film for almost a quarter of a century, and had not appeared on stage for over 40 years.

Many of Bogarde's British films were hardly classics and he was never destined to become one of acting's elder statesmen, to be discovered by new generations of movie buffs as were Alec Guinness in Star Wars and Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park.

When the film roles dried up he turned his hand, with disgraceful ease, to becoming a bestselling author and more people now probably know his work as a writer rather than as an actor.

John Coldstream has the unenviable task of trying to reveal what made the actor, the writer and the man known as Dirk Bogarde tick. (He was also, annoyingly, a talented poet and illustrator in his youth.) It is an impossible job, for while prickly and bitter in much of his professional life, Bogarde maintained a steady and loving, if secret, private life with Tony Forwood, his partner for 40 years.

So anxious was he to camouflage his personal life that he denied he was a homosexual for three years after Forwood's death and even after his death, close friends said they had suspected, but were 'never sure'.

Coldstream's epic biography concentrates more on Bogarde's literary career than on his persona as a film star and certainly succeeds in this field. It is odd that a book about one of the British film industry's few genuinely glamorous stars should inspire a visit to the library to seek out his novels, rather than a trip to the cinema.

There again, Bogarde would probably have chuckled darkly at that himself.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 16, 2004
Words:629
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