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STAR TURNS: The secret Harry Andrews took to his grave

Harry Andrews in the film 'Play Dirty', 1969. (Photo by United Artists/Getty Images) - Credit: Getty Images

TIM WALKER recounts meeting Harry Andrews, an actor who never went public about his sexuality.

When I arrived at the home of Harry Andrews in the Sussex countryside, I was greeted at the door by his lover of the past 30 years, who led me into the living room where the ‘tough guy’ star of war films such as The Hill and Battle of Britain was waiting with a pot of tea, a plate of biscuits and a broad smile. Andrews was one of those actors who possessed a face that was disproportionately more famous than his name.

Years of appearing on the boards with Olivier, Gielgud and Richardson meant, however, that his status within his profession was assured.

This was the mid-1980s and Andrews had just landed a part in Dynasty, the hit television series that starred Joan Collins and John Forsythe, and, while remunerative, he was fretting about whether it might turn him into a celebrity.

Andrews loathed the word, very rarely gave interviews, and had, in his younger days, turned down the chance of a Hollywood contract, supposedly because he’d baulked at the idea of having to change his much-too-forgettable name. This was an actor who had clearly made a conscious decision not to be any more famous than absolutely necessary.

A factor in this may well have been the lover who had opened the door to me: Basil Hoskins, a popular character actor who had appeared in television series such as Emergency – Ward 10, The Prisoner and also, with Andrews, the film Ice Cold in Alex.

Andrews’ private life was no secret at all within his profession – the Oliviers would entertain him and Hoskins at their home in nearby Steyning – but he had never made any kind of public announcement about it, and no wonder because homosexuality had for most of his career been a criminal offence.

The most Andrews had ever done was to hint at it in later life when he had accepted the part of an overtly gay character in the film Entertaining Mr Sloane.

Andrews was great fun to talk to and he could not have been more easy-going, but professionalism was obviously what mattered to him more than anything. He spoke of his disgust that Marlon Brando, when he had appeared with him in a scene in Superman, had needed ‘idiot boards’ on which his lines were written. He felt Richard Burton, after marrying Elizabeth Taylor, had allowed his celebrity to get in the way of his acting, which he felt he should have put first. He admitted he had no time for fellow actors who failed to appear on sets or stages on time, with their lines learned and sober and ready to start.

Imposingly tall and well-built, Andrews had served in the Royal Artillery during the war and had seen some harrowing real-life combat, but he was, in contrast to his on-screen image, a kind and gentle soul. Gardening, music and reading occupied his own time. He loved most of all the company of fellow actors which is why he’d appeared in the Vincent Price comedy horror film Theatre of Blood because he knew its formidable cast – Jack Hawkins, Coral Browne, Michael Hordern etc – would give him a chance to catch up on gossip between takes.

I hadn’t the slightest idea about Andrews’ sexuality until I’d arrived at his home – not a word about it had ever appeared in the newspapers – but, at 73, he obviously couldn’t be bothered to pretend any more. This posed a moral dilemma for me as an ambitious young journalist on the Brighton Argus: if I got into the issue at all in the interview I knew there was a grim inevitability about what would ensue.

The homophobia of the tabloids was virulent in those days because of AIDS and the coverage of the last days of Rock Hudson – another Dynasty star – had been peculiarly tasteless and judgmental. Did I honestly want it on my conscience I had put not just Andrews but also Hoskins through a lot of lurid ‘gay secret’ headlines in their later years?

This was a scoop I decided I could do without, and, after my interview appeared – focusing on his career – I received a handwritten note from him in which he’d described me as a ‘civilised interrogator’. Andrews passed away peacefully four years later and was able to ‘come out’ on his own terms, and posthumously, in 2005, when Hoskins also died and he was buried beside him in the graveyard at St Mary the Virgin in Salehurst, East Sussex.