From meeting Walt Disney to spending the night with David Bowie, producer Richard Jackson looks back on his star-studded life.
Words by Jonathan Whiley
Octogenarian Richard Jackson, the celebrated theatre producer and agent, has lived in Belgravia for 43 years.
His home is a treasure trove of memorabilia that pays homage to his love of the boards.
Framed posters of his shows plaster the walls of the hallway.
The kitchen is filled with decorative kitsch plates – many starring Marilyn Monroe.
But today he seems primed for a teddy bear’s picnic when I arrive at his home in William Mews.
Three furry friends are seated around a circular table in his kitchen.
“They will think I’m an animal freak!” he says, roaring with laughter. “I’m not! It just happened by accident.”
The 87-year-old, sharp of mind and nimble of foot, explains that the koala was a gift from Australian Airlines after a trip Down Under.
Many of the others, he says, were given to him as first night gifts.
Born in Harrogate, his father, who had served as a captain in the cavalry in the First World War, ran a 500 acre farm in Thirsk.
“I never really got to know him very well, because I didn’t see a great deal of him,” he says. “He died when I was 16.”
“My mother I saw, of course, but my father was away during the week and seven years after I was born, the war started.”
His love of the theatre was formed at an early age. His parents would take him to see the pantomime once a year and he recalls seeing some of the great music hall artists such as George Formby.
“That started my interest, but I think really what started it off was the school was taken, when I was 11, to see an amateur production of Hamlet.”
He enjoyed his own stage appearance aged 11, dressed in a sailor’s outfit as an extra. But he realised he didn’t have the dedication to become an actor.
Three tough years at Cheltenham College would follow.
This proved good preparation for National Service where he encountered “primitive” conditions with cold showers and the “brutality of fagging”.
National Service saw Richard posted in Benghazi, where he stage-managed an amateur production by the Benghazi Arts Club.
A Noël Coward piece, it made the cover of Amateur Stage and Richard even received a telegram from Coward himself.
After the military he sold canned meat before finally sampling a taste of Hollywood.
He bagged a job with Walt Disney Productions in the accounts department for character merchandising.
“I met Roy Disney, Walt’s brother, quite often and I met the man himself once.
“He came over for the opening of Sleeping Beauty and he wanted to meet all 25 of us in the office. He spent about three minutes with everyone.
“Very informal, he called me Richard and I said, ‘Mr Disney’. He was very polite and lovely, I was a bit in awe of him,” says Richard.
Then, while travelling in Russia, he met a woman at a hotel in Moscow called Josephine Burton, who was running a theatrical agency in Knightsbridge.
They hit it off and met up again in London, before she travelled to Broadway.
“A week after she left, I heard from her mother that she had died in New York.”
Richard was called to a meeting of her friends and met a woman called Sylvia, the agency’s press representative.
Clients included a young Michael Caine and Joan Plowright. Together they ran the business until Sylvia retired eight years later.
Richard rebranded the business in his own name, working with a roll call of starry names.
He became a good friend of mime artist Marcel Marceau, managed Lindsay Kemp and was introduced to a 17-year-old by the name of David Bowie.
Together they appeared in Pierrot in Turquoise at the Oxford Playhouse.
“Lindsay was utterly in love with him and David, of course, was bisexual and they did have an affair at that time.”
On one occasion, Richard travelled with Lindsay and David to stage a performance for the industrialist Sir Nicholas Sekers at his private theatre near Birmingham.
“They found me accommodation in this farmhouse, which turned out to be two beds, one single and one double.
“Lindsay and David slept in the double and I slept in the single. So, I can honestly say I spent a night with David Bowie!”
Did they behave?
“They did that night. But then I heard they had a row because David had a fling with the costume designer.”
Theatre and politics
A life member of Bafta, Richard still relishes good theatre, even if he says it’s much harder to come by.
“The theatre has become far too political now,” he says.
“Everything has to be so serious. Where are the lovely farces? There is no joy in the theatre any longer.”
Mercifully, Richard still has – much like his cuddly companions – plenty of his own to give.