Local actor Sir John Standing shares his travel memories, from bad behaviour with Peter O’Toole to filming with Cary Grant.


Words by Alex Briand


What are your earliest travel memories?

The first time I travelled I was 12. I went to Rome because my mother and stepfather were making a movie there.

It was called Call of the Blood, and it was a disaster.

They accidentally set fire to a field because they had a firework display in the film.


When did you first travel by air?

I didn’t get in an aeroplane until I went to do Romeo and Juliet in the Roman temples in Baalbek, Lebanon, with the Bristol Old Vic.

When we got to Baalbek I remember going in to check the dressing rooms in one of the temples, and there on one of the stone tables was a cobra waiting for us.

It was terribly funny. I thought, “F**k me, this is a good start to the season!”

What are your favourite destinations?

Australia is very outgoing, and very friendly. I loved it.

The only problem is that it’s too far away.

“Peter O’Toole and I went to co-star in a play together, where we behaved astonishingly badly and had the most wonderful time.”

We went shark fishing and played endless cricket.

We did a phenomenally bad play called Dead Eyed Dicks. He was playing Sherlock Holmes and I was playing Dr Watson.

The two of us were travelling across from England to Sydney, smoking God knows what on the plane.

And what are your favourite cities outside London?

New York has a tremendous energy. It's immensely positive.

And it’s all just there on your doorstep – being that it’s only five miles long and a mile across, you can walk everywhere.

Whereas London is a mass of wonderful villages but miles and miles apart.

In London you have to make much more of an effort. Still, I personally think the effort’s worth making.


Where have you experienced the biggest culture shock?

I’ve done two films in Tokyo. When I first went in 1963 for a film with Cary Grant, the tallest building in Tokyo was eight storeys high, which was the Hilton.

Women used to wander around the streets in kimonos.

It was absolutely extraordinary and wonderful, and so Japanese.

“Working with Cary Grant was quite fantastic, he was the most generous, brilliantly clever man and comedy actor.”

He was top dog, he really was.


What is one of your most prized travel memories?

I went down the Nile, because I’m fascinated by that kind of architecture and all the temples, from Luxor and Karnak and the pyramids – all the temples right the way down to Aswan.

If you’ve never done that, that is as wonderful as you can get.