During a career that’s taken in everything from Jean-Luc Godard to Jean Rollin… Coronation Street to Can You Keep It Up Downstairs?… Mind Your Language to Twelfth Night… Françoise Pascal has done it all. Having seen off her demons, she remembers some of it a lot better than we did, too, as we discovered during this 2009 encounter…
Françoise, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us about your career…
Thank you, I’m happy to set the record straight…
How did a young Mauritian girl like yourself come to be discovered dancing on Top Of The Pops?
I was born in Mauritius, went to school and lived there until the age of 11 when I moved to London with my parents… my father was very sick with emphysema when we came to the UK. At the age of 15, I was introduced by the King of Carnaby Street, a clothes designer called Colin Stagg, he got me dancing on TOTP and made the sexiest clothes for me. I got noticed because I was a good dancer and moved well.
Do you remember what you were wearing, or which songs / artists you were dancing to?
Oh Gosh! I remember The Four Tops but I don’t remember which song… I was wearing a flowery cat suit, very tight and I danced my head off!
Wow… we believe that Susan George played a big part in your “discovery”?
She and Fraser Hines happened to be at the BBC Centre and we befriended each other. She took me to her parent’s house and I met all the right people through her.
You started your film career in Godard’s Sympathy For The Devil aka One Plus One…
I was discovered by the producer Ian Quarrier, who happened to be at a party that I was at. I was 17 then. I remember filming in Battersea… it was cold and damp and we had to lay on the damp and cold floor playing dead. Oh my God, I was cold!!
Your “proper” acting debut was in Norman J. Warren’s Loving Feeling (1968)… is it true that this was a difficult film to make because Norman was embarrassed about shooting sex scenes? Also that a “racier version” (“She Loved With Her Boots On”) was prepared by producer Bachoo Sen without Norman’s knowledge?
I don’t know much about the director being embarrassed about shooting sex scenes, as by then we were allowed to go that far. I played a model and I remember being embarrassed doing the nude scene as it was my very first one and I was nervous. Bachoo Sen took me for a drink of Brandy to calm my nerves and I ended up having 3 doubles and was very laid back afterwards… nerves gone, embarrassment gone and I was ready to shoot. Since I had no lines, it was just kissing scenes, it was then a doddle.
Have you yourself always been as comfortable with nude scenes as you seemed?
After that film I was, as I rather thought I had a great body so why not flaunt it? To the dismay of my boyfriend and family, of course!!
In the same year you played a similar “dolly bird” role in Pete Walker’s School For Sex… was Walker as “difficult” a man as he is sometimes painted?
You know I really don’t remember a thing about that film of Peter Walker, maybe because I did not like him at all. I thought he was an arrogant so and so and did not like working with him. I suppose I blocked him out of my memory. He was the only director with whom this has ever happened.
Do you remember anything much about the 1970 TV series Go Girl, which was filmed but never broadcast? Why did it disappear like that?
I loved doing that series with Luanne Peters, I thought she was rather good in it. A girl that is never mentioned is Sue Shifrin (David Cassidy’s wife)… she was lovely to work with, I adored her. We were choreographed partly by Arlene Phillips and partly by Mat Mattox, a member of the cast of Seven Brides and Seven Brothers. Wonderful dancers, both of them. I suppose it disappeared because of bad marketing and a bad production team. They couldn’t sell the series to a major TV network. Greed has a lot to do with this kind of thing…
Another film that disappeared for several years was George P Cosmatos’s The Beloved / Sin (1970)… what was the problem with that one?
That I do not know, it was a bad script and Richard Johnson and Raquel Welch (above) did their utmost to make the film succeed as they are brilliant actors, but again… production, marketing, distribution deals. All sorts of things can go badly; I could not really tell you.
What was Welch like to work with?
I adored her she was a great lady. I remember her in Hollywood when she was at Hugh Heffner’s Mansion in LA; she was ever so kind to me.
Was it through the Cosmatos film that you got together with Richard Johnson?
No I had lived with Richard from the age of 18, long before that film was made. I was in Cyprus with Richard when George Cosmatos said that he had a small part in the film for me, would I be interested in doing it? It was very flattering to be asked.
Johnson was a respected Shakespearian actor… was it through his encouragement that you made your well received appearances as Olivia (12th Night) and Rosalind (As You Like It)?
He did influence me a lot in Shakespeare. I was in Los Angeles when I did Twelfth Night and As You Like It and I was no long living with Richard, in the ’80s, as he had married another lady. He came to see me as he had our son with him at the time.
How do feel about stage as opposed to film work?
I love stage better than TV and films, definitely!
Any memories of working with Peter Sellers on There’s A Girl In My Soup (1970) and four years later in Soft Beds, Hard Battles?
My dear friend, Peter Sellers… I loved him so. I have nothing but happy memories and happy thoughts about Peter. I’m very privileged to have known him and to have worked with and been influenced by him in my comedy acting.
Diana Dors appeared with you in Soup… did she have any advice for a younger girl such as yourself, starting off in the business?
I actually also appeared in another film with Diana, Can You Keep it Up Downstairs? It was only later on the set of a TV Quiz show that she told me to be careful of this business as it can eat you up and spit you out in seconds. I took no notice as I was young and foolish…
In 1971’s Incense For The Damned aka Bloodsuckers you are an uncredited “girl at orgy”! Is it true that the orgy scenes were added after Robert Hartford-Davis had finished filming it, and that this is why he disowned the picture?
No, Robert Hartford-Davies is a diva of a director! He knew damn well what he was doing and he is the one that added the scenes and directed them, too. I have no recollection of him disowning the picture.
In the same year you got a role in the long running British soap Coronation Street… any anecdotes from that?
Ha! Ha! Violet Carson (Ena Sharples) hated me, she used to call me “That French woman”! The publicity that followed me on the set was huge as it was my first time on TV and it was also after my accident when I had fallen out of a window in 1971 in a fire and broken my left arm in 7 different places! So you can imagine the paparazzi… I was the darling of the press at that time.
What do you remember about Vernon Sewell’s 1972 effort Burke And Hare? You seem to spend much of that one playing a corpse…
Oh! Lovely Vernon, lovely man, old gentleman that must have been a fantastic director in his time and he was gentle and lovely. It was not a great script, but I enjoyed my time working with Yootha Joyce, Glyn Edwards, and Derren Nesbitt. I learned a lot from watching the best actors work, like Lee Remick when I worked with her in Summer & Smoke, Rex Harrison when I worked with him on Don Quixote, Richard Johnson in numerous Shakespeare plays and TV as well as his films, Peter Sellers, Robert Urich etc. By the way, I did not spend the whole film playing a corpse! I had many scenes in the film before I died. Have you seen it?
Yes, but it was a veeeeery long time ago! Apologies for my hazy recollection, I’ll try to have another look at it if possible. Round about the same time, you appeared in all your naked glory in the inaugural edition of Paul Raymond’s Club International magazine.. nowadays people don’t bat an eyelid at such stuff, but did it cause you any problems back then?
Yes, it caused problems with my family and many of my friends. I had already appeared in Bob Guccione’s Penthouse, by the way, which caused the same problem but to a lesser degree as I was in America when it came out, promoting There’s A Girl in My Soup with Peter Sellers and Goldie Hawn.
Kirk Douglas spotted you in a restaurant and wanted you to appear in his film Skallawag, but you opted instead for a role in Jean Rollin’s La Rose De Fer (surrounded by dead bodies again)… couldn’t this be seen as a perverse career choice?
What are you talking about? I saw this as an opportunity to do a very artistic film… though I did not know that Rollin did vampire films. I was happy with the script and Rollin became one of my favourite directors to work with.
Did you feel more simpatico with Rollin’s gallic sensibilities? Or was the attraction of La Rose De Fer that you had more of a leading role?
I felt happy doing the film and Rollin guided me but left me to my own devices. Having a leading role meant nothing, you have to carry it on-screen and make sure the audience does not take their eyes off you. I think I achieved that.
You sure did… following that you did a lot of TV and to many people in Britain you will be best remembered as Danielle Favre in the sitcom Mind Your Language, from 1977 to 1980… in our more PC conscious times, that show has been criticised for being “sexist” and “racist”… how do you respond to such criticisms?
There is a bunch of nuts in this country who are followers of the bigger nut cases that lead them by the nose. If the big nutcase says it sexist and racist, the other nutcases (petit bourgeois I call them!) follows and cries louder. This country has too many petit bourgeois ruling the TV companies and the BBC…
Here here… your MYL co-star Barry Evans later died a mysterious death and people have said that he was a troubled individual… did you get any sense of that from working with him?
I didn’t, he was a great guy to work with and we all loved him dearly. We miss him terribly, all of us. Vince Powell the creator of the series died too and he is sorely missed by all of us… he was a great friend to me.
Any memories of either of the films you made in 1976… Robert Young’s Can You Keep It Up Downstairs?, which we already touched on and Jacques Besnard’s Et Si Tu N’en Veux Pas (aka French Undressing)?
I loved working with Jacques Besnard, he was a great film director and I only wished that I had worked on a better film with him. I loved my time on Keep It Up Downstairs, it was fun and I met some lovely people who became friends of mine until this day… so sad that Jack Wild is no longer among us, nor is Diana Dors nor Willy Rushton…
You were back working for Rollin in 1978’s Les Raisins De La Mort aka Pesticide… did Rollin ever confide in you the artistic vision that guided his enigmatic films?
No I did that one as a favour to him, there was nothing particularly artistic about it.
Was the female lead in that film (Marie-Georges Pascal) any relation to yourself?
Yes, a distant cousin… coincidence.
Anything to tell us about your U.S. TV credits?
I worked for two years on The Young & The Restless and it was an experience that I will never forget, I also did a series with the late Robert Urich called Gavillan, which was canned after the first series… pity, it had a lot of potential but the powers that be did not like it.
On your final feature credit Lightning The White Stallion (1986) you were reunited with Susan George and also got to work with the legendary Mickey Rooney and (producing), the notorious Harry Alan Towers…
I worked with the girl Isabelle Lorca more than Susan but it was good to have Susan on the film set, Mickey Rooney was great to work with, a legend and a great actor. I was in awe. Harry Alan Towers was very good to me in LA on the film. I met the director, William Levey, who chose me to play Isabelle’s mother (I thought I looked too young for that, but there you go) at Susan George’s party, actually.
Any reminiscences of such glamour girl contemporaries and co-stars as Yutte Stensgaard, Lena Skoog, Luan Peters, Imogen Hassal or Jenny Hanley?
Jenny Hanley and I are best friends from when we starred in Soft Beds And Hard Battles. The others I do not know, I don’t remember them too much.
I knew Imogen Hassal through Richard Johnson… she was a tormented girl but I liked her.
Richard Burton advised you that “if you’re going to make rubbish, be the best rubbish in it”… are you surprised that there is still such interest in some of the exploitation pictures you made, so long after the event?
Let me correct you. Richard Burton never said this to me, I took it from a quote that he said, as it was appropriate to some of the films that I have done. Let’s face it, they were a bit rubbishy, but I was the best thing in them. Such is this world. They exploit you as much as they can, even long after the event… greed!!
There’s another motto to live by on your web site”: “ Le Coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connait point”, a quote from Blaise Pascal… was the great philosopher, by any chance, an ancestor of yours?
Blaise Pascal was never married. No relation. I love the quotation because that is what I was always taught all my life. I believe in it. It is a very profound saying.
You’ve been very candid about problems that you had with cocaine and so on, and describe yourself as “a showbiz survivor”… how would you advise any young aspiring starlet starting out today, about the pitfalls that she needs to navigate?
Work hard, learn your craft, start low in the theatre then move to TV and films. Looks are not the only thing that will sustain you nor your youth… talent will always triumph above beauty and age. That is my belief.
We’d be delighted to hear anything you have to tell us about your current involvement in the charity Elizabeth Finn Care and anything else that you’re up to.
Elizabeth Finn Care has been helping people overcome the worst effects of poverty for over a Century. They are here to support people who were once self-sufficient, but who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in need of help. EFC help people who have fallen below the poverty line, ordinary people who have been overcome by circumstances, such as family breakdown, redundancy, injury, physical or mental illness. In the UK and Ireland, there are four million adults who eligible for our support. We help all sorts of people in your community… nurses, teachers, farmers, solicitors, accountants, and people from the armed services. We probably help people you know, people just like you. I am very proud to be part of this charity, for which I have a passion.
Once again, thanks a lot for your time and your kind attention.
For more info, see http://www.francoise-pascal.co.uk