O Lucky Us!: Malcolm McDowell on Lindsay Anderson


In conjunction with its Lindsay Anderson retrospective, “Revolutionary Romantic,” Lincoln Center offers up the New York premiere of Mike Kaplan’s Never Apologize: A Personal Visit With Lindsay Anderson. It’s a rough recording of frequent Anderson collaborator Malcolm McDowell’s one-man performance—part stand-up, part reading, part reminiscence—celebrating the filmmaker and his social circle. Not for the uninitiated: Anderson virgins should, at the very least, watch Anderson’s 1968 classic If . . . (in which McDowell made his name) for background before delving into the nostalgia. The Voice spoke recently with McDowell about keeping Anderson’s memory alive.

You’ve spent many years now talking and writing about Anderson. Do you think of yourself as the gatekeeper of his legacy? 

Not really. I think I’m the only one to have done a show about him, of course. He’s such an interesting person, a great subject for a one-man show or a film. He was a very good writer and a brilliant speaker, but to a very elite group of people who know about films. So I wanted to make him a little more accessible to people who didn’t know about him. 

Were you surprised by anything you found when reading his letters and diaries after he died in 1994? 

I wasn’t particularly surprised about anything, really. The only thing I was really anguished about was how lonely Lindsay was. He was always very caring about his friends and was always the rock. Of course, in his quiet moments, when everyone had left, we didn’t realize quite how lonely he was.   

Did you organize the show intentionally with Anderson as the center of Britain’s ’60s film and theater scene?

I wasn’t making a conscious effort to bring in as many names as possible. This is what happened, and this is the group of friends that were really around him, people I probably wouldn’t have met if it hadn’t have been for Lindsay. He was certainly the center of a kind of avant-garde, lefty kind of group around this theater called the Royal Court Theatre in London, where people like Tony Richardson and Anthony Page and all these young directors were working at the time—Pinter and Osborne and . . . oh my God, I could go on and on; all pretty much cutting-edge at the time. Pinter was very known for his menace and all that, and Osborne for his lacerating attacks on the establishment. If you consider the time he was writing, there was a kind of postwar slumber— Britain was kind of back to the old regime of what it was like before prewar times, and young people had just had enough. Also in the air were tremendous marches against the Vietnam War, against nuclear armament. One lived one’s youth, it seemed to me, going from march to march, and it was all fabulous. 

Is there any anecdote in particular you regret leaving out? 

There was a moment I said to him, “I’ve got a film called Aces High that’s going to have a royal premiere that Her Majesty the Queen is going to be at,” and Lindsay clapped his hands. When I got there, Lindsay’s waiting there with a cameraman and said: “All right, Malcolm, get in the car, get out, wave at the crowd, look at the marquee, now look down again.” At this point, the poor manager of the cinema has no idea what’s going on. They wouldn’t allow Lindsay to come in, and when Her Majesty came down the stairs, I could see him. He said: “Engage Her Majesty in some kind of banter—I need the setup.” So when she came down, I held her hand a bit longer than usual and started to engage her in some inane banter. I don’t know what the hell I said, but I could see her looking at me quizzically and thinking: “What an idiot.” And I looked up, and Lindsay had his thumbs up, and everything was fine. A week later, I asked Lindsay how it turned out and he said: “That idiot John Fletcher, he got the stops wrong.” The bloody thing didn’t come out! The film was completely black.