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Julia Foster is leafing through yellowed cuttings of her triumphs as an actress in the 1960s, lovingly pasted into bound folders by her late mother. Unlike her contemporaries Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, whose stardom she matched as a young woman, her name has largely disappeared from view.
In fact it's her son Ben Fogle, the TV wildlife presenter, adventurer and author, who carries the family's fame now.
Much of Julia's shunning of the limelight was by choice. 'I didn't want to be pulled away from the family, that was part of it,' she says. 'There was also an element of whatever I was offered, I'd already done better, if that makes sense. And I thought, 'Do I want to go and do that? I've already done it.'
Julia on stage in Lulu. She first found stardom at the age of 23 playing opposite Michael Caine in Alfie
So there was a lot of turning down of stuff, mainly because I just didn't want to do it. It was a conscious decision.'
She's 73 now, having found stardom at the age of 23 playing opposite Michael Caine in Alfie as downtrodden Gilda, the mother of his child. A year later she appeared with Tommy Steele in Half A Sixpence.
'Ann, who I played, was feisty. It was all-singing and dancing, very different to Alfie. It was a Hollywood-backed movie that took nine months to make. I even had my own caravan and chauffeur,' she marvels.
She was already married by this stage, to pop star Lionel Morton of The Four Pennies, who had a No 1 hit in 1964 with the song Juliet, and had her first daughter Emily. The marriage lasted five years.
'We were so young when we got married, I was 21 I think. I had Emily at 23. We just grew apart. We gave it a chance for Emily, which was important. But it wasn't going to work, we were different people.'
It's her second marriage to TV and radio vet, and author of 50 books, Bruce Fogle in 1973 that has defined her happy and fulfilled life. Their son Ben is now 43 and their daughter Tamara, 41, is a handbag designer.
There's something regal about the Julia Foster of today, with her greying hair swept back in an elegant updo. Her cut-glass accent is also of another age. She was born in Lewes, Sussex, to an estate agent father and housewife and raised in Brighton. 'It was a conventional middle-class household,' she says.
There was no theatrical tradition in her family. 'I don't think it was encouraged, but it wasn't discouraged. My mother said there was no use in going against what we wanted to do because we were going to do it regardless. So I was obviously quite spiky, wilful.'
Julia with her presenter son Ben Fogle
Leaving school at 16 she wrote letters to all the local theatres and landed her first job at a repertory company in Eastbourne. Her first part was playing a 12-year-old boy. Before long she was offered a job as an assistant stage manager and doing small parts for a theatre at the end of the Palace Pier in Brighton.
'I was seen in a play by an agent called Vincent Shaw and he came to my dressing room and said, 'I can make you a star.' He really said those words. He was brought to task about it a few times over the years. He signed me up and I think the first important thing I did was Emergency Ward 10 on TV. Then I was asked to play Dulcie Gray's daughter in a play that was touring, and that was the way it went. It was plain sailing, it would never happen today.'
Her path into the movies was seemingly just as effortless, appearing in minor roles in Term Of Trial with Laurence Olivier and The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner with Tom Courtenay. Her breakthrough came in the British noir film The Small World Of Sammy Lee, which we're here to discuss after its restoration and re-release on DVD.
She plays a northern lass seduced by Anthony Newley's character Sammy. She seeks him out in Soho, only to become a stripper at the club where he's the compere.
Its documentary-style footage offers a fascinating peek at a down-at-heel Soho that was far seedier than today.
'I was innocent and vulnerable and I wouldn't have dreamt of going anywhere near Soho,' Julia admits. 'In those days prostitutes were standing on doorsteps.'
The 1963 film was risqué and Julia was concerned about having to strip. 'Before I signed up I brought up that I was slightly nervous about the strip scene and they said, "No problem, we'll get a double." So I thought, "Fine". When it came to it, the girl turned up and she was just awful, much fatter than me. I said, "I'll do it, I'll do it." You do wonder whether that was the whole plan. I think it probably was. I did it because I just thought I would look better.'
Her co-star Anthony Newley (later to marry Joan Collins) was at the peak of his career, having already achieved stardom as a pop star, film actor and composer. He also had a reputation as a philanderer. 'I was nervous about him because he had a reputation as a ladies' man. But in fact he was absolutely charming, he couldn't have been nicer, he was gentlemanly at every turn.
'And he stood up for me occasionally when it needed to be done with either the director Ken Hughes or whoever else was around.'
Though the film got lukewarm reviews Julia's performance was acclaimed. 'They said I was a bright young thing who was going to have a great future. All very complimentary.' But despite her success in movies, theatre was her true love.
'I was always more interested in theatre than I was in film. Around this time, the Alfie time, I was in the West End for about five or six years doing about six or seven plays. I did Flint with Michael Hordern and The Day After The Fair with Deborah Kerr. And I did Lulu in 1970, which really made me into a star in the theatre.'
It was while appearing as the ill-fated temptress Lulu, eventually murdered by Jack the Ripper – another role that required her to strip off – that she met Bruce. By then a single mother, she took her sick dog to the vet. He happened to be a young Canadian student named Bruce Fogle. 'The dog was ill so I wasn't really looking at him. When the dog got better I thought, 'This man is really rather nice,' and then I thought, 'He's too shy, too correct, he's never going to ask me out.'
'So I went back and asked him out. I was in the theatre at the time so I said, 'Would you like to come?' It was very forward of me and I go hot every time I think about it. And of course it all went wrong, didn't it. I tried to downplay what my job was. I said, 'Come round to the stage door.' I told the stage door not to let anyone else in, only this young man.
'At the first interval I received a phone message from Oscar Lewenstein [the theatre and movie producer], saying, 'Darling, we've put champagne in your fridge and we'll be round afterwards. I'm next door and Joel Grey [the US actor] is here, so I shall bring Joel with me.' I'm thinking, 'Oh my God!' Then in the second interval the playwright Frank Marcus, who wrote lots of plays for me – I was his muse at one time – said, 'We're over the road seeing a play, we're so close we thought we'd pop in and see you.'
'So my dressing room is filled with everybody being over the top. Joel Grey being outrageous. And when Frank Marcus learned Bruce was a vet he slapped him on the back and said, 'Ha ha, I hope you can tame this animal.' Bruce wasn't impressed by any over-the-top theatricality.'
It must have been bewildering for Bruce, who was probably still dealing with seeing Julia nude on stage. 'He certainly saw a great deal more than he bargained for,' she laughs. But ever the gentleman, Bruce not only invited Julia to the cinema for a proper date but suggested she bring her daughter Emily too. 'It was too good to be true. He said, 'Let's take your daughter to the cinema,' and we went to see Fantasia.'
Julia with Michael Caine in Alfie, they became great friends
Bruce soon became accustomed to the world of showbusiness. Michael Caine became a great friend of Julia's and was often at their home. 'As the years go by he's not now a great friend but every now and then I see him. I saw him quite recently.' And Deborah Kerr was at their wedding.
Ben Fogle recalls a house full of actors growing up – Edward Fox, Angharad Rees and Christopher Cazenove popping by – and Ben himself had ambitions to become an actor. 'That didn't fill me with joy but he put it aside, thank goodness.' When he did become a celebrity, though, she wasn't surprised. 'It happened gradually. We always knew he'd make something of himself.'
How does she cope with him putting himself in so much danger?
'The only danger I really worried about was when he and James Cracknell rowed the Atlantic. It was a mistake to go and see them off because I saw this tiny flat-pack IKEA boat. One had visions of this extremely little boat with these two guys in the middle of the Atlantic. I didn't sleep for eight weeks. Now if he's facing a lion you know there's always someone there to come in between if something goes wrong. You know there's a film crew there.'
The family's most difficult time was not due to any danger encountered by Ben on his travels but the stillbirth of his and his wife Marina's son Willem at 33 weeks in August 2014. 'It was a tough time because you feel for this little baby that hasn't made it, so you've got the pain of that, and you've got the pain of seeing what your son is going through. I get a lump in my throat when I think about it.'
Ben was in Canada with the family celebrating his grandmother's 100th birthday when the news came through and he flew to Austria, where the miscarriage happened and where Marina was told she'd been 20 minutes from death. 'We didn't go out there. We left them to it. They came back within two days, so we were around when they came back to London.'
They've also, of course, shared their children's joys and through Ben and Marina have got to know their friends the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They spent a weekend with them in Austria when Marina's sister Chiara got married. 'They're mates, they've got things in common,' she says coyly.
She says she doesn't have strong views either way on the number of parts for older women. There is no bitterness in her voice, though maybe a tinge of sadness. 'If they come along, then so be it,' she says, content with everything she's achieved. n
The Small World Of Sammy Lee is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and to download from studiocanal.co.uk.