Richard Todd's Secretary - Joan Wilkie

Geoff Waite has recently sent me a fascinating article by Richard Todd’s secretary Pat Wilkie and published in Girl Film & Television Annual in 1958. It gives a little insight into the life of the Todd household at that time. The photo of Richard Todd with his first wife Catherine and the dogs is nice. Pat Wilkie mentions their son Peter who sadly committed suicide in 2005 and daughter Fiona who became the wife of the Hon. Rollo Hugh Clifford in 1977.

The article begins:

“By the way,” said Richard Todd, “You do like dogs, don’t you?”

At first I didn’t see the point. After all, he was interviewing me to be his secretary.

After five years in the film business-two of them as assistant to Associated British Casting Director, Robert Lennard, my mind was going over what shorthand speed I could honestly claim, and just how to describe my efficiency as a book-keeper. Actually, I’d never done it in my life.

But as it happened I’m quite idiotic over animals. And I said so. I have learned that it was the best thing I could have said. Anyway, it got me the job. Not only would I be working as personal secretary to Richard Todd, but I would also be living in the country. I knew that his interest lay in farming and the countryside, and I had for some time been suffering with that ‘hemmed in’ feeling that city workers sometimes get.

But soon after I had got to live with the Todd’s, who at that time had their home near Maidenhead, my mother began to get worried:

“Are you sure you’re going to be a secretary and not a land girl?” she wrote.

Well might she ask, for in practically every letter home there had been frantic cries from me, such as ‘send gumboots,’ ‘send old coat,’’ send thick underwear,’ ‘send bike!’ This really worried her as she wasn’t at all sure I’d remember how to balance on this relic from my school days.

If ever a prospective boss was able to put an equally prospective secretary at ease better than Dick, then he deserves a medal. During my time in the Casting Department I had been reporting on all new plays, films and student performances, I hadn’t once touched my shorthand. My speed would be dismal confessed.

“Shouldn’t worry,” said Dick easily. “You’ll soon get it back.”

“But the book-keeping,” I said hesitantly.”I was always hopeless at maths at school.”

“Nothing to it,” said Dick. “You’ll manage fine.”

This is easy attitude to life is typical of Richard Todd, but I must have worried him a little. On my first day, and with a large grin on his face, he presented me with a brand-new Ready Reckoner!

I soon found my job was one of those delightful occupations where two days are never the same. Basically, it is a normal office job with plenty to keep one occupied. Mountainous piles of dictation-both fan and ordinary mail-book-keeping, PAYE for staff and farm workers, travel arrangements to be organised, and script reading-just to mention some of the things.

But it is the odd, unexpected things that crop up, as they do continually in the Todd household, that make for laughter and fun and change from routine. For instance, in an ordinary office it is not unusual to have a little boy (Richard’s son, Peter) wander in and ask, “I know God made the world, but who made God?” When you’re in the middle of balancing the petty cash!

Nor to have the door pushed open and see a normally white dog, now black with wet mud, looking sheepishly at you, knowing full well that it’s got to be bathed. Nor to have your employer turn to you on a hot summer’s day and say, “We’ll work in the evening, go change into your swimsuit and we’ll join the rest of the family in the pool!

Yes it’s good to get out of the routine-rut. But it can just as easily work the other way. You see, farming is not just something does as a hobby, to fill in the time when he’s not filming. It’s a much more personal thing.

Many’s the weekend I spent at his home catching up on all manner of work for films and farm, probably sandwiching a letter to a film producer in between orders for fertilizer. When the family moved to a 90 acre farm in Buckinghamshire life became more hectic than ever. When Dick is filming he generally stays at his flat in London during the week-then turns up with a briefcase full of work, and bang goes my free weekend.

Five dogs-two Great Danes, two Corgis and one pointer-can be a source of amusement at work. Baron, particularly can become a very gloomy Great Dane when Dick is away, and on these occasions will always insist upon sleeping just inside my bedroom door. This is all very well when the nights are dead quiet, but the slightest sound will produce an ominous tummy-rumble developing into a roar should the sound continue.

Once when left in charge of the house, I woke to hear Baron’s thundering growls. The other dogs were equally restive. Grabbing a thick stick in one hand, and hanging onto baron’s tail with the other, I toured the whole place, to find eventually that it was the local policeman, plus dog, giving the outside of the house a check over.

Then there was the day I took over Nanny’s job. Luckily Peter, than five, and Fiona, two, seemed to enjoy the novelty as much as I did, but I don’t think I have ever before been quite so exhausted at the end of the day.

And finally, to the employer himself. What is Richard Todd like to work for? I can only tell you that stories of Dick being stuffy and stiff-upper lipped, always fill me with amazement. If he were really like that, I wouldn’t be working for him.

I like to laugh, and working for Dick provides plenty of opportunities. He has a sense of humour that can be riotous.

For instance there was the day the young cook announced her intention of trying an entirely Chinese meal on us. It was her first attempt at Chinese cookery and we teased her unmercifully. However with the proper solemnity-and a little trepidation-we eventually sat down to eat. Half-way through the meal, Dick started to grin, and afterwards he and Mrs. Todd rushed upstairs.

A little while he entered the kitchen-a Chinaman! Wearing a gown put on back to front, a black stocking on his head, eyes turned upwards, and black moustachios painted on with eyebrow pencil-he looked terrifying.

“Excellent meal afectee me very muchee!” he said bowing solemnly from the waist.

We spent the next ten minutes reviving the cook who had collapsed hysterically on the floor, still hugging the coffee pot.

Dick is also the kindest and most considerate person, and I’m not just saying that because I’m his secretary and he’s my favourite actor.

As a matter of fact, he shares the favourite place with several others-Alecs Guinness, George Nader, Spencer Tracey, Fernandel and Jerry Lewis.

I only know that he inspires loyalty and affection because he himself is loyal to those who work for him. And even if next harvest-time, he does ask me to become a ‘land-girl’-I’ll do it willingly.”

Pat Wilkie (1958)

A special thanks to Geoff for sending this article in. I am sure you will agree that this piece asserts what a warm, kind and thoughtful human being Richard Todd was.

To read more about the life of Richard Todd please click on the Label below.


Clement of the Glen said...

Girl Film & Television Annual in 1958

Pat Wilkie

Richard Todd

Anonymous said...

Wonder what happened to Pat Wilkie or if she is still around. She mentions being employed by Robert Lennard who was in fact the man who took Richard Todd from Theatre Rep to star in his first film 'For Them That Trespass' in 1948. He was a guest on the This is Your Life show back in 1988 for Richard Todd. When you consider at that time he owned a large property and a dairy farm near Maidenhead and had a successful film career things seemed to be going so well. By today's standards such land and property in that area would be worth a fortune. This interview was in 1958 when his film career was just on the wane and the big contracts were over. Another factor also Richard Todd made films for Disney / RKO, Columbia, Fox, Warner Bros and MGM - so all of the major US studios. I cant think of anyone else who did as a major star.

Neil said...

Should have signed in as Neil but it I missed the button and am 'Anonymous' instead. Sorry.

Azul María said...

Thanks Clement...

Hey i didn't ask, what do you think about Russell's Robin? It was kind of disappointing for me.. but well I blindly follow Robin so I have to say it was great haha :P

BTW: I just added you on Facebook ;)

Clement of the Glen said...

Hi Azul,
I think most of us on here thought the film was O.K. I am looking forward to getting the DVD and seeing it through again. Hopefully they will make Robin Hood II and we will see him outlawed in Sherwood!

You have made some very interesting points.I hadn't considered the fact that Toddy's career was on the wane at this point, that adds another dimension to the article. But what an insight this piece gives to his life as a film star in the late 50's.

neil said...

Pat Wilkie left Richard Todd's employ after about 4 years to join her sister in Bermuda and had landed a high-powered job there with the Bermuda Development Corporation. This is from Richard Todd's autobiography In Camera.