Books: Man Behind the Screen Legend; Dirk Bogarde: The Authorised Biography by John Coldstream, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Pounds 20

Article excerpt

Byline: Reviewed by Mike Ripley

Dirk Bogarde could have been the perfect spy. He had wartime training in military intelligence and interpreting aerial photography and he could conceal his private life from even close friends while under the scrutiny of an adoring public.

And, of course, he was a very good actor.

Film acting was where he made his reputation, or rather, one of his reputations, for his later career as a writer may be the one that lasts the longest.

John Coldstream's exhaustive (and exhausting at times, for it weighs almost three pounds) sets out to peel back the layers of a man who, as an actor, an author and a discreet homosexual, was practised at weaving fact and fiction into an impenetrable web.

Indeed, Bogarde left us his version of his life in some 15 books, novels and memoirs, and then made a bonfire of most of his private papers, leaving instructions: 'Just forget me'.

The man born Derek Niven Van den Bogaerde made his theatrical debut just before the Second World War. By the time he was demobbed after a tour in the Far East, the British film industry beckoned and Dirk Bogarde, as he was now known, found himself in demand playing 'neurotic desperadoes' - most famously the young tearaway who shot PC Dixon (of Dock Green) in The Blue Lamp.

His dark good looks and the fact that he could portray a decent sense of menace, lead to comparisons with American stars John Cassavetes and Marlon Brando, though Bogarde was never to make it in Hollywood.

Instead, he became the heart-throb of the Gaumont and best known for the role of Dr Simon Sparrow in the Doctor in the House series of romantic comedies - a role he probably despised. For most of the 1950s, he and Rock Hudson featured first and second in every poll of 'movie dreamboats' voted for by female cinema-goers. …