Sixties City Main Menu
by Bill Harry

They called her ‘the Battersea Bardot’ and ‘the new Julie Christie’, although actress Carol White, born in Hammersmith, London in 1943, had enough skill and originality to become a major name in her own right – but a number of wrong decisions and some bad advice, together with the fact that some of her affairs might have offended powerful people, saw a promising career virtually peter out.

She is still remembered for the impact she made in a harrowing television play called ‘Cathy Come Home’, which created great controversy when it was first transmitted in November 1966 as part of ‘The Wednesday Play’ series on BBC TV.

It was Tony Garnett’s first ‘Wednesday Play’ as producer and was directed by Ken Loach from a story in which writer Jeremy Sandford had investigated the plight of the homeless and its effect on family life.‘The Wednesday Play’ had an average audience of eight million, but a staggering twelve million watched ‘Cathy Come Home.’ Earlier, Carol had appeared in another important television play produced by the same team. ‘Up The Junction’ had been written by Sandford’s wife Nell Dunn and was the tale of an affluent Chelsea girl who goes to live on the 'wron'g side of Chelsea Bridge, in Battersea, and the experiences she has among the 'working class' girls – and boys. Carol starred with Geraldine Aherman and Vickery Turner and the episodic play was later to be filmed, with another Sixties ‘pin up’, Suzi Kendall, in the starring role. The year after ‘Cathy Come Home’ Carol appeared in the title role of Garnett and Loach’s ‘Poor Cow’, also from a script by Nell Dunn and the film seemed set to launch Carol on a promising career in the movies.

Up The Junction Although she can be regarded as one of the glamorous ‘dolly bird’ British film actresses of the sixties, along with Charlotte Rampling, Sarah Miles, Julie Christie, Susannah York and several others, in ‘Poor Cow’ she was deglamourised. She appeared as Joy, an inarticulate housewife whose husband (John Bindon) is jailed for burglary. She drifts aimlessly from job to job, from barmaid to nude photographic model, giving birth, setting up house with another criminal (Terence Stamp), an ex-thief mate of her husband, just out of jail – and fated to return to prison. She has her brief moments of happiness in this rather bleak film which featured music by Donovan. ‘Poor Cow’ received good reviews on both sides of the Atlantic and Hollywood beckoned after she’d appeared in ‘I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Is Name.’

At the time she was riding the crest of a wave and a decision at this stage of her career was crucial – she took the wrong one. She turned down the role in Ken Russell’s acclaimed ‘Women In Love’ opposite Glenda Jackson to appear in a lacklustre American potboiler called ‘Daddy’s Gone A Hunting.’ Another chance to shine came along when she was offered ‘The Grasshopper.’ However, when she had an affair with her co-star Paul Burke, Burke’s wife tried to commit suicide and it became the talk of Hollywood. Levine said that she had contravened a clause in her agreement and the role then went to Jacqueline Bisset – and it made her a star. American films such as ‘Something Big’, with Dean Martin, did her reputation no good and it took films made in Britain such as ‘The Man Who Had Power Over Women’ and ‘Dulcima’ to stretch her as an actress.
‘The Man Who Had Power Over Women’ was offered as the first of a three-picture deal by producer Joseph E. Levine, guaranteeing her a million dollars. Her American advisers said she didn’t need to be tied to such a contract and advised against it. She didn’t get to make any more films for Levine, missed out on earning the million and never again received another offer as lucrative. Before, during and after her various marriages, she had affairs with a host of celebrities including Richard O’ Sullivan, Adam Faith, Richard Todd, Peter Sellers, Ian Hendry, Eden Kane, Oliver Reed, Terence Stamp, Chris Stamp, Little Tony and Warren Beatty. (She appeared with Faith, Todd and Sellers in the film ‘Never Look Back ‘and slept with all three of them and she slept with Beatty while he was still involved with Julie Christie).

Carol was dubbed ‘the Battersea Bardot’ while she was filming ‘Up The Junction’ - ironic because Bardot had been her idol and a great influence on her early acting career. Carol was 13 when she was given a small role in ‘Doctor At Sea.’ She recalled, “Brigitte kept very aloof from the rest of the cast, but I must have showed by my wide eyes and
hanging lip that I was over-awed to be in the same film. We didn’t speak for days, but finally, she invited me into her dressing room and we had a long talk. I asked her daring questions, marvelled at her eighteen-inch waist and thought her accent the sexiest thing in the world. She had perfect cupid lips, bright blue eyes and the most startling blonde hair I had ever seen.”

Bebe took her under her wing, gave her some personal tips and was the reason Carol changed her hair from a dull mousy colour to blonde. When she was 16 she thought she might indeed follow in Brigitte’s footsteps, recalling, “I went for a screen test with Roger Vadim, the French director, who created the myth of Brigitte Bardot and who was then searching for another sex symbol to enliven the new decade. I had just returned from France and…. I was at ease with my schoolgirl French and had managed to acquire a little chic. I almost wet myself with excitement when the interview day arrived, but then everything went wrong. I got caught up in the crowds in Berwick Street market, it poured with rain and by the time I reached the studio I was a mess.”

Carol lived life to the full during the Sixties, attending the fashionable parties and receptions, meeting all the people who helped make the decade swing. She married Mike King, a member of the singing duo the King Brothers, and the couple had two sons Sean and Steve. King was aware of his wife’s promiscuous nature, but she promised to be faithful to him. When he found that she’d broken her promise on several further occasions the couple split up and, when Carol left for Hollywood, she took her two sons with her. In 1972 she became pregnant but didn’t know who the father was, so she had an abortion. She attempted suicide by swallowing pills and when she regained consciousness she was being looked after by a psychiatrist Stuart Lerner, who she married three months later. She then appeared as a nun who was looking after a brothel in ‘Some Call It Loving’, which proved to be her last Hollywood movie. She left Lerner and began associating with British rock stars in Los Angeles, including Keith Moon, Eric Clapton and Rod Stuart and began to drink heavily and take cocaine. She also began a lesbian relationship with a maid which she described as “an interesting diversion which helped pass the time.”

She divorced Lerner and married Mike Arnold, a carpenter. He proved to be a volatile partner who often beat her and cost her film roles due to his aggressive nature. The couple split up in 1984. Carol’s most memorable performances were in ‘Up The Junction,’ ‘Cathy Come Home’ and ‘Poor Cow’. In 1982 her career turned full circle when she appeared in the West End play ‘Steaming’, which had been written by Nell Dunn and directed by Roger Smith, the story editor of ‘Cathy Come Home’ and ‘Up The Junction.

She arrived in Miami in April 1991 and lodged in a cheap hotel room at Ocean Grande. She hadn’t worked for nine years. She’d left California haggard, her stomach distended through alcohol and cocaine use and her looks had completely gone. She began living with nurse Sue Robbins in a room with two beds, a TV, a cooker and a fridge. Her son Steve moved from Los Angeles to join them. He found her coughing up blood in the mornings. She then began coughing up blood by the bucketful and was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital with a massive ruptured oesophagus and died on 16th September. Sean had arrived to join Steve and when he saw her in the hospital, hooked up to a life support machine, he said, “I couldn’t believe it – such a beautiful woman – what happened to her?”

Carol had wanted to be buried alongside her parents in Mortlake Cemetary, London, but it would have cost $8,000 to freight her body there and her sons had no money, so she was cremated and her ashes were sent by mail. They were buried in her parent’s grave, but her sons were unable to attend the ceremony as they didn’t have the money for the air fares. During her career Carol’s other films included: ‘Circus Friends’, ‘Moby Dick’, ‘Bon Voyage’, ‘An Alligator Named Daisy’, ‘Carry On Teacher’, ‘Carry On Doctor’, ‘Carry On Nurse’, ‘Prize of Gold’, ‘Beat Girl’, ‘The Boys’, ‘Never Let Go’, ‘Surprise Package’, ‘Linda’, ‘All Night Long’, ‘Jailbreak’, ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, ‘The 39 Steps’, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, Slave Girls’, ‘The Fixer’, ‘Made’, ‘Some Call It Loving’, ‘The Squeeze’ and ‘Nutcracker’.


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