Saturday 17 March 2018

Obituary: Claire Gordon

Star of 1960s sex comedies who married Willie Donaldson, aka Henry Root

Claire Gordon Photo: 1963 Popperfoto
Claire Gordon Photo: 1963 Popperfoto

Claire Gordon, who has died aged 74, was a bubbly blonde actress and comedienne who appeared in a number of cult films such as the beatnik drama Beat Girl (1959), in which she was billed as "Britain's answer to Brigitte Bardot", and Konga (1961, aka I Was a Teenage Gorilla).

She went on to earn a certain notoriety as the second wife of Willie Donaldson, better known under his nom de plume Henry Root, author of a collection of spoof letters to well-known figures.

In 1992, she revealed the "Randy secrets of the real Mrs Root'' to the News of the World, describing, among other things, how her husband sent pornographic pictures of her to contact magazines in exchange for a plug for a fitness video she had made.

Donaldson, described in the headline to his 2005 obituary in The Daily Telegraph as a "Wykehamist pimp, crack fiend and adulterer", was unsuccessfully pursuing a career as a theatre impresario when, at the age of 17, Claire Gordon appeared in his production of Meet the Cousin, at the Lyceum, Edinburgh.

They met again in 1966 when Donaldson decided that she would be perfect for the part of Lady Fifi de Wynter in a musical spoof on The Three Musketeers at the New Arts Theatre in London. The role required Gordon to stand up naked in a bathtub when surprised by an ancient butler, leading her to claim that she had been the first British actress to appear fully naked on stage.

Their relationship soon developed. "I can't believe I'm allowed to f**** Claire Gordon," Donaldson told another cast member, according to his biographer Terence Blacker.

Donaldson called her "Mrs Mouse" and in 1966, after appearing in The Memoirs of Fanny Hill at the Lyric, Hammersmith, she moved into his London flat, renting hers to Scott Walker of the Walker Brothers. In her later interview with News of the World, she described how, when she went round to collect the rent, she and Walker would lie on the bed and "kiss and fondle - with me always wearing a clingy, silky dress with no bra". Their liaisons are said to have inspired Walker's 1966 song, Archangel.

She and Donaldson married in 1967 and were soon hosting "musical evenings" which, according to one Donaldson obituarist, "became famous for their extravagance and excess and were populated by the eccentric and uninhibited". Donaldson himself described orgies involving call girls, naked DJs and two-way mirrors, though Gordon claimed that their soirées were fairly innocent.

What is known is that members of the drugs squad posing as guests found hash cakes being served, leading to a drugs bust and the couple pleading guilty in court to possession.

By 1970, Donaldson was skint and their marriage was in trouble. In 1971, Gordon followed him to Ibiza, where Donaldson blew his last £2,000 on a glass-bottomed boat, hoping to make money out of tourists. By the end of the season, he had no money left and Gordon had thrown him out.

"Neither of us got what we wanted," she reflected. "I thought I was marrying an intellectual and marriage would make me respectable. But the truth was all Willie wanted was to be a swinger." Donaldson complained: "It turned out that Mrs Mouse was a civilian at heart, wanting a dressing table and to give dinner parties for nice people . . . she failed as the perfect other woman."

Claire Gordon was born in Cambridge on January 16, 1941. Her father was a doctor and her mother a make-up artist. Spotted by a photographer at the age of 16 she was quickly signed to a five-year contract with the London agent Bill Watts. She made her stage debut in a 1954 revival of Colley Cibber's The Refusal and her screen debut as a member of a harem in the Bernard Bresslaw comedy I Only Arsked! (1958). The following year she made her West End debut in The Darling Buds of May (Saville Theatre) and in 1962 played a dumb blonde film starlet with Bob Monkhouse and Michael Crawford in Neil Simon's Come Blow Your Horn (Prince of Wales).

After her marriage to Donaldson broke down, she continued with her acting career, mostly in repertory and fringe theatre, making her last stage appearance as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella at the Princess Theatre, Hunstanton, in 2005. Gordon remained active well into her 60s and continued to attract admirers. In 1994, her claim that she was being considered by the actor-producer Steven Berkoff for the part of Blanche Dubois to his Stanley Kowalski brought an ungallant rebuke from Berkoff, who wrote that the thought of casting "an unknown actress called Claire Gordon" could not be further from his mind.

In later life, she went to live in the Red Sea resort of El Gouna, Egypt, but she returned to London after being diagnosed with a brain tumour last December. She died on April 13.

Sunday Independent

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