Bill loved to shock and push the envelope, long before the #metoo generation. He ricocheted between marriages and girlfriends, had three wonderful children, Tom, Panda and the eldest who was saddled with the name Gavin. Yes, Gavin Gavin, whose gorgeous mother Sarah Jane was Bill’s first wife and a Mary Quant model. At their parties you might meet Graham Hill and other racing drivers, Victor Hugo’s granddaughter, Polish film directors with unpronounceable names, or Barry Humphries aka Dame Edna slumped in their sitting room telling cannibal air-crash jokes: “We’re on the last leg of the flight.”
At one of these eclectic gatherings, I had a Scottish neighbour in tow: “See you later, I’ll look after myself,” he called cheerfully as I disappeared into the smoky crowd. Finding himself next to a skinny, bespectacled chap on the sofa, attempts at polite conversation were not going well. “I’m a guitarist,” was all he could extract. “What sort of guitar – rock or pop or jazz – or classical guitar, like John Williams?” Andrew was struggling. “I am John Williams,” came the laconic reply.
Bill was famous for behaving badly and being in love with him was a recipe for disaster. He had a mercurial temper and a reputation for bullying employees. I once saw him explode into unjustifiable road rage as he deftly wove his flash car through the London traffic — speed was a religion. And our brief walk-out in the early 1980s ended dramatically and finally when he ran off with my brother’s girlfriend, on the Concorde to New York no less, thus delivering a memorable family double whammy. We consoled ourselves that they thoroughly deserved each other, and it didn’t last long.
Bill’s plunge from these dizzying heights of fame and fashion followed a few too many divorces and the vagaries of the British film business. His expensive mews house in Notting Hill, silver Porsche, trendy Italian restaurants, and champagne Pimms parties under the yellow laburnum all evaporated in the 1990s when he beat a hasty retreat to his native New Zealand.
Adapting with aplomb to life in a downtown Auckland high-rise council flat, Bill painted it rich dark colours, and filled it with books, pictures and an oversize leather casting couch shipped across the world from his West End office. At economical shepherd’s pie dinner parties renowned for bevies of loyal media and driving friends, over a glass or three of wine Bill would regale us with tales of the “old days”, his braying laugh filling the room. Despite his straitened circumstances he contrived to drive a smart Mercedes donated by a kind admirer who shared his petrol-head passion.