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Roger Lewis tells The Oldie "my career as a writer, I worked my way up from nothing, to a state of absolute poverty."

Blog | By Amelia Milne | Jan 24, 2024

Photo by Neil Spence Photography

Roger Lewis addressed The Oldie audience as 'the service folk' - an endearing term often used by the late and great Barry Humphries.

Roger was addressing the audience at The Oldie Literary Lunch yesterday, 23rd January, which was sponsored by Charles Stanley Wealth Managers.

Roger was the esteemed TV critic for The Oldie, but confessed he had to "pack it in" because "basically there was nothing that I wanted to watch! It was all DIY, gardening, cakes and quizzes. I ended up watching old films" on Talking Pictures TV.

It has taken Roger, thirteen years to complete his book Erotic Vacancy: Everything you need to know about Richard Burton and Elisabeth Taylor. Roger began writing it, when he had acute pancreatitis. He was feverish and hallucinating. Roger started watching Elisabeth Taylor and Richard Burton movies, and it "sort of suited my mood - these rather overheated, feverish, mad films" of the 1960s and 1970s.

Roger pitched the book to the publisher as "Ronald Barthes meets The Wolf Man".

Roger was paid for in advance, less than his book about Peter Sellers back in the 1980s. Roger told us, "my career as a writer, I worked my way up from nothing, to a state of absolute poverty." A friend of Rogers is an Editor for The Daily Mail sent him a photograph of his book piled high in Waterstones Kensington, labelled half-price "falling over copies".

Roger says that the mad movies of Burton and Taylor reflected their mad lives. They were paid a fortune, living in Switzerland. Money became important to them and they spent it conspicuously - diamonds, private jets, hotel suites. They would buy all the first class seats around them, before they had a private jet, so that no one was around them.

Roger likens Taylor's decadent 40th birthday party in Communist Budapest in 1972 to The Emperor Bokassa's Coronation at about the same time - in terms of lavishness.

But as this project started in illness, it ended in illness, as a year ago Roger was lifted by air ambulance after having a heart attack. "The book literally nearly killed me".

Roger tells us the best advice he was given for addressing The Oldie audience, "Maureen Lipman told me bullet points and breathe".

Roger told us his favourite Richard Burton story. Someone said to him in America, "oh are you Celtic?" and Burton replied, "It's pronounced Seltic, you sunt!"

Erotic Vacancy: Everything About Richard Burton and Elisabeth Taylor is OUT NOW