Alan Stuart


Director Stanley Kubrick used Alan Stuart's talents regularly in films like Dr Strangelove and 2001 A Space Odyssey 

By Jeremy Miles

If you thought film work was glamorous, how would you fancy being duffed up for 30 years, asks Jeremy Miles...

HE'S been in hundreds of car crashes and, for years, being smacked around the head with an iron bar was all in a day's work.

Yet Alan Stuart seems remarkably cheerful when he greets you at the door of his flat in Branksome Park, Poole. This is hardly surprising. Every mangled wreck and every violent attack has paid handsomely.

For this genial 70-year-old has enjoyed a fascinating life as a film and TV stunt double. Over the years he's worked with everyone from Charlton Heston and Gregory Peck to Barbara Windsor and Sid James.

He started off as a double for the late Peter Sellers in the 1963 film Dr Strangelove and became a favourite of the great American film director Stanley Kubrick.

Since then he has worked on more films and TV series than he can remember and, although in recent years he has mainly confined himself to the slightly less physically damaging role of stunt co-ordinator, he has no plans to quit.

He lives with his wife of more than 40 years, Megs, a former Tiller Girl and singer, and divides his time between film and TV work and playing the saxophone with his own all-star octet. He recently started running a new weekly jazz club at The Pacific Bar and Restaurant at Bournemouth's Studland Dene Hotel.

Currently he's working on a new TV series about a Second World War detective with Michael Kitchen.

Strangely Alan fell into stunt work by accident. His first love was always music and he did pretty well in the early 1950s, making his name as a saxophonist alongside people like Ronnie Scott, Benny Green and Tubby Hayes.

But somewhere along the way his career got hijacked by a new craze and by the mid-50s Alan was a genuine first-generation rock 'n' roller playing sax with Tommy Steele's backing band The Steelemen.

Those were crazy days and Alan admits he didn't rate the music too highly. But his stint with Steele included both film and theatre work, furnishing him with an extremely useful Equity card.

Which is how, after running into an old mate who he'd last seen while playing the back end of a pantomime horse, Alan Stuart found himself with an appointment to meet Stanley Kubrick.

An uncanny resemblance to Peter Sellers landed him the role of doubling for the great British comedian throughout the shooting of Dr Strangelove. "It was quite an undertaking because Sellers was playing three different roles and there were numerous occasions when he was in effect talking to himself on screen. I think my presence made things a little easier."

He made friends with Sellers but eventually fell out with him. "I'd had a few drinks one night and I made an unwise remark how Spike Milligan was the real genius behind The Goons. I'm afraid he never really spoke to me again."

Kubrick, however, took a liking to Alan and, several years after Dr Strangelove, contacted him. "He said, `Your hands, I remember you have beautiful hands.' I wondered what the hell he was going on about but I certainly took notice because, although he was a very strange person, he was clearly an absolute genius.

"It turned out he was making 2001: A Space Odyssey and wanted to use me for the close-ups of hands on the controls of the spaceship."

Kubrick was to go on to employ Alan for stunt work on A Clockwork Orange and would also sometimes call on his expert knowledge of cars.

"He'd buy a brand-new motor but insist that I checked it over mechanically before he'd go in it, and if I drove him anywhere he hated going too fast. We had to crawl along at 30mph."

Ironically, most of the time Alan was being asked to drive very fast and very recklessly indeed. Happily, more often than not, he emerged unscathed but admits he's smashed his ribs up a couple of times and once broke his ankle driving off a bridge into the top deck of a double-decker bus in Hong Kong.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, he says he's a stickler for road safety, always wears a seat belt and never drinks and drives.

For several years he co-ordinated the "clunk-click every trip" campaign and it was his head that millions of viewers saw smashing through the windscreen on the shock TV ads.

A more gentle motoring role came with the Inspector Morse series when Alan, a long-time double for John Thaw, was often called upon to drive the famous red Jaguar.

His connections with Thaw, who died recently, dates back to the '70s when he worked on the cop series The Sweeney. "Whenever you saw Inspector Regan getting attacked by thugs, that was me," says Alan cheerfully. "I was always getting beaten up outside dodgy warehouses and things.

"Not that I minded. I loved working with John. He was a gentleman, a real gentleman."

In fact, most of his memories of even the biggest stars are of dedicated actors who respect the skills of a fellow professional - although he admits there have been one or two who've proved just a little aloof.

He reels off a list of some of the movies he's worked on ... Amsterdam Kill with Robert Mitchum, Hanover Street with Harrison Ford and Christopher Plummer , Awakening with Charlton Heston and The Omen with Gregory Peck.

It's impressive stuff but there's more to a working life than hanging out with Hollywood celebrities and Alan is equally proud of having crashed an ambulance through the front of a hospital in Carry On Matron.

Looking through his old photo albums the memories come flooding back.

"You think this is interesting," he says, as we flick through pictures of scenes from countless film sets.

"You want to see the things Megs has done. She worked as an extra. She's been in far more films than me."

As if on cue she stops and points at a fading photograph. "I remember that. I played a drunken knife-thrower's blind assistant."

"Oh yes, that's right " says Alan. "Thank God we haven't had an ordinary life."

© Jeremy Miles 2022