Olivier and the Fiat 500


In 1964 I buzzed along in my Fiat 500 for an interview at The National Theatre offices in Aquinas Street, not too far from The Old Vic. The offices consisted of a row of porta cabins and are vividly described in ‘The National Theatre Story’ by Daniel Rosenthal. As he says ‘The Huts’ turned out to be freezing in winter and roasting in summer and ‘the slightest rainfall made even a routine telephone conversation quite an adventure in phonetic comprehension’.

The job on offer was secretary to the Company Administrator, David Gideon Thomson, who was later succeeded by Michael Hallifax. It all went rather well because David’s wife was called Mary and my name was Mary Thomson – a coincidence he found to be highly entertaining.

The interview took a dramatic turn however when the door flew open and there was Sir Laurence, sword on hip (mid-Othello rehearsal). ‘So sorry darlings, but…’. I could not possibly say what he wanted as I was so thunderstruck to find myself in the same cramped little office as the person I thought of as the best actor alive.

Luckily for me I got the job and much enjoyed my time there. I think there were 18 people working in the Huts and the job did not have prescribed limits. It was always a great moment when I heard the call ‘Mairwee’ down the corridor. This was inevitably when Sir Laurence’s chauffeur was on another mission and ‘Sir’ needed a lift to The Old Vic. He seemed to enjoy my very small Fiat 500 and was always urging me to drive faster and shoot traffic lights. Finding the price sticker for a bunch of bananas, for some reason attached to the passenger door, he asked whether that was what I paid for the car.

Albert Finney also entered into the spirit of things. When I gave him a lift we stopped at traffic lights next to a taxi. Winding down the window he greeted the surprised taxi driver with a cheerful ‘OK, Mate?’ before we shot off.  I left him at his son’s birthday party and continued on to visit a friend who just happened to be Albert Finney’s greatest fan and could not believe I had mislaid him somewhere en route.

Shortly before I left in 1967 there was a small drinks party in my office (another very confined space) when I was told Sir Laurence wanted to say goodbye. There he was outside his office – arms stretched wide. As I remember running down the corridor towards him I am sure there was a full orchestra playing.

I received as a farewell present a framed poster for The Royal Coburg Theatre dated 1824 – that theatre now known of course as The Old Vic and about to celebrate its 200th birthday.

Mary Quincey

Do you have an Old Vic story to share in the countdown to our bicentenary? We’d love to hear from you

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