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Hammer Exhibition

Bond Girl and Vampire Lover Madeline Smith talks convent school, fake blood and the spirit of sixties adventure

If ever a history could be scrawled in fake blood upon ample cleavage it's Hammer Horror’s. To celebrate Halloween, the Idea Generation Gallery in Shoreditch throws open its doors to the glamour girls of Hammer, which in the 60s launched the careers of screen icons such as Racquel Welch, Ursula Andress, and Joanna Lumley. During the 70s Hammer’s camp charm began to wear thin with younger audiences and soon drifted out of vogue. However, Hammer iconography has maintained a devoted cult following.

Though the lofty moral reigns on censorship have been lifted somewhat since Hammer’s heyday, leading to a generation for whom splatter and soft-porn is commonplace, the Hammer exhibition still summons up a warm tingly feeling; perhaps out of nostalgia for a more innocent age. Dazed Digital grappled with Hammer legend Madeline Smith (pictured), who as well as being a Bond girl in Live and Let Die, starred in three Hammer films including their most infamous Vampire Lovers alongside Ingrid Pitt and Christopher Lee....

Dazed Digital: How did you get involved with Hammer?
Madeleine Smith: 
Not being at all happy in my convent school, I used to chat up the very pretty young lady who was manager of Biba the fashion store owned by Barbara Hulanicki. She took a shine to me and asked me to model for her catalogue. Whilst modelling I answered an ad for a film called The Mini Mob. The phone kept ringing from the agent and she sent me for an interview for Taste The Blood of Dracula. I was still terribly inexperienced, but I got the part, and I loved it. As I result I got The Vampire Lovers.

DD: Were you aware of Hammer at the time?
Yes I was very much aware of it, even in my innocence. I always noticed their lurid posters and I loved ghost stories. I’ve got a lot of European blood in me, on my mum's side. We used to go to Hampstead and see ancient creepy films together. I was never interested in stories about rabbits and people being kindly to each other, I wanted to be scared witless.

DD: Were you also drawn to Hammer’s more lascivious aspect?
No, not at all. I accepted the part without realising how rude it was going to be, and how much I was going to have to bare all! But I can’t truly say it worried me. I was working in an environment with fantastic technicians, who have seen it all and done it all – there was no tittering behind their hankies.

DD: How did you react when you found out you had to bare all?
The joke is that I was told that the rude bits would be for the Japanese version. I thought this was going to be something under the table that was only going to be exported to Japan. I was tricked.

DD: What did they trick you into doing?
Breasts! Wherever the bosoms were revealed, that was the Japanese version. So we always did two takes whenever there were people running about with their bosoms flapping up and down, and there was quite a lot of that. I think Ingrid Pitt was in the know, but old innocent boots here didn’t know.

DD: Did you feel exploited?
No, of course not. Look, I knew there would be a certain amount of low-cut nighties. I was innocent in as much as I was a virgin, but I wasn’t totally without guile.

DD: Were you expected to behave in a particular way off-set?
Diana Dors got hold of me at one point and wanted to set me up in some fairly interesting situations. I was filming with her on The Amazing Mr Blunden, and she was tickling me to see how far I would go. She definitely wanted some interesting carryings on and I’d been warned that Diana would take me as far as I wanted to go. Diana was into some fairly heavy stuff.

DD: Did the other actresses share your innocence?
No, they were not as virginal. I think I was fairly unique, fresh from my convent school. I think a lot of my mates who didn’t go to convent school were certainly not innocent. Ingrid didn’t mind how many clothes she took off, she is proud of her body and she helped me not to feel self-conscious. Although I was virginal, I wasn’t inhibited, there’s a big difference. I was quite proud of my figure.

DD: Isn't there something odd about this virginal Maddy choosing to do these films?
I didn’t choose it, bless you! It just happened to me. I never intended to stick at it. I crawled off to do an English degree full-time after I’d been at it for a few years. It was something I thoroughly enjoyed but I never intended it as a career.

DD: How do you feel being considered a cult figure?
I’m delighted. None of us ever expected this to happen, this was never on the cards. You made these films, they went out and you thought they’d be forgotten. It’s amazing. I still get young boys getting bug-eyed at the sight of me because they love the Bond. I’m thrilled, it makes me feel young.

DD: What was the secret of your success?
I was so fortunate that I literally hopped from one film to another. I had the luck of the devil, I really did. I didn’t have the greatest talent, but I had some fine assets and I had the ability to make people laugh.

DD: Was there something about the era that made Hammer so great?
The 60s were an era of let’s try anything. It was fresh and new, we were crawling out of the dreaded 1950s – the most boring era ever where everything was grey. And suddenly the sun came out in the 60s and you really could step forwards off the threshold and have an adventure! Every time I stepped out of the door I said “I’m going to get on the underground and I’m going to have an adventure!” But you could do that in those days.

The Hammer Festival runs from October 27 – November 17