Actor John Standing’s biggest surprise? The size of his check for his role in Robert Wagner’s American drama Lime Street

Star line: John Standing with his wife Sarah, daughter of Nanette Newman

John Standing (Sir John Ronald Leon, 4th Baronet) is an actor who has appeared on stage, television and screen for more than 60 years, writes York Membery.

Most recently, the 89-year-old starred opposite Michael Caine in The Great Escaper – the true story of a veteran who escaped from his nursing home to attend the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day in Normandy.

His grandfather, Sir Guy Standing, was a Hollywood star in the 1930s, and his actress mother Kay Hammond starred in Blithe Spirit in the West End during the war.

He lives in London with his second wife Sarah, the daughter of actress Nanette Newman, and has four children.

What did your parents teach you about money?

They told me never to worry about it, but that was a rude attitude. My stockbroker father, Sir Ronald Leon, was enormously wealthy as a young man and bought my actress mother a flat in Park Lane in London, but the marriage ended in divorce and he squandered his money on drink.

When he died at the age of 60, he left my late brother and me only £60 each, but in a way that was a good thing because it forced me to stand on my own two feet.

My stepfather, Sir John Clemens, also an actor, told me never to think only about the money, but also to aim for good writing when playing a role – good advice. That’s why I jumped at the chance to appear in The Great Escaper with Michael Caine. We were both disappointed that it wasn’t highlighted at this year’s awards, especially since it was Michael’s last film.

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?

Yes, during my early days as an actor, when I had a reputation and was staying in digs in the 1950s. I was paid £6-7 a week and had to eat the most disgusting food in the history of food. And even after I became more established, I found myself living off an overdraft from time to time.

Have you ever been given stupid money?

Yes, when I appeared in the American television drama series Lime Street with Robert Wagner (who played insurance advisers) in the mid-1980s.

“I don’t really deserve this!” I thought to myself, but in America it’s the norm. I got the part after Robert saw me in a play at the National Theater and said he’d like to do a TV series with me – so I went to California.

We Brits are always surprised by how much money you can make on American television, as Ricky Gervais recently discovered.

What was the best year of your financial life?

One of my best years financially was 1975 when I toured the US with the lovely Maggie Smith in Noel Coward’s Private Lives. Performing my cabaret show for a month in the bar of the Carlyle Hotel in New York was also very rewarding. But that’s show business: either you’re above it, or you think: ‘When is it going to happen again?’

The most expensive thing you bought for fun?

A second-hand Mercedes 190 SL convertible, underpowered but beautiful to look at, for £200-300 in the late 1960s when I lived in Chelsea. It was my pride and joy, but one night there was a storm and I woke up to find it had been hit by a fallen water tower. The windows had been smashed and the body was covered in dents – it looked like someone had attacked it with a baseball bat.

What is your biggest money mistake?

I spent a small fortune wining and dining an incredibly beautiful girl between my weddings. She was using heroin and I tried to get her off the heroin and into bed, but it didn’t work.

However, it was clearly a blessing in disguise because a few years later I met my lovely wife Sarah – and I have just treated her to a ruby ​​necklace to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.

Double act: John Standing in The Great Escaper with Michael Caine

Double act: John Standing in The Great Escaper with Michael Caine

Best money decision you’ve made?

I’ve always subscribed to Noel Coward’s belief that wearing smart clothes makes you look more successful than you actually are. As a young man I bought my first suit for £30, although it would probably cost a four-figure sum to buy a similar suit today. However, I think his advice still applies. Unfortunately, the moths have gotten to many of my older suits.

Do you have a pension?

Yes, I receive a generous (American) Screen Actors Guild pension.

Do you have property?

In the early 1990s I got my current house terribly cheaply for £120,000, which was owned by someone who was bankrupt. It is a former stable house in Pimlico and I have no idea what it is worth now though. Many MPs live in the smarter part of Pimlico.

If you were Chancellor, what would you do?

I would trade jobs with another minister because I’m not very good with money and I’m bad at math.

I would much rather be Minister for the Arts so that I could ensure that all our major galleries remain free to visit.

Furthermore, I would give the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theater enough money every year to ensure that their productions remain of the highest standard.

What is your number one financial priority?

Just to continue… I’m more than happy to work if I’m offered a decent role in a TV drama or film. Unfortunately, my theater days are behind me.

  • The Great Escaper is available to stream online.

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