Haldane Duncan Part 10: Shirley on Sunday 

1 February 2007 tbs.pm/2310

Viv Lumsden was the main presenter of STV’s 6pm Scotland Today and as she was so popular, she was given her own chat show, transmitted on Sunday afternoons: Viv on Sunday. The interview segment that is the subject of this article was made for the programme in 1991.


Shirley MacLaine had a problem. She was in the middle of a sell-out European tour and booked into the Edinburgh Playhouse as part of the British leg. Whether it was due to the time of year – people having little spare cash to fork out for the hefty admission prices – or the good burgers of Edinburgh simply didn’t fancy a night being entertained by Shirley MacLaine, the end result was that the tickets were not going as well as she would have liked.

She was not generally giving interviews, but her PR man persuaded her to make an exception in our case. The deal was that the interview had to be transmitted in advance of her Edinburgh date.

We didn’t kid ourselves: she wasn’t doing our show because we were the hot show to be on – oh no, this was an exercise in selling tickets. Keen to get a big star on our show and to meet the transmission requirements, we had to travel to London and carry out the interview in the hotel she was staying at during her engagement at the Dominion Theatre.

We had the address of the hotel, 47 Park Street, but not the name of the hotel, and rolled up in a taxi at the appointed hour to meet the freelance crew. Poor provincial us. I didn’t realise that the genuinely top London hotels are not necessarily the household names situated in the likes of Park Lane, but are discreet establishments. In this case, it was situated in a small street behind Park Lane with no name: it was indeed known as ‘Forty-seven Park Street’. It didn’t look like a hotel, but as you approached the door it magically opened and a polite doorman asked how he could help. When we gave our credentials, we were escorted to the room where our crew had already set up – they had been directed to the tradesman’s entrance.

In due course, the PR man came and told us that Miss MacLaine was suffering from a virus infection and was resting, but if we cared to wait she would see us before she left for the theatre. It was now two-thirty and we were booked on the last shuttle at eight. “What time does she normally leave?” enquired Robin Sieger, the producer.

Viv Lumsden

“She only needs another couple of hours – she’ll be with you at half past four.” This suited our presenter, Viv Lumsden (left), fine; she could get a bit of shopping in – something the previous tight schedule had made difficult.

Four-thirty had well gone when our PR friend returned and said that all was well, she was getting up and would be with us shortly. The crew was very patient but I thought, as we were waiting, we might as well get room service to send up some coffee. While I was on the phone, Viv called out, “I think I would rather have a glass of white wine.” I reduced the coffee order by one and asked for a glass of wine, but was told that the wine was in the fridge of the mini-bar. As promised, I found a bottle and poured Viv a glass. Waiting for the coffee, a few of us, prompted by Viv’s enthusiasm, finished off what she would have liked to have kept for herself but couldn’t with a big interview about to take place. When the bill finally reached us a week or so later, I discovered the coffee break had cost as much as my flight. That’s what comes of phoning La Gavroche for room service.

By this time, we were beginning to get worried. Shirley had to leave for the theatre at seven and I wanted at least half an hour with her; so six-thirty was the deadline for both her and us, if we were to catch our plane.

With about five minutes to go, the door opened and the PR man stuck his head round the door and asked me to join him outside. Robin and I hurried out and were introduced to a Harley Street doctor who told us that Miss MacLaine was very ill and if she was to give a performance this evening, then the television interview was completely out of the question.

We were stunned. So was the PR man. He certainly didn’t want news of an ill Shirley MacLaine affecting the box office, and we saw a huge gap in the show we had pre-recorded leaving a space for the interview.

“Will she be all right tomorrow?” enquired a worried Robin.

“Oh, I am confident that with a good night’s sleep and the treatment I have given her, she will be fine,” the doctor reassured us.

With tickets for the show in our pocket we set about changing our flights and booking into a hotel – not No. 47 I hasten to add. It was all a bit of a rush to get to the theatre, and we didn’t have too much time to look forward to it, which was just as well. When we arrived we found the streets jammed with people including Bruce Forsyth. The show was cancelled! As Brucie made his way through the crowds, trying in vain to retrieve his disappearing car, we thought there is nothing for it but to go and get blootered.

But the doctor was right. With a good night’s sleep plus his treatment, Miss MacLaine was fine the next morning. The following afternoon, she turned up full of apologies – but not looking as good as she should.

Everything was ready for her and I asked her to sit down while we lined up the shot. “Can I see a monitor?” she asked, and I turned mine round so that she could see the picture. “What are we going to do about this?” she sighed, pulling her hands over her face. I looked over to the lighting cameraman who shrugged his shoulders.

She immediately took over. “OK, lift the camera up… no not an inch, up at least a foot… what’s that light doing… switch it off… bring that light over here… drop those two down… honey, could you get the flowers from my room, I think they would look nice in the background. Forty-five minutes later she looked at herself on the screen. “Da-ra… Movie Star! That’s a lot better don’t you think?”

It sure was.

I told her that when she got to Edinburgh she would score some brownie points with the locals if she body-swerved the usual American pronunciation ‘Edinboro’ and managed to say it correctly. She was grateful for this information, as that was why she had changed the spelling of her surname. Among her family and friends, ‘McLean’ had been pronounced the way it should, but she knew that it would sound like a Scottish detergent when read from the marquee, so ‘MacLaine’ it became.

In breaks as the interview progressed, Shirley volunteered some stories of her own. In 1959, for example, an unprecedented visit to America by the Soviet Head of State, Premier Nikita Khrushchev, came to a head when he visited the set of the Twentieth Century Fox production of ‘Can-Can’. Mrs Khrushchev, who would have much preferred a trip to Disneyland, joined her husband at the studio, and they were shown a lively sequence featuring Shirley, Juliet Prouse and a troupe of dancers. Khrushchev smiled as the girls pranced on to the stage with shrill cries, kicking their legs and whirling their skirts. When they stuck out their tushes to the audience in the traditional Can-Can manner, the Russian leader looked shocked. Shirley told me that what really shocked him was that the girls were wearing panties. She reckoned that he had been hoping that they would execute the dance in the same way as it had been done in the 19th century in Paris, ie pantie-less.

I have always been a big fan of Frank Sinatra, and was amused when Shirley told me that she liked working the French hours that Frank worked. This meant that they never started filming until the afternoon, but had the corollary of continuing into the evening without a break. She said Frank worked that way because after a heavy night’s drinking, he hadn’t finished throwing up till midday.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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1 response to this article

Alan Keeling 13 May 2016 at 11:32 pm

In 1971, Shirley MacLaine was the main star of an ITC produced TV series, filmed in Britain, this half-hour series ran for just one short season, it bombed.

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