Lanning at Large with romance, Anita Harris and a horsedrawn bus
Dave Lanning meets Anita Harris in 1967
LET us get one thing straight from the start. I am not kidding, dreaming, spoofing or in any way attempting to elongate anyone’s leg.
Between sips of champagne I am discussing love and marriage with Miss Anita Harris!
While sitting upstairs on a 1910, open-top, horse-drawn London omnibus, clumping gracefully down Park Lane on a fine spring morn! And it’s all in the cause of authenticity. In Tuesday’s Tom Jones! show, Anita sings a “Love and Marriage” duet with Tom, seated picturesquely in a horse-drawn carriage.
I invite her to expound more fully on the subject.
“Right,” she says. “Come and join me on a publicity stunt; it will be an appropriate setting.”
Now publicity is part and parcel of show business. But, at least, Anita could have told me exactly what was in store. But she’s like that. Touch of the mischievous. Loves to catch people out; to see the look of amazement on their faces.
Just like the one I register, when we rendezvous outside the London Palladium, and I see this magnificent, spiral-staired old bus, hired for the occasion from a Luton farmer — horses and all.
There’s Anita, looking gorgeous in an Irish plaid, mini-skirted costume. On the seat opposite: Suzanna Leigh, Elvis Presley’s recent leading lady, ditto gorgeous, along for the ride as well. There are hosts of models in absolutely outrageous hats. The champers flows. Yes, I am willing to concede there are less glamorous ways of earning a living than this…
Hm, but love and marriage. That’s what I’m here to discuss. Bachelor girl Anita, talented, attractive, definitely eligible, has strong views on the subject. Or at least, she did have. Didn’t I see a report of her on record as saying: “I don’t believe in show business marriages. The casualty rate is too high. I would never marry anyone in show business.”
Her big brown, cleverly made-up eyes roll, she sighs and admits’ “I did say that once. Haven’t you got a long memory, Dave? It was when I started in show business — I was 16 at the time, the prototype teenager, very impressionable.
“I did a season singing in Las Vegas, and it seemed that all around me show business marriages were going on the rocks. But I’m older now” — 23 — “and I’ve rather changed my views.”
Surprising how Anita, who has a Goonish sense of humour (she’s a great fan, and friend of Harry Secombe) can turn on the seriousness. It hardly fits our zany surroundings, but it’s interesting.
So what made her change her mind?
“Getting to know happily married couples in the business,” she says, waving grandly to astonished patrons of a red London bus (circa ’67), circumnavigating Hyde Park Corner. “Just observing how they live and co-exist.“
Such couples as Anne and Gerald (The Rat Catchers) Flood — whose hospitality and bonhomie I can also commend — and Kenneth Cope (Jed Stone, Coronation Street) and his wife, Renny Lister.
At this point, our cosy, if draughty, tête-à-tête breaks off, due entirely to a surprise outburst from Miss Leigh, who has to date been a quiet, interested listener to Anita’s theories.
She lives near here, and is convinced that Dobbin, our lead horse, is taking the wrong route to our eventual destination in King’s Road, Chelsea.
Horses, however, aren’t cab drivers. Despite Suzanna’s protestations, Dobbin plods on regardless.
Suddenly, alongside, trots a trim little red wagon, advertising a firm of cigarette manufacturers, pulled by two magnificent high-stepping greys.
Our coachman grins and says: “The grey on the right is old Dobbin’s girl friend!” Dobbin winks a blinkered eye as the mare swings by. It’s spring ail right; love and marriage is in the air. Dobbin obviously knew where he was going…
Says Anita: “The most important consideration of any marriage is… is it love or not. That is all that matters.”
Now there’s a certain faraway look in Anita’s eye and I have a suspicion it isn’t entirely the spring air and the champers. Is she… could she… has this love business got through to her?
She grins. She frowns. She giggles. She puckers. It must be love. Then she says: “Everyone always says ‘no comment’ to that question, Dave, and it’s rotten of you to put me on the spot. All I’m going to say is that last night I had a marvellous dinner with a very old friend and well, oh, I don’t know, it could be happening, I suppose.”