9 Mar 2017

'Love and friendship make the world go round'

From Nine To Noon, 10:07 am on 9 March 2017

96-year-old Robin Dalton's new book One Leg Over: Having Fun - Mostly in Peace and War is a portrayal of a colourful life and career.

The book catalogues her romantic liaisons, a divorce that caused scandal, being a society belle in war torn Britain and a career as a film producer and writer.

Dalton told RNZ’s Kathryn Ryan the name of her book was greeted with laughter, but she could not understand why.

“I was absolutely appalled when everyone started to laugh when they heard the title, I didn’t know what they were laughing about. I was so in my elderly innocence.

“I was told it had a sexual connotation – to me, it means trying to get out of the bath in the morning.”

She says the book was never intended to be a memoir.

“It was things that I hadn’t already said.”

Dalton has also written Aunts up the Cross, about her childhood with her extended family in Sydney's Kings Cross.

It remains incredibly popular and has been in print with different publishers for 56 years.

Despite her success, Dalton says she believes ambition is a dirty word.

“I think it’s not necessarily better, but more pleasurable and more rewarding to just take everything as it comes and meet everything head on.

“I found it very useful, I suppose, never to say no to an opportunity when it came up, without thinking in advance.”

She says it’s hard to live like that unless you’ve experienced a certain amount of tragedy.

Dalton’s husband and father of her children died when he was just 33.

“When you’ve got two babies it’s, you know, something to cope with. Gives you a sense of proportion.”

Growing up in Kings Cross, Dalton says she gained a lot from living right in the middle of ‘life’.

“I saw a lot of reality and sadness and enormous humour on our doorstep and bursting into our house, from a very, very early stage.”

Dalton’s father treated anyone and everyone – including members of the ‘underworld’.

Dalton married when she was 18, an experience she describes as horrible.

“It only lasted five months.”

She says while her partner didn’t hit her, he abused her in every other way.

The divorce was published across the front pages of the papers, but she says it didn’t have a big effect on her as she was so young.

From Sydney she moved to London, where she was a society belle.

“You left school, you went to finishing school and then you went to Europe and you became a debutante.”

Dalton says her early years in London were wonderful.

“I suppose it was for everybody who came out just after the war.

“There was a sense of relief and enjoyment and discovery.”

It was a time of many lovers and much romance for Dalton.

“Love and friendship make the world go round.”

Dalton later established a working career in publishing ‘totally by accident’.

“It happened to be something that I thoroughly enjoyed and actually I was very good at.”

She had plenty of famous clients and theatre directors and she says she wished she’d never given it up.

Her working life also included time as an intelligence officer for the Thai government, which was set-up through her friendship with a Thai prince.

“I did it and it was wonderful. I had two babies while I was doing it.”

Dalton also worked as a film producer and was behind Oscar and Lucinda, an early Cate Blanchett movie, and Madame Souzatska which starred Shirley MacLaine.

Despite living in England for 71 years, she says she still feels deeply Australian.

“I’ve never bothered to get a British passport.”