At the age of 75, Jack Lindsay embarked on a brand new career as an actor. Until that point, he had spent more than 50 years manufacturing and selling clothing all over the world. Now, aged 85, he continues to do regular acting jobs, appearing in adverts, movies and television dramas.
Much of the work is in advertising. “I do a lot of medical products, nursing homes, that sort of thing,” he says. “My agent will call and say: ‘Jack, I’ve got a job for you. I’m afraid it’s a grandfather again.’ I’ll say: ‘Can’t it be a young leading role?’”
Lindsay was born in Bethnal Green in 1931. “My mother had a couple of ladies’ gown shops and I was born above one of them.”
As a boy, he wasn’t allowed to play out in the street, because of the strong fascist presence in the area. “Mosley’s office was just round the corner.”
His father, a master tailor, was killed in 1943 in the Bethnal Green underground disaster, when nearly 200 people, rushing to shelter from an air raid, were crushed to death in a blocked stairway. Lindsay, aged 12 at the time, was an evacuee. “The person I was billeted with, said: ‘Your father’s dead. Now go to school.’”
When he returned to London at end of the war, he joined Hackney Boys’ Club. “It completely changed my life. All of a sudden, I was a Jew again. When I first came back, I had no knowledge of Judaism whatsoever. I learned my barmitzvah parrot fashion.”
He did a lot of amateur acting at the club throughout his teens, and had a few acting and modelling roles as a young man. “When I was in my 20s in San Francisco; they were filming Bullitt on one of the hills. I just happened to be watching. Steve McQueen took a break and they wanted to get a camera angle. So the guy said: ‘Can you spare a minute?’ They put a jacket on me and I got into his car. So I was a stand-in for Steve McQueen!”
However, there was never any question in young Jack’s mind that he should become a professional actor — although his son, Nigel, did just that. Instead, it was completely clear to him that he needed to go out and earn a stable living. He attributes this to his Jewish background: “It was bred in me that I knew I had to have my own business and work for myself. So much so that I could almost taste it. It was an obsession.”
Lindsay borrowed £30, bought some material and made some shirts. He sold them and made some more. Within six years, he had a group of companies with a factory in Finsbury Park.
The company, called Wenslow, sold men’s clothes to all the shops in Carnaby Street just as it was becoming the centre of the ’60s fashion world. “I was known as the King of Carnaby Street. We did things like lace shirts for men — see-through. And lace trousers. The Americans wouldn’t advertise them — they said they were lewd.”
Before long, Lindsay branched into women’s clothing, too. “We used to pay models to wear our clothes on the Underground trains. Jilly Cooper was one of them.”
While his clothing company was going from strength to strength, Jack married and had three boys: first Nigel, and then twins Michael and Richard.
Nigel is now an award-winning actor. He played the lead role in the original cast of Shrek The Musical, was Barry the Muslim convert in the Bafta-winning Four Lions; and could be seen as Sir Robert Peel in Victoria.
Does Nigel Lindsay feel that he has made a career doing something that his father would have liked to do? “I think Dad was always an actor manqué,” he tells me, adding that his father hadn’t had the financial stability to choose such an uncertain profession.
Nigel says that his father has always supported him in his own choice of career. He started off as a stockbroker. “When I turned round and said I was going to drama school, my mother nearly had an heart attack. But my father said: ‘You must do what you want to do.’”
In the meantime, Lindsay père continued to manufacture and sell fashionable clothes for about 20 years, until the demand died down. At that point, he moved into buying whole consignments of stock from abroad and selling it to stores and wholesalers.
Then, about 10 years ago, he realised that he didn’t need to carry on doing this if he didn’t want to. “My wife said to me: ‘Why don’t you go back into acting like when you were a youth?’ I went into an agent, and they said: ‘You got any photos?’ I said: ‘I’ve got some holiday snaps.’ They said: ‘All right, give us the holiday snaps.’ And that was it. I haven’t stopped since.”
As well as featuring in numerous advertising campaigns, he has acted alongside Brad Pitt in The Counselor, appeared in The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and many more.
He describes how he was asked to dress up in a flying uniform for a heart pill advert. “Then, the next day, I had to come back because they decided I wouldn’t be fit enough to fly a plane, having taken the heart pill.”
Instead, they filmed him being chauffeured around in a car.
Has he ever worked with Nigel? “Just once, in Waking the Dead. We went past each other. He was a detective, and I was in a wheelchair, coming the other way.”
And what impact has Judaism had on his career? In the clothing business, he had many Jewish business associates, whereas in the acting world he inhabits now, it isn’t relevant. “I now go to shul regularly, but I’m not saying how regularly that is,” he says.