17 April 65 : Dodging the Vietnam draft, drinking with Peter O’Toole : Toronto, Canada

This continues the letter dated 13th April 1965, which began:
Dear Family,

Saturday 17th April

Today was quite a surprise. It has been snowing heavily and we drove to Toronto in a heavy blizzard. We couldn’t see much at all unfortunately, and when we got to Toronto it was very thick and messy.

We went to see Peter O’Toole in ‘Lord Jim’ tonight, which was great. He is very popular and well-known over here, and we are frequently telling people how ‘well’ we know him (well we did have a drink with him once!)

lord jum peter o toole

On Friday, in Syracuse, New York, I phoned up one of the local TV stations. Usually most of these local stations have a morning programme where they interview people. I wondered if they would be interested in talking to a couple of Englishmen working their way around the world. So I phoned up and they were most interested.

They were most keen to have us on, but as they tape each day’s show in advance, they had already done that day’s, and they didn’t do any more taping on Saturdays or Sundays. They wanted us to go along one day next week, but we couldn’t accept as we won’t be there.

But, it did prove that these local stations are interested, so we shall phone up one at the next town we are in. We, of course, are interested in the fee (if any) and if this proves to be successful we shall phone up a station at each town we are in – and possibly make some money on the side.

Colin and I have been doing some serious thinking and have decided on a plan. We have heard so many stories of people making fantastic profits from company shares that we have decided to write to a man we met in Miami Beach in Florida. He is a financier and we are going to ask him to advise us as to where to invest the money we have made since we have been here.

We did, at first, intend to send it home to our respective banks. But as this will only appreciate by two and a half percent it doesn’t really seem worth it. So we are planning to invest it here in a good company, leave it for a couple of years, and hope that it will have increased ‘considerably’ by the time we want to cash it in again. It seems a good idea in theory – I hope it will work in practice.

Well, I can’t think of much more to tell you so I will end this for this week.

I hope you are all well and fit. I’m glad to hear Mam is with you for Easter, and I hope you are enjoying your good weather. Those daffodils looked great in the pictures – I hope you are enjoying them. Have you got any birds nesting in the boxes this year?

Well that’s all for now. Look after yourselves.

Tony xxxxx


P.S. A few weeks ago I registered for Selective Service, which is the equivalent of our National Service, and yesterday in the post I received all the forms to fill in. I am exempt as the deadline is 26 years of age!

Colin, however, registered at a different place and went through a different procedure, and had to fill in the forms in the office. This speeds up the process considerably, and, as he isn’t 26 until next month, there is a strong possibility that he may be called up.

He is quite concerned about it, and I pull his leg like mad!! He may have to go for a medical but after that he will be 26, so he shouldn’t actually be called up.

He says he would skip the country, but this isn’t easy as we both have to get a pass from the Selective Service Board before we can leave the country, and they give us a pass which has to be shown at the airport or docks. So we are lumbered if they should really want us!!!

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A note from Tony: In this letter, I mentioned the Selective Service System (SSS) but I kept it relatively low key, as I didn’t want to alarm my mother into thinking that I might be drafted and end up in Vietnam – however, it was of real concern to us.

When Colin and I decided to travel around the world, we realised that the best way to start was to officially emigrate to the USA, as it allowed us to cross the Atlantic on the RMS Queen Elizabeth using special discounted tickets for emigrants.

As we were granted Green Cards and Social Security numbers, we were also entitled to live and work anywhere in the USA without any limitations.

What we didn’t appreciate at the time of applying was that we would also become liable to be drafted into the US Army, the US Air Force and the US Navy.

This was at a time when America was embroiled in the Vietnam war, and many young American men were being drafted, often against their will, into a horrific conflict.

When we entered America in October 1964, the US Selective Service System decreed that all males between the ages of 18 to 25 must register on the SSS. For the next two years, they would then be eligible to be drafted into the US Forces.

Because all male immigrants had to enrol regardless of age, both Colin and I had to register. At age 26, I was already exempt from the draft on age grounds, so I was not too worried.

However, as Colin didn’t turn 26 until May 1965, he was eligible to be drafted throughout our first seven months in America.

Naturally this worried him, and I must admit that I didn’t help much by pulling his leg by saying things like “Well you wanted to see the world – now you will be seeing Vietnam!”

Thankfully, he heard nothing from the SSS and in May 1965, he also became exempt.

The Vietnam War of 1955 to 1975 was horrendous, with 47,424 US combat troops killed, 10,785 other US citizens killed, and 211,454 US personnel wounded. Countless men returned from combat seriously traumatised.

Many young American men became ‘draft dodgers’ by crossing the border into Canada where they were welcomed by the Government, which was keen to increase the Canadian population, especially with young well-qualified males.

(It’s surprisingly easy to cross the border into Canada at certain times. My wife’s cousin lives on the Canadian side of Lake Superior, and during the winter, she and her husband often drive across the frozen lake – where the border between America and Canada runs down the middle – to visit their favourite restaurant in the States!)

Colin and I agreed that if he were drafted, we would try to flee to Canada but thankfully, we didn’t face this stressful situation and escaped the fate which tragically took – or ruined – the lives of so many young American men.

NOTE: In the late 1950s, Peter O’Toole was still fairly unknown, acting with the Bristol Old Vic theatre company.
In 1958 he appeared in The Long and the Short and the Tall at Bristol’s Theatre Royal, which was so successful that in 1959 it transferred to London.

Colin and I were members of the Bristol Youth Theatre Company then, and as a group, we all saw the play twice – first in Bristol, then at London’s Royal Court Theatre.

At the end of the London performance, the group sent a note to O’Toole’s dressing room, explaining that we’d travelled from Bristol to watch him.

O’Toole soon emerged and thanked us for coming – then took us to the pub next door and bought everyone a drink.

He was very nice and very friendly – he was probably very flattered by the attention we were all giving him!

The Long and the Short and the Tall launched O’Toole’s career and he later became an international superstar, playing Lawrence in the epic, award-winning 1963 film Lawrence of Arabia.

He also became quite a notorious hell raiser!


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