All small talk

Dwarf uprisings, Daleks and disreputable handymen


This article is taken from the February 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Having personally talked up the prospect of a dwarf uprising at Hugh Grant’s expense, after he shamelessly nabbed that Oompa Loompa role from a real pint-sized entertainer, one must concede it’s proved a sorry state of affairs since.

Whilst initially making plenty of noise about the injustice of it all, months before said movie’s release, the dwarf army notably failed to rise when it came to the crunch.

Such deflating levels of listlessness lead one to conclude that showbiz dwarfs — much like my own number, the theatrical obese — lack the all-important “get up and go” compared to more fashionable persecuted types.

Sitting through Ken Branagh’s so-so King Lear, I couldn’t help being distracted by the great man’s unnecessary levels of personal grooming for the role.

It eventually occurred to me that dear Ken, complete with meticulous bouffant and manicured beard, was inadvertently channelling unsettling telly presenter Noel Edmonds.

Hearthening to see flame-haired matinee idol Damian Lewis finally reprising his portrayal of Henry VIII on screens.

Having myself struggled through some of those sillier Henrys in recent decades (Mr Winstone’s London geezer/Mr Rhys Meyers’s panting pretty boy), there can be little doubt Damian’s playing to his strengths.

What’s more, this versatile Old Etonian proves particularly adept when adapting to the demands of the age — be it speaking in mockney tones to journalists, to midlife crisis pop singing and “bantering” with northern football types.

Normally keen to adopt an unnervingly perky persona in public, returning Doctor Who boss Russell T. Davies takes umbrage at anyone daring to question his inclusion of trans themes in the show. “Shame on you and good luck to you in your lonely lives!” he hisses. As Mr Davies continues to hold sway in British telly land, it’s surely enlightening for out-of-touch licence fee payers to see this Welsh vampire baring his fangs.

Meanwhile, with old time lords rarely averse to returning cameos, hats off to Russell’s ex-Doctor Who actor Christopher Eccleston for displaying trademark restraint when asked about the prospects of his own comeback. Evicted from his Tardis after just one series in 2005, Eccleston reasonably replied that Russell and pals would have to meet with Dalek-style extermination first.

Listening to director Mr Webster discussing his Scottish Play at Donmar Warehouse, it was concerning to hear the witches being deemed passé. Barring a disastrous “engagement” to one of their number during the Leicester run of 1975, this Shakespearean trouper has been honoured to appear alongside some of the very finest witches in the land.

Blonde on blonde

Touting rival upcoming screen dramas about Prince Andrew’s Newsnight car crash, the delightfully unseemly battle between former BBC colleagues Ms Maitlis and Ms McAlister promises to be amongst the year’s highlights. With both boasting headline-grabbing casts, the stakes couldn’t be higher for these steely-eyed blonde bombshells, both intent on coming out on top in 2024.

A brief message to the “freelance journalist” who’s apparently seen fit to bother my delightful former co-star Sarah Miles about serialising her “Larry Olivier love letters” for a national newspaper — doubtless after reading about one’s own (to date thwarted) attempts to retrieve them from her attic in this very column. Having myself tastefully requested only token remuneration for so sensitive a task, I can assure this weaselly adversary he has a fight on his hands!

Confirmation handsome devil Mr Sewell is engaged to an American firecracker a fraction his age meets with inevitable media comment. Whilst some question whether a man of Rufus’s vintage should still be cavorting with 20-something actresses, those acquainted with the finer points of theatrical history confirm a gentleman player of 56 has in fact reached the optimum age for a third, inappropriate bride.

Should the next Mrs Sewell, however, require a cautionary tale, she need look only as far as compatriot Sunny Ozell, courageously wed this past decade to precious lizard Patrick Stewart, 40 years her senior. Hinting decrepitude is finally setting in as he approaches 90, Patrick now ominously suggests he’s bracing himself for a “different sort of life” with his LA spouse/carer. Hang in there, Sunny!

Labour pains

Belated commiserations to Madame Izzard, who bizarrely failed to get the nod from Labour comrades after bidding to be Brighton’s next MP.

Despite Eddie generously offering to keep in touch via “Zoom” whilst otherwise engaged performing in New York, ungrateful oiks preferred a mundane-looking fellow wittering on about impenetrable local matters. What’s more, this undeserving victor had, unlike his inspirational opponent, notably failed to run much-publicised marathons for Nelson Mandela.

The old gal now reasonably cites “transphobia” for this latest political setback — Brighton being a well-known hotbed for such prejudice.

Farewell darling Brigit Forsyth, the Likely Lads lass whose long-ago attempt to throttle Rodney Bewes to death off-camera shall be forever applauded by those unlucky enough to have worked with him.

After always vowing that Falstaff was the one prominent character he’d never portray, McKellen will naturally be seen in the role from March. With memories of that unneeded octogenarian version of Hamlet still fresh, we must hope against any further missteps on the esteemed show pony’s part. Though early publicity at the time of writing (this modern Falstaff appears EastEnders-style in a leather jacket), gives cause for concern.

Left at the mercy of indecipherable workmen after the heating packed up on 2 January, any attempt to “engage” with said burly duo met with the same dead-eyed response whilst they carried out this costly business at a time and pace of their choosing.

Whilst long under-reported in the press, London-based character actors regularly fall prey to such wolves, all too aware we lack the faculties to question their activities. When these disreputable handymen eventually departed, and I reflected on the disastrous financial transaction that had transpired, one couldn’t help questioning the wisdom of a life largely dedicated to the joys of malicious gossip/questionable anecdote over more practical matters.

Recently contending with another diminished panto billing, not to mention dispiriting daytime TV appearances, sightings of Havers prove increasingly troubling.

Appearing “bedraggled” whilst wandering about Hyde Park, poor Nigel was reduced to “ranting incoherently” at passing cyclists for minutes on end. Regardless of my own differences with this difficult man, one cannot fail to acknowledge the unceasing cruelty of Father Time.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover