Coles to Newcastle

Showbiz vicars, lefty luvvies and a brush with death


This article is taken from the August-September 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

A year after this column first identified him as the most fitting successor to publicity-ravenous Gyles Brandreth, how heartening to see retired showbiz vicar Richard Coles stepping up to the plate with such gusto. 

Combining trademark humility with a ruthless eye on the prize since abandoning his East Midlands flock, there’s barely a town in the British Isles that hasn’t played host to Richard’s endearing brand of self-promotion these past months. 

Windbag Michael Sheen’s silly objection to non-Welsh actors playing Welsh characters brings back painful memories of prejudice endured by yours truly. Having chosen to adopt what I reasonably described as a “valleys accent” during a fraught run at Theatr Clwyd in 1985, one faced all manner of Welsh hissing at the time. 

Hats off to Tony Hopkins who, after cannily filling his pockets courtesy of a superhero franchise (appearing in three films), now finds time to helpfully announce it was all a load of tosh from beginning to end.

Sole traders

Hot on the heels of Miss Izzard, who’s been greedily portraying every character in Great Expectations, it’s now confirmed Ms Snook (the redhead in Succession) will play “all 26 roles” in an upcoming West End production of The Picture of Dorian Gray. While hogging the limelight in such ridiculous fashion, heaven forfend such self-absorbed stars might ever spare a thought for us humble troupers denied decent parts as a result!

While previously sceptical about “age-blind” casting being all the rage, I recently found myself compelled to roll back the years during our open air tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

With the thin-skinned youth playing Lysander fashionably struck down with “poor mental health” just outside Cirencester — 50 minutes before curtain-up — fellow cast members deemed the situation hopeless. Seeing only one course of action ahead, this sprightly septuagenarian announced he’d be “reluctantly” stepping into the breach, reviving a Lysander last seen (to some acclaim) in 1979.

Sensibly ignoring the persistent protests of my fellow players, and soon aided by tasteful make-up and hairpiece, the subsequent one-off performance more than compensated for the lad’s absence on the night. Indeed, one hesitates to suggest it rather “eclipsed” the efforts of those around me! 

Admirable to see Sir Mark Rylance highlighting the modern-day predicament of the “oddball” actor. While most of the profession’s big hitters obsess over more trivial matters in dreary 2023, this fast-diminishing breed, once the very bedrock of our trade, is deserving of so prominent a champion.

Credit to long-serving sexpot Britt Ekland for gamely agreeing to talk at length about her role in The Wicker Man on the 50th anniversary of its release. With devious types at the time having ensured Ms Ekland’s courageous “Scottish accent” was cruelly dubbed by a different actress — not to mention her character’s bare bottom instead being the property of a Glaswegian stripper — lesser stars than Britt would have given celebrations a wide berth.

Heartfelt thanks to readers expressing support since the difficult announcement I was contemplating legal proceedings against one Jeremy Irons, having been almost mowed down by the intolerable dandy as he sped through Haymarket on a beastly motorbike.

Often suffering dizzy spells and quite possibly worse since narrowly avoiding Jeremy when falling into nearby bin bags, one’s case appeared promising — not least after the nephew helpfully confirmed Irons had indeed been pictured riding said contraption on the night by MailOnline.

How sad one former co-star, present at the evening’s libations enjoyed by our jolly gang beforehand, saw fit to commit so shabby a betrayal. Presumably paid off by Irons and co, said backstabber emails to suggest he witnessed yours truly “drunkenly falling over at least two minutes after” Jeremy raced by … even suggesting that “cctv” would confirm the fact!

Venting about a Conservative Prime Minister on the BBC airwaves, just like the good old days, long-unfashionable Ben Elton finally finds himself cheered to the rafters once more by Labour’s showbiz/media folk. Only less glamorous comrades, currently not en vogue, cling to memories of Ben’s “treacherous” West End collaboration with (Tory!) Lloyd Webber.

Refusing to accept the definite demise of his lucrative Succession alter ego all these weeks on, Dundee A-lister Mr Cox bizarrely announces: “I think the debate is: is he dead?” Publicly referring to himself as an “icon” with now unseemly regularity during this late brush with fame, Brian’s desire for a Bobby Ewing-style resurrection promises to entertain for some time yet.

The Conservative-leaning actor, meanwhile, is of course a truly endangered species in 21st-century England. Much like our vastly outnumbered red squirrel, he risks being wiped out by opponents the moment he dares foolishly show his face.

Undignified sightings of Biggins, among the brazen few still publicly flying the flag, confirm the utter hopelessness of it all.

Agent of change

Intriguing to observe once high-powered agent Mr Whitehall (retired) having to awkwardly embrace the minor celebrity circuit so late in years. 

Presumably badgered into this enterprise by the perky blonde he took for a considerably younger second wife — a clever actress I remember well — Michael’s “cantankerous” persona connects with a decreasing, though still sufficiently profitable, section of England.

With those “Wittering Whitehalls” now offering healthy competition to the Hamiltons, should Michael quietly feel any unease about the direction of things, he need only look to close friend and former star client Nigel Havers, himself no stranger to changing career fortunes. 

We can all agree poor Nigel handled that painful transition from matinee idol to daytime telly regular with all necessary professionalism. 

I gather Miriam Margolyes enjoys publicly gloating about the whopping advance she received from publishers for that second upcoming “memoir” — just two years after the last dubious offering.

While such shameless bragging about one’s coffers would normally be deemed beyond the pale by the Puritans of 2023, it remains instructive to know different rules apply for socialist national treasures.

From bard to worse

With the Royal Shakespeare Company announcing fresh plans to promote the Bard to troublesome youths in the provinces, the misfiring agent stupidly suggested I might want to “give something back” and make my services available.

After frostily replying in the negative, I reminded her this RSC veteran had once selflessly given up valuable time to appear in a schools tour of As You Like It almost 30 years ago — only to face career-damaging allegations he’d “struck” a goading adolescent during a performance in Peterborough

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