Fact or Fiction: an introductory guide

Our stage-door gossip, Romeo Coates, offers a brief guide to fact and fiction

On the Stage

This article is taken from the January/February 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.


With The Crown’s creator Peter Morgan Recently facing calls to be sent to the tower after shamelessly misrepresenting the Royals, there have also been growing demands for “Fact” and “Fiction” to be more clearly identified in our historic dramas. I humbly offer a brief, introductory guide:

Shakespeare — Worry not. Thankfully our greatest playwright would never have dreamt of making up royal history when it suited him.

Dick Turpin — Viewers all those years ago were made fools of. Real highwayman Dick wasn’t anywhere near as likeable or entertaining as Richard O’Sullivan or Sid James.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — Similarly sad to report that the actual Wild West criminals of the same name looked nothing like Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Also seems they lacked Newman and Redford’s popular on-screen banter.

Henry VIII — Twenty-first century TV portrayals have included Ray Winstone (Cockney geezer Henry) and The Tudors’ Jonathan Rhys Meyers (unhinged, pretty boy Henry). If I really had to choose between these two, I’d say Ray’s the winner on historic accuracy — mainly because I’ve worked with the old bruiser and know he can bear a grudge.

Carry on Cleo — Bang on the money.

Richard Harris as Oliver Cromwell — In fairness to the rogue, few would have had his nerve to portray Cromwell with an Irish accent.

By the Sword Divided — This scandalously overlooked 1980s BBC TV adaptation of the English Civil War is well worth revisiting for both historic accuracy and, dare I say, calibre of performance — not least because I may have been in it, and don’t appear to have received a royalty cheque since 1995.

Forceful Dave

The recent passing of Darth Vader star Dave Prowse — the chap from Bristol in the outfit, rather than the American fellow doing the voice — leaves me wondering whether it’s time to finally let go of lingering resentment.

Always keen to enjoy his undoubtedly prominent place in the pecking order when attending sci-fi conventions, Dave was in fairness prone to hogging the limelight at others’ expense. When he once unfortunately overheard yourstruly disparagingly refer to him as a “lucky bodybuilder” during a fans’ event in Liverpool — I’d just enjoyed a convivial lunch with cast members from Blake’s 7 — one came alarmingly close to feeling the “Dark Side of the Force” in all its fury.

News that long-blooming English rose Jane Seymour was misleadingly informed by the powers that be she could still pass for “25” in an upcoming TV drama leaves former suitors incensed on her behalf.

Cast in the decades-spanning role of twelfth-century Queen consort Eleanor of Aquitaine, Jane, over 45, had been eagerly telling all and sundry — not least media types — that she’d been deemed capable of playing the character from her “mid-twenties upwards”.

Knowing this treacherous business as one does, I take no pride in saying I was among those fearing the worst. Suffice it to say, the old girl was enraged to find the rug pulled from under her days later, when some fresh-faced filly trotted off with the younger part of Ms Seymour’s role after all.

While cruel hindsight suggests dear Jane may have been a tad hasty making her initial announcements to the press, surely those responsible for this humiliating volte-face should hang their heads in shame!

A wig fitting for a small but pleasing screen role reassured yours truly that one can still cock a snook at Father Time when fate allows. Dressed in full PPE, the kindly girl in wardrobe acknowledged — after a little prompting — that I “definitely” looked younger as a result.

With 2021 doubtless about to prove highly competitive on the castings front as showbiz attempts to get back on its feet, one even dared to contemplate whether such a flattering “new image” might prove professionally beneficial on a more long-term basis?

The frankly immature hilarity this caused the underperforming agent when I delicately broached the matter, once again confirms why she’s wholly unfit to be managing my affairs.

Final cut?

After reading that the third and previously only disappointing instalment of The Godfather has been re-released 30 years on in “improved” form, following a new cut by Francis Ford Coppola, I couldn’t help feeling inspired.

No stranger to the botched visions of cocksure movie directors myself down the years, I was compelled to email the one surviving British filmmaker who’d had my younger self in a lead role many moons ago. Noting the original end product had not been well received in cinemas — professional pride still prevents me mentioning it by name — I implored him to “grasp the nettle” as Mr Coppola has done, and finally fulfil the “grand vision” he and I long ago spoke of. Pointers from this end included “ruthlessly cutting down” the scenes involving my so-called love interest, who was more trouble than she was worth and merely distracted from the true essence of the piece.

I can now confirm I’ve since received a response. While not from the man himself directly, a relative or carer politely points out that as “Brian’s now 101, he probably won’t be in a position to re-edit the film in question.”

Regular readers will recall the resourceful nephew recently arranged a handy little sideline which involves me having brief “video chats” with longtime fans (currently £27.99 a time). These mainly happy events also have their pitfalls, alas. I shall only say that one’s on-screen encounter with “Colin from Staffordshire” — not properly vetted beforehand — confirmed the world can be a very dark and tragic place indeed.

Following last month’s distressing item regarding my brief, unfriendly encounter with a man appearing to be John Nettles on Earl’s Court Road — an important update.

It now seems the individual in question may not have been the former Midsomer Murders and Bergerac star, but a charmless doppelgänger now notorious in those parts. A local source since tells me “Bad Nettles”, as he’s come to be nicknamed in SW5, lacks any of the real version’s trademark bonhomie and is notorious for “outright rudeness” when unknowing members of the public innocently approach. More on this when I have it…

A steal at auction

I see McKellen has been retelling that (tired?) anecdote about once stealing a beer mat from the Rovers Return during a guest stint on Coronation Street (Ian has to claim his “conscience” ensured he returned it the following day). Naturally, forgiveness regarding such matters is in short supply when it comes to the rest of us. When I previously chose to tastefully advertise on eBay a range of props accidentally acquired from films and TV dramas down the years, all hell broke loose.

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