Lights, camera, chaos

Our board-treading gossip columnist grapples with actors on Zoom

On the Stage

Concerned about my well-being in isolation, kindly nephew Edmund — I refuse to call him “Ed” — arranged for me to be hooked up with old actor pals on something he described as “Zoom.” After not inconsiderable difficulty, I found myself connected to the said afternoon social gathering, where a combination of drunkenness, deafness and outright senility on the part of those present rendered the sorry affair a shambles.

As previously noted, lockdown performances of one’s theatrical triumphs have not aways been gratefully received by the crass oaf regrettably residing in the flat below.

Morale was therefore belatedly raised when, following my spirited Thursday night medley from Salad Days, I surprisingly heard loud applause from residents outside. While a report on the wireless later mentioned something about clapping for the NHS, this humble player felt honoured to be sharing the glory.

New Dame in town

Preposterously claiming the plague has cost him “30” jobs, I note insufferable show-off Christopher Biggins is predicting events may prevent him from “giving his Dame” in Dartford at the end of the year.

With temporary financial inconvenience having left yours truly resigned to a pantomime comeback, perhaps the discerning folk of Dartford will sensibly turn elsewhere? I should add one’s own Dame was once briefly described in Wolverhampton as “several notches” above anything Biggins has accomplished.

Ever since we aired differences over one’s professional headshots — (technically taken in 1995, but truly more than sufficient) — relations between myself and the new agent have not always proved harmonious.

During a recent lockdown telephone conversation, her somewhat indelicate suggestion a “man of my age” may have to resign himself to being cooped up for some time yet, resulted in a regrettable outburst on my part. This, admittedly, was fuelled by the fact one had already ventured into the cocktail hour.

Mercifully, wounds were healed in the cold light of day, when I generously arranged delivery of a conciliatory Chocolate Orange.

Joining the early morning “oldies” queue at the local supermarket in Battersea, how utterly delightful it was to recently encounter Joanna Lumley, still holding up most admirably at 74. A male staff member, glint very much in eye, blatantly attempted to curry favour by telling the visibly delighted Joanna her arrival was premature, as this hour was for “pensioners only”. One can always be guilty of over-egging the pudding.

While the cancellation of the Edinburgh Festival means I sadly won’t be lodging at the residence of longtime landlady Mrs Archibald, 91, this August, she now makes contact via letter. Claiming to have only belatedly realised yours truly departed the Scottish capital last summer “without paying” for his room, she requests remuneration. Naturally such money-grabbing behaviour leaves one inclined to take his future business elsewhere.

Recently taking one’s daily stroll in the plague-ridden capital, I was alerted to the disturbing presence of an elderly woman randomly shouting at passers-by while sitting on her top step. Imagining the poor dear might be in some difficulty — or at least in search of her carer — I cautiously drew closer to offer gentlemanly assistance. Mercifully, before any social distancing was compromised, I saw it was that batty exhibitionist Miriam Margolyes. Suffice it to say, one bid a hasty retreat!

Professional firecracker Frances Barber, over 39, publicly laments: “I miss the great, drunk actor.” Modern-day prejudice against such practitioners of the trade sadly remains rife. One merely has to produce a sociable hip flask at 9am on-set these days, and all consternation breaks loose!

Spare a thought for Dame Judi Dench, 85, who I see for the umpteenth time has needed to clarify to the pesky press that she presently “isn’t planning on retiring”. For those not up to speed with other oft-repeated news about our long-serving lady stars, I offer a brief but useful summary: Dame Helen Mirren maintains (dubiously) that she “doesn’t want to be a sex symbol”; Britt Ekland has never forgiven Rod Stewart; and Dame Joan Collins (now close to 90) thinks “age is just a number”.

Doomed to twilight fame

Scottish thespian John Laurie, who fell off the perch 40 years ago aged 83, struggled to accept late TV success.

A household name courtesy of his role as Dad’s Army undertaker Private Frazer, I’m reminded dear John was not shy of occasionally voicing resentment. He once ungratefully exclaimed: “I’ve worked at the Old Vic, played Hamlet, made 100 films, and have to wait till the age of 73 to be famous in this crap!”

Sympathies must go out to vain old dog Sir Patrick Stewart’s (very) young bride Sunny, after the near-octogenarian chose to “raise” our lockdown spirits by performing daily video readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

A professional musician by trade, the poor girl’s been obliged to loyally film this self-congratulatory affair. Hang in there, Sunny!

Such a charmer

Best of British luck to housewives’ favourite Nigel Havers, who I see is launching his own theatre company to tour up and down the land. Thank goodness a regrettable locking of horns between myself and Nigel on the set of now underrated 1980s sitcom Don’t Wait Up can be consigned to history.

What better way of proving it’s all water under the bridge than by casting a certain versatile character actor and former co-star now patiently waiting in the wings!

Leafing once more through the old diaries — sadly overlooked by blinkered publishing types — I noted it was 25 years since my brief involvement in long-forgotten 1995 British comedy film A Feast At Midnight. It marked what appears to be the only credited acting appearance to date of a cocky young chap called Michael Gove, cast in the small role of the chaplain. Whatever became of the wee lad?

With the grim reaper seemingly lurking in every corner of late, it’s been some comfort to know that extensive instructions for one’s own funeral are all in place, should the dastardly fellow strike. Having witnessed the occasionally shabby send-offs of certain co-stars down the years, naturally I’ve been at pains to ensure nothing is left to chance. Without wishing to overly blow one’s trumpet,
it seems fair to conclude that the said future ceremony — or production if you prefer! — will prove an unqualified triumph. Not least because it would be the only showbiz funeral in living memory that Gyles Brandreth is specifically barred from attending.

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

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

Critic magazine cover