The gossip must go on

Lockdown tales from our showbusiness mole

On the Stage

While the plague has brought show business to its knees, let us cling to the positives:


★ Self-isolation enables one to perform — in their entirety — certain roles yours truly was cruelly denied by enemies in bygone years. This week alone, one’s private residence has been the venue for a long-awaited Hamlet, Vanya and Richard III. Alas, a particularly moving late-night performance as Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman was disrupted by some philistine banging on the ceiling from the flat below.

★ Confined to her home with only a 17-year-old cat for company, the under-performing agent cannot pretend with any credibility to have “missed” my daily calls.

★ Watching repeats of my TV guest appearances down the years (Lovejoy, Van der Valk, Secret Army to name but three) can be truly life-affirming.

★ We’re being spared news of another gender-swapping, gender-enhancing, how-fluid-is-my-gender production of Shakespeare’s works.

★ One can finally knuckle down and dedicate energies to those projects I’ve unwisely put on hold too long. My ambitious self-penned production, Oliver Cromwell: The Musical, draws closer to completion.

★ The release of the most achingly politically-correct Bond film of all time has been delayed.

★ Finally given the chance to weigh up what’s important in life, it’s been liberating to let go of certain professional grievances that now, in the scheme of things, barely seem relevant. How refreshing to instead focus thoughts and energies on more productive matters — namely the rest of those professional grievances I shall now be pursuing with renewed vigour.

★ Unreasonable demands concerning payment of my tab at The Two Brewers have been rightly put on hold.

★ Gyles Brandreth currently isn’t on a national tour.

Anxious to offer a ray of happiness in challenging times, I recently volunteered to appear outside an old folks’ home — from the safety of the garden — gladly performing one’s theatrical monologues for their benefit. What a shame “song and dance man” Brian suddenly turned up the very same afternoon to hog the limelight with his tawdry array of crowd-pleasers at my expense. While my own efforts were duly drowned out by this crass opportunist, the sudden supposed “joy” on the faces of residents behind those windows was doubtless really grim tolerance on their part.

NHS staff may dominate the headlines, but can any self-sacrifice really compare to that of veteran sexpot Helen Mirren after she agreed to briefly appear “make-up free” for the cause? The old girl’s damehood now barely feels adequate.

How cruel of uncharitable types to mock our curvaceous English rose Kate Winslet, after she patiently took the time to teach the hoi polloi how to wash their hands; not to mention explaining she’d once starred in a film about a rather nasty virus herself. Out of touch celebrities will soon be wondering why they even bother!

Departure lounging

Leafing through the diaries — still regrettably unpublished — I see it’s 20 years since the Grim Reaper finally dragged away dear old Johnnie Gielgud. Unimpressed by the National Theatre’s stark 1970s architecture when based there for a run of Julius Caesar, I recall Johnnie mischievously announcing: “I keep waiting for my flight to be called.”

With the Edinburgh Festival now off, it’s sad to think my annual sojourn in the Scottish capital is not to be. Even sadder, of course, for my long-serving Edinburgh landlady Mrs Archibald, 91, who so enjoys hearing my “news”, as well as fulfilling her daily duties giving one’s flyers out.

Raising a glass to dear old Roy Hudd following news of his passing, I was reminded he used to take great delight in seeing News Huddlines co-star Dame June Whitfield struggle with the Geordie accent. Having been embarrassed in the past, she became wise to such stunts at her expense. When Roy tried his luck once more, suddenly announcing during the show her character was “born and bred in Newcastle,” June deftly fired back: “We moved years ago!”

I note the promotion of this chap with the admirable hair in the socialist ranks has been causing renewed excitement among theatrical friends, many of whom went uncharacteristically quiet when the dreary Wilfrid Brambell lookalike was at the helm. Come the day “normal times” return, we can rest assured a whole host of showbiz folk will again be generously on hand to tell us how to vote.

Plague permitting, I hear that proud old peacock Sir Patrick Stewart has been insisting on lavish 80th birthday celebrations in his honour in BOTH Los Angeles and London later this summer. His (very) young bride is apparently in charge of invitations. I trust Patrick will remember those among us who so selflessly helped propel him to glory all those years ago.

Irons in the fire

Strange to think one was happily busying himself on set 40 years ago with a small but pleasing role in the TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. I fondly remember, as if it were yesterday, the fruity language among senior cast members concerning a certain Jeremy Irons.

Noses were left severely out of joint when the show-off insisted on disrupting filming by strutting off to star in a Hollywood movie …

Dame Judi Dench sensibly distances herself from movie musical disaster Cats, maintaining she’s never seen her performance and hasn’t read reviews. Somewhat trickier, alas, for esteemed co-star Sir Ian McKellen: after an advance viewing of the film, he courageously assured the media it would be an “absolute classic”.

Plans for a thirtieth-anniversary reunion dinner for long-forgotten TV sitcom Something’s Up are regrettably put on hold. The Midlands-based show never got beyond the pilot stage, proving once again that the comedy business can be the cruellest of all. It remains a source of bitter regret to myself and fellow surviving cast members that repeated assurances Su Pollard and Rodney Bewes were “in the bag” turned out to be hot air.

During these desperate hours the agent has been informed yours truly is bracing himself for the worst: with not inconsiderable reservation,  I shall be “available for panto.”

Regular readers will recall I turned my back on such tat long ago, following what I’ll only describe as a regrettable experience in Colwyn Bay.

A prospective return to the genre naturally comes with the inevitable strict proviso: one shall not be sharing a stage with that intolerable Christmas pudding Dame Biggins.

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