Julien Spirtle

Comeback Kid

Arty Types

This article is taken from the May 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

At the very first lunch he ever had with his very first agent, in Joe Allen’s restaurant in Covent Garden, Julien Spirtle was given a solitary piece of counsel. “Remember, Jules,” the agent had said — he was a florid, elderly man who would later die of cirrhosis of the liver — “you only get one chance.”

Recalling these words at odd intervals over the next three decades, Julien realised that they were the worst advice he had ever heard. In fact, his experience of the acting profession was exactly the reverse. People were always giving him chances, and for each headlong plunge into the mud there was always someone there to haul him out, sponge him down and lead him off into another rehearsal room.

You may not remember Julien’s first big break. There had already been several TV series about feckless young men sharing flats in London by the time Dirty Sheets limped onto the late-night Channel Four schedules in the autumn of 1993. Nevertheless, it attracted four million viewers, ran for two seasons, and on the strength of it there came a call to play Feste in a South Bank production of Twelfth Night. Alas, lines that could be silently mouthed by your vis-à-vis on television or written on the back of fag packets were less easy to retrieve on stage, and within a week of the opening Julien was replaced by his understudy.

A lesser performer would have cut his losses, but Julien was determined to bounce back

It could all have ended there, or in repertory at Hastings or in doing audio versions of best-sellers, or in half-a-dozen downmarket destinies, but Julien, game, likeable and well-connected, was, if not a sharp operator — the people he had acted with at Oxford were writing their own sitcoms by now — then a man of resource. Adversity, he knew, sometimes pays, and within a year he had a one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe (Confessions of a Failed Actor) and six months after that a book deal. Crap Last Tape, which, to Julien’s credit, he wrote nearly all of himself, sold 10,000 copies in hardback.

All would have been well had he not overplayed his hand and, against the advice of everyone he knew, written a novel of theatrical life entitled Exits and Entrances. This sank without trace but not before being lampooned by Miss Julie Burchill in a Spectator review so notorious that even now people sometimes look it up on Wikipedia. A lesser performer would have cut his losses, but Julien was determined to bounce back. 

A cameo or two in The Mighty Boosh, a “Tips for Thesps” column in a Sunday newspaper and even an appearance on Celebrity Blind Date (Julien’s wife was apparently “very good” about this) — all these have helped to sustain him through the merry-go-round of the last 15 years.

In his mid-fifties now, and looking it, Julien is currently playing Amos the stolid Cumbrian sheepfarmer in Channel Five’s about-to-be-cancelled afternoon soap Country Matters. For some reason, and despite the best efforts of his agent, there have been no takers for his projected autobiography, Noises Off. In his less roseate moments, Julien is beginning to wonder whether this chance is his last.

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