Illustrations by Paul Cox
On the Stage

‘Between you and me…’

All the gossip that’s fit to print from our showbusiness veteran

Bad Pennies

Now that the howling mob have cost the RSC oodles of cash from an oil giant, who next for the scaffold?

Following an animated discussion with bright young things apparently now highly vocal and influential in such matters, I was assured the status of the modern-day theatrical sponsor would be secure going forward. Providing, that is, they/he/she/or otherwise defined were not discovered to be:

a) polluters
b) sexist or sex criminals
c) a bank or banker
d) profiting from cheap labour
e) unashamed of the entire British Empire
f) quietly thinking the next James Bond should just be another handsome fellow
g) someone who voted to leave the European Union
h) doubting the wisdom of every morally-dubious star of yesteryear being erased from cultural history
i) recently seen drunkenly threatening to throw a provocative member of Extinction Rebellion into a “sheep dip”.

It’s with a heavy heart that this former Stratford spear-carrier now considers himself disqualified from making even the most modest of donations to the RSC coffers.

Aftercare tonic

Charming actress Anita-Joy Uwajeh, recently Cordelia to Sir Ian McKellen’s King Lear, kindly suggests a new system of “aftercare” for performers failing auditions. “We are quite sensitive people,” she delicately points out.

Mercifully, such arrangements have long been in place. Whenever some dead-eyed casting type gives us the brush-off, myself and co-stars can normally be found convening at the Two Brewers on Monmouth Street.

You can be assured aftercare is in abundance.

Let us not forget in these troubled times the fate of brave veterans — namely elderly character actors — now falling foul of the authorities up and down the land. Such individuals’ stock-in-trade has long been the “off-colour joke”, designed to shock and delight impressionable young cast members in equal measure. I’ve heard of two alarming instances in recent months, however, where the rogues in question have found themselves stiffly warned by a humourless producer that “those days are gone.” I fear the said gentlemen will become shadows of their former selves.

With Sir Kenneth Branagh once again donning that distracting (or plain ludicrous if you prefer) moustache for his second big screen outing as Hercule Poirot — out next year — one prominent predecessor seemingly remains unconvinced. Having successfully played Agatha Christie’s Belgian for almost a quarter of a century — finally bowing out on television in 2013 — I hear David Suchet’s verdict on Branagh’s effort is “less than flattering” in private.

Public relations types have even been known to discreetly steer nosy showbiz hacks away from asking the old boy unhelpful questions on the subject in the past. What’s more, the proud peacock still pointedly talks of starring in a rival Poirot movie of his own . . .

How sad my optimistic hopes of a “star chat” with old pal and housewives’ favourite Hugh Bonneville fell at the first fence: I’m reliably informed our beloved Earl of Grantham takes a dim view of “gossip columns” and “isn’t a great fan of people who comment on people for a living.” Whatever happened to the carefree lad we used to know?

Beyond our ken

Leafing through my old diaries — to date, unpublished — I couldn’t help noticing the cruel passage of time meant this autumn marks 30 years since Laurence Olivier’s glorious memorial service at Westminster Abbey.

All the more glorious, I recall, when it was revealed royal toadie Ken Branagh was mercifully prevented from hogging the limelight as Prince Charles’s so-called “representative” on the day!

Meanwhile, was it all harmony and sweet sonnets between Dames McKellen and Mirren during filming of The Good Liar, in cinemas this month? I’m reminded such esteemed A-list chemistry can occasionally prove unsettling: Dame Helen apparently found Sir Ian’s less “technical” approach to the craft “unhelpful to her” in the past. I trust the old show-off has since learned the error of his ways?

Alas, poor ben

Adapting so-so Shakespeare TV sitcom Upstart Crow for the West End — opening at the Gielgud Theatre in February — former lefties’ favourite Ben Elton is resigned to never winning back the comrades.

Bridges to Islington were long ago burned after Elton had the audacity to collaborate with Tory supporter and now former party peer Andrew Lloyd Webber on West End show The Beautiful Game. Banished to political exile — or living in Australia in his case — poor Ben moans: “The left is always happy to accuse its own of hypocrisy.” Oh to be young and annoying again…

Ominous news regarding travelling salesman Gyles Brandreth, after repeated sightings led to bizarre claims the cheery vampire managed to infiltrate Dundee, Telford and Ilfracombe all in the space of a few hours. Unwitting audience members were seen departing in a dazed, unsteady state, having endured an array of shameless showbiz anecdotes designed to prove “all roads lead to Brandreth”. While excitable conspiracy theorists claim there could be up to “seven Gyles Brandreths” presently operating across the country at any given time, public vigilance is advised.

Scaling new peaks

Observers present at bellowing loon Brian Blessed’s one-man shows in recent times ungenerously suggest his extraordinary tales grow taller by the year. With “recollections” covering everything from the late Stephen Hawking seeking his guidance on space travel to alarming liaisons with sex-crazed gorillas, there are fears the mountain air has done our intrepid thespian/explorer even more mischief than previously imagined.

Not that he’ll ever be told. On briefly engaging in the gentlest of verbal sparring over his accomplishments, I was once violently lifted off my feet and subjected to the infamous “Blessed bear hug” in full view of (unhelpful and cowardly) fellow cast members. Seeing his victim increasingly starved of oxygen, the terrible man roared: “That’s what it’s like up Everest, sonny!”

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