Going viral

From tumbles off the stage to the anxieties of age

This article is taken from the November 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Having been slower than most to appreciate the dangers posed by “Artificial Intelligence” to the actor’s profession, a recent personal experience belatedly confirmed terrifying developments.

After tentatively approaching the nephew’s attic quarters, I was alarmed to see an unflattering version of myself on the rogue’s screen, complete with a ridiculous new voice to boot. With the sniggering youth initially unaware of his uncle’s presence, it became all too clear my real-life musings had become the target of crass parody. 

Initially startled when I pounced, the lad soon gathered himself to explain I was appearing on “Tick Tock” (?) — cheekily suggesting he’d ensured my biggest audience in years! 

Sincerest sympathies to Mr Fry following news he recently took a painful tumble off the stage.

While I’m assured poor Stephen was simply the victim of shoddy lighting arrangements, such humiliation can predictably fuel gossip. 

Speaking as a performer who’s fallen off stages on two occasions to date (I dispute recollections of a third incident), one knows all too well how malicious rumours of intoxication/decrepitude can spread at a hardworking professional’s expense. 

Farewell to the Great Gambon, always several steps ahead of newspaper hacks, and known for an enviable comic repertoire stretching everywhere from the English homosexual to Joanne Whalley’s undergarments. Preoccupied with burning J.K. Rowling at the stake, by the time dimwitted Puritans realised they should probably be taking offence, old Dumbledore had given them the slip. 

Splashing out on a cruise for “Senior Singles”, funded by the advert I recently appeared in for budget-friendly dying, one was pleasantly surprised to encounter two former actress co-stars of similar vintage to myself.

While the glamorously preserved pair initially seemed delightfully bonkers at this stage of the game (both two divorces down), chivalrous advances by this gentlemanly trouper failed to make the headway anticipated.

Instead, whisked off by portly/retired lawyer types, the girls explained they “couldn’t possibly marry another bloody character actor”.

The party line

Returning from that largely disappointing adventure on the high seas, spirits were incalculably raised by a “surprise birthday party” arranged in my honour back home!

Basking in the joy that comes with being suddenly surrounded by one’s surviving friends, co-stars and admirers, I discreetly thanked the nephew for ensuring this unexpected celebration had been arranged exactly as I’d demanded.

One feels compelled to acknowledge the ruthless resourcefulness of Ms Margolyes, currently enjoying the perks that come with being deemed outrageous and lovable in 2023.

While wide-eyed interviewers eagerly hang on Miriam’s every word as she flogs the second memoir in swift succession, veteran Hollywood A-lister Mr Martin has been among the first notable figures to have time and inclination to challenge her “shocking recollections” constantly making headlines. 

With nasty Miriam cackling all the way to the bank courtesy of those countlessly tall tales at others’ expense, surely it’s against the spirit of the times to let pesky ol’ facts spoil the fun?

Weeks since hosting Biggins in St Tropez, Joan Collins bizarrely urges His Majesty to hand the preposterous pudding a knighthood. Clearly egged on by bitter Biggins himself, befuddled Joanie claimed this most self-absorbed of figures had travelled the “length and breadth of Britain” for the good of others! We must pray Royal taste ensures he isn’t elevated beyond the status of Pantomime Dame in Southampton come the New Year Honours.

Apropos gongs, real fears grow that The Brandreth could soon be bounding towards the Palace, having been pleasingly denied an honour for decades. While Her Late Majesty displayed trademark good sense by keeping him at a distance (despite relentless toadying on The Brandreth’s part), our new Queen regrettably proves more susceptible to the beaming vampire.

Whatever possessed Radio 4’s Lady Montague to question socialist national treasure Mr Loach in such impertinent fashion? Long accustomed to shining a light on society’s ills uninterrupted, irate Ken most certainly didn’t expect to be suddenly asked about his own credentials. That, milady, is nothing short of a BBC conspiracy! 

Mistaken nonentity

Unable to contain contempt for lowbrow morning telly host Mr Madeley, who goes about ludicrously claiming to be his doppelgänger, Havers haughtily snaps: “Not once have I been mistaken for him.” 

No stranger to professional challenges in recent years — be it grinning and bearing daytime television, or increasingly modest panto billings — dear Nigel rightly deems this an indignity too far.

Long at pains to embrace popular celebrity causes of the day, Helen Mirren’s once fashionable declarations of love for Mr Brand — not to mention her impassioned defence of his filthy call to Manuel from Fawlty Towers — now counts as a rare misstep. Despite the grand Dame having publicly backed the very wrong horse, we can rest assured a discreet veil must be drawn over the matter. 

Anxious about audience numbers in Wales during a UK tour, the Reverend Richard Coles resorted to announcing: “For the record, I did not leave Saturday Live because I don’t like Cardiff.”

Cue chortles from those privy to our showbiz vicar’s “hissy fit” on learning his London-based Radio 4 show was moving west.

After more than 18 months of civil war over at the Actors’ Benevolent Fund, I can report at the time of writing that there’s cautious talk of an armistice.

While bearing the scars of betrayal inflicted by some once considered comrades-in-arms, one is of course Christian enough to countenance the prospect of discredited enemies suing for peace and gratefully accepting the terms we present them.

Lofty Python

Hats off to Eric Idle for publicly letting it be known he refuses to take the bait dangled by dastardly members of the British press, hopeful he’ll bad-mouth former Python colleague Mr Cleese. “I have known him for 61 years and will not dishonour all that time for a cheap headline,” he admirably announces from Los Angeles.

Besides, had lazy reporters done their homework, they’d already know Eric lovingly deems John a “delusional” old fool intent on buggering up their legacy no end. 

Casting doubt on Ian McKellen’s official version of life events — not least why he finally left the closet in 1988 — director and long-ago beau Mr Mathias ominously suggests (over wine): “Wait for my memoir.” 

Still regularly working with frisky Gandalf all these decades on, Mathias adds for good measure: “I think Ian’s really scared.” What fascinating betrayal! 

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