Is it? Could it be? Fulham FC are relegated and I’m falling to be pieces. A connection?
This is the evidence. Broke my shoulder and my glasses in Newcastle after watching Fulham lose 1-0 at St James Park. New glasses arrive, Fulham continue to play badly, my eyesight gets blurry. Pressure building up, drops to be administered nightly. An FC connection?
Take Dylan, my grandson, one Saturday on the helter skelter, Fulham are playing their final ‘crucial’ game away at Stoke, whizzing down, holding onto to Dylan, I bang my elbow. Blood everywhere. Fulham lose 4-1.
Watching Fulham under 18’s in the second leg of the Final against Chelsea. The Fulham manager is kicking every ball. Chelsea get on top and finally win. My leg begins to hurt. Was I ‘kicking’ every ball? Of course I was.
Now with blurred vision and limping, who do I blame? I believe Fulham is in my DNA. I suffer when they do.
Now I have to look forward to watching them next season playing in The Championship. Oh, lordy, lordy. What disasters will be befall me there?
Then out of the blue, I get a text from my son Tom. ‘Chin up we’ve been down before. Fulham’s been as much about having a beer with you by the river than what division we’re in.’ Of course he’s right. I’m a bloody fool.
Out of the mouth’s of babes.
LITTLE OLD LADY LAND.
I drove round to a group of flats and rang the bell of number 10.
‘I’ll be down in a minute.’ a voice said. She arrived eventually. She was a tiny lady with a walking stick who was having difficulty walking. I took her arm and led her to the car. We arrived at Sainsburys’ car park.
‘Right if you stay in the car I’ll go and get your shopping.’
‘I’d like to come. Can you get one of those big trollies so I can hang on to it?’
It wasn’t ‘til we were inside that I realised that the trolly had got a wonky wheel. My lady kept stumbling. The problem was to get a good steady one I’d have to go back to the car park but I didn’t think that the poor old sausage could make it. So....
‘Look if you stay here with the trolly, give me the shopping list and I’ll get it all.’
The list seemed endless. ‘My son wrote it out. The trouble is I can’t read it my eyes are so bad.’
Sainsburys isn’t my usual shopping choice. The place is massive. A tin of sardines. I search and search, can find a member of staff to help me. Are here they are. I take it back to the little lady hanging grimly to the wonky trolly. ‘Oh, just one. Could you get two. My son loves them on toast.’ I get two. ‘Oh, the leg of lamb, make sure it’s only £10.’
I can only find a £15 leg of lamb. Now Ambrosia Cream rice. Calgon. Two packets of kitchen roll, two packets of toilet rolls, Braeburn apples, Potatoes, butter, toothpaste, sausages, the list went on and on. Finally the trolly is full and we go to the check out. She’d brought the so called ‘bags for life’ with her. We filled four to the brim and made our way back to the car. From wink to blink, this shopping trip had taken the thick end of two hours
Parked outside the flats, I took her up three flights of stars (no lift), guided her round builders rubble and left her outside her front door. Then I went down to get the bags.
She’d left the flat door open and I took the bags in. Not since Cathy Come Home had I seen such a filthy, disgusting place. The carpet in the narrow hall was turned up at the edges. With her poor eye sight this could be very dangerous for her. I had to squeeze into the kitchen round a large fridge.
‘I’ll put your shopping away, for you.’ ‘No, leave it. It’ll be alright.’
I cleared a space on the kitchen table and took out the heaviest pieces of shopping.
Her son had written out the shopping list but where was he when it came to tidying up his mother’s flat? What kind of son could he possibly be?
I resolved to be as kind as Christmas to my sons from now on. I didn’t want to end up like poor Mrs X.
A VERY GOOD WEEK
Two days at the N.E.C. in Birmingham last weekend. Lots of thespians sitting behind tables signing photos, covers of DVD’s having photos taken, arms around them, smiling, the sort of things that actors love. To be quite honest it was all madness. People dressed in all kinds of gear, Dr Who costumes, Star Wars warriors, babies in prams dressed as Batman and loads of others in crazy costumes which were a total mystery to me. The days roared by. I got paid and I also sold some books. Bingo.
Two days later I did a radio commercial for an auction house in Chiswick. I got paid.
Next day I travelled to Wadhurst to play a Time Lord in a CD recording with Tom Baker (another Time Lord). Also in the production was John Challis, you will remember from Fools and Horses and The Grass is Greener, who I worked with donkey’s years ago at the National Theatre doing the Tom Stoppard play On The Razzel. I was a great day, a load of laughter and Tom greeted me most enthusiastically. I have known him for over thirty years, dashing around Soho doing V.O’s during the seventies and eighties. At the end of the day, he said to me. ‘Ray, so good to see you. I don’t suppose we’ll meet again.‘ I suppose he was referring to our great ages.....not much time left. Oh dear.
The following day I had drinks with my V.O agent Maxine. ‘The business has changed, there’s not so much work around as there used to be.‘ I know. Those halcyon days of rushing round doing jobs is but a distant memory. We talked around those days , remembering the characters, many now slipped their mortal coil. What with Tom yesterday, it was getting a tidge depressing.
On Saturday there were signings at Westminster Hall. I sat next to Angela Douglas. Last time (See the 52 years post) she spent a lot of the time that grabbing my arse. On Saturday she changed tack. ‘Nice thighs.’ giving them a squeeze. Later I said I was going outside for a fag. ‘You better have a wee as well. Get it out.’ Thinking about it, I realised that I was probably sitting next to a talking McGill seaside postcard, cheerfully being bawdy, a little bit lewd. I wonder what would have happened if I behaved that way with her?!
Later that day I spotted Tom Baker. ‘Tom!’ He looked up from signing for the hoards that surrounded him. ‘Ray! We meet again, will this be the last time?’ Bloody hell,I hope not.
Walking back over Westminster Bridge, happy to have been paid and sold some books. It is still packed, tourists taking pictures of each other against the backdrop of the Thames, St Pauls, the Houses of Parliament and Big Benn, cackling and screaming incessantly. Dotted amongst the crowds, spaced out, of course, were seven ‘find the ball under the cup ) men’, yes seven, assisted by a ‘ringer’ who always, suprise, suprise, picked the right cup with the ball under it and won money. The punters, bemused and silly, put money down and lose but continued, determined to beat the ‘cup’ man.
My late lamented friend Mike was a fierce gambler and as such lost money. ‘Pissing it away.’ as he poetically used to say. It got very serious, to point when I said. ‘The best thing to do, MIke, is get in a cab, drive to the casino, tell the cab to wait, run up to the door and throw the money in, get back in the cab and go home.’
He’d have been in his element on Westminster Bridge. Poor old Mike.
Gorge Osborne addressed the House. The Budget. Ed Balls stood up and moaned about it. But there was no mention of a few things that had been getting up my nose for yonks.
For instance paper clips Who makes these paper clips? You can bet your bottom dollar that we don’t. No, of course not, they are imported.
Now here’s my question that is never asked in our esteemed Parliament, why don’t we manufacture them ourselves? Build a factory in Sunderland. get the paper clip machinery in and, bingo, a couple of hundred people are employed. It can’t be difficult, why keep on importing, when you do it ourselves? And there must of tons of other things that we import that we could make ourselves.
Next is the Cash and Carry outlets. Now, I’m not against corner shops, sure I’m concerned about the power of the supermarkets but why can’t us normal punters go to these Cash and Carry places and buy our goods cheaper? Shops and restaurants do. Why should we pay over the top prices when we could get the stuff ourselves? Right, the corner shop could still operate for bits and pieces and we could still go out to eat to give mum a rest from cooking, but we should be in the driving seat. The economy is rocking, everything we buy is costing more and more, there is a simple answer and it’s there in the Cash and Carry sheds. Come on, George, have a word!
Then, there’s the new pound coin. It will look like the old three penny piece. Many sided and difficult to counterfeit. Compared to the millions and millions pound coins issued the number of dodgy ones is minuscule.
Let me throw this into this mix. What about Quantitive Easing? What is Q.E. as all experts insist on calling it because they say the full word? Well, it is the printing of money. Years ago, the printing of money was based on the Gold Standard, i.e you couldn’t print more money than than you in had in Gold Bars in the Bank of England Vaults. So the Government's hands were tied. Interest Rates were the only way that they could balance the books.
But now Quantitive Easing is rampant. ‘We need more money so let’s just print it.’
So, my question is, what is the difference between Quantitive Easing and counterfeit pound coins? Not much, in my opinion. Except that Q.E. is legal, it’s what Government’s do, but when we do the same as them we get banged up.
Georgie, think about i please. It’s all crazy.
We left Sloane Square tube station and made our way to The Antelope pub where we’d booked a meal before going to the concert at The Cadogan Hall. The pub was packed with office workers having a few scoops before wending their way home. There seemed no way to get to the bar. Somebody told us that the ‘restaurant ‘ area was ‘over that way’.
It turned out to be three tables in a corner and the only way to order food was at the bar. It was hopeless. So we pissed off.
Tummies rumbling, we finally moved to the concert hall.
It was like the annex of an Old People’s Home. Zimmer frames and sticks everywhere. These old souls seemed to have been brought to the concert by grandchildren, who being the offsprings of well heeled punters presumably had left their horses outside tended by grooms.
Cloakrooms: this title is the posh way of indicating Toilets. Remembering sticks and Zimmer frames, all the ‘conveniences’ were downstairs. Seeing all the infirm struggling to get to the toilets was scarey. Once they’d reached their destinations, then there was the difficulty of dealing with their bodily functions. The old gents standing at the urinals waiting for a dribble was like looking at the waxworks in Madame Tussauds. Once dribbled out they make their way to wash their hands. Another hurdle. No soap, water boiling but they persevere. Then they go to the hand dryers and struggle to find a button to activate the machine. Finally, hot air gushes out almost blowing the old gents over.
Upstairs, drinks are flowing and crates of champagne are ordered for the interval. More toilet activity guaranteed.
The Concert Hall. The stage is littered with chairs waiting for the talented bums of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. When they arrive they’re all dressed in black, suitably garbed in case, or more than likely, one of the old souls might pass away during the concert.
The conductor is Freddy Kempf who is fascinating to watch. I suspect that he’d washed his hair about eighteen times before the concert because it seemed to have a life of it’s own. Swishing this way and that no matter which was Freddy was moving. Boy, was I jealous of his thatch! The leading violinist was a tall blonde, whose hair didn’t move despite her head swaying emotionally with each dramatic moment.
The first violinists are seated on the right side, the seconds on the left. The seconds seemed to watching the firsts intently in case one of the ‘firsts’ snagged his or her finger and had to be replaced.
The one worrying part of being the audience at a concert is when to applaud. The orchestra tend to stop, put down their instruments but don’t clap it might not be the right time. It’s best to wait until the knowledgeable start`applauding then you can join in otherwise you might get kicked out.
Once they start playing it is beautiful. All fears and doubts are put on the back burner. Everyone is caught up in the glorious music of Beethoven. The strings soar and the audience is in raptures.
Leaving, everyone was smiling like they’d just had a slice of my mother’s chocolate cake.
At the tube station was an old busker playing a violin. I put £5.00 in his hat. Beethoven is good for the soul. And buskers.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN?
I’m standing in an enormous queue in the Post Office. There seem to be dozens and dozens of people in front of me. We’re all hemmed by barriers to keep us in order, not unlike the penned sheep in One Man and His Dog.
There is very old man coughing incessantly behind me. ‘Are you alright?.‘ I say to him.
‘I’m only waiting for my pension. Look at all these people queuing, with closing post offices all over the place, it’s a Government plot hoping us old folk’ll die before we pick up our money.’
I often go shopping early and dotted around at that time in the morning are old granddads or grandmothers wheeling prams with screaming babies on board. They’ve probably got a single parent daughter working. ‘Can you look after Pricilla for me?‘ So, dad or mum walks the little granddaughter round and round, changes nappies, trying to pacify her when she cries and feed her five days a week. They won’t last long at their age with that routine.
In London last week and I noticed another ‘old folk‘ hazard. We all know Pedestrian Crossings: the Red man is showing, wait, then the Green man pops up and off you go. But now things are different, there is a small screen below the Green man. The minute he shows up, the screen displays the number 10 then 9 followed by 8, counting down the seconds for you to cross the road. Shit, imagine an old soul using a Zimmer frame trying to cross Regents Street in 10 seconds! ‘The Quick and the Dead’?
Two possible explanations for the 10 second time scale: (1) Maybe it’s assumed the ‘Old Folk‘ don’t come into central London or (2) The the ‘coughing man‘ in the post office was right. There is a government plot.
With the terrible weather we’ve been having the media is full of Global Warming. One thing that car manufacturers are contributing to the problem is trying to achieve is a cheaper version of the Electric Car.
Rack forward twenty years. There are Electric Cars everywhere. Global Warming Emissions are now at an acceptable level. All Seasons are in the right place. Enough rain for the farmers. Enough sun for seaside holidays. The Economy is stable. Everyone is happy. In one fell swoop the government has solved all of our problems. Everything is stable. Everyone is happy. And electric cars are cheaper and most people have one.
But grown up Pricilla isn’t happy. As her mother before her, she’s been put up the duff by a man who’s disappeared and she has no one to look after her baby.
Why? Because all the ‘deaf as posts’ old folks are dead. Killed on crossings, worn out by grandchildren, dyeing in queues or mown down by the silent electric cars all for the greater good of Global Warming.
The ‘coughing man‘ was right.....there was a Government Plot.
This is a stressful time of the year. All the resolutions of last year have turned to dust, now I have to find some for 2014. Newspapers, at this time of the year, change out of all recognition. Journalists seem to take the easy option filling the pages with ‘Top Events of the Year.’ ‘Predictions for 2014.’ ‘Years best Bio-Pics’. But best of all, and this must be desperation, New Year Resolutions for All. Bloody hell. Sub clauses include; Resolutions Anyone Can Keep Including You. For Social Media Losers Who Want To Be Winners. For Youngsters Who’ve Just Left Home. Ten Resolutions For Dogs. If You Want To Stop Being Annoying To Other People. Ten For Journalists. That’s perfect.......stop writing these fatuous articles. Including you, Catlin Moran, who can’t stop writing about anything and everything. Her contribution is My New Year’s Resolution. Give me strength, who cares?
Every year my main resolution that is to Keep Trying to Improve My Writing. But what to write and how to improve it? My burden, my weakness is reading the Guardian Review. For instance if a book is recommended in glowing terms. I buy it. Recently I bought Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser. The blurb on the front says ‘She writes quickly and lightly of wonderful and terrible things.‘ A.S. Byatt, Financial Times. The word that sticks in my craw is Byatt’s ‘writes lightly.‘ Lightly? The book is almost impenetrable. It may be ‘light‘ for Byatt but for the likes of me it’s like a ton weight. As a book it’s up there with Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I remember dozens of people in the 60’s carrying it around but I never found anyone who’d read it.
Kretser’s book and TV’s Sherlock are very similar. Simple stories but wrapped tightly with meaningless distractions. Like Sherlock’s technology. Text writing smothers the screen at regular intervals, scenes follow scenes that don’t seem to have any connection with what’s gone before. Another mystery is that Sherlock appears to be shrinking. If it went on for a few more episodes Sherlock could well be sleeping in a matchbox.
I could summarize Michelle’s book and Sherlock on two A4 pages. But the shrinking Sherlock is popular, maybe TV watchers like to be confused. Michelle’s book was not big seller.
Conclusion: TV is chewing gum for the eyes. Throw the kitchen sink in, it doesn’t matter. But books are a different animal. You could fall asleep in front of the telly but fall asleep with a 1000 page hardback on you lap, you could do yourself some serious damage.
I quote the much vaunted Guardian summarizing ‘great books and writing’. ‘The final coup de grace comes with the throwing of a random spanner into the works: a moment when all is reduced to chaos, as Frayn writes, by “a completely unconnected and irrelevant event.....a velleity that comes out of nowhere and has no imaginable significance or place in any self-respecting causal chain.” What?!
I’ve tried writing for TV but never quite made it. I try to write books, try to improve but how? Should I try and follow Fran’s line? Could I even do that? Do I want to? To be reviewed in Guardian I’d have to have ‘velleity that comes out of nowhere.‘ No chance.
Plod on, Ray, leave the highbrow seekers alone. And stick to reading paperbacks, I had enough injuries last year. Night, night.
A VERY HAPPY DAY TO YOU ALL xxx
During the 3 months after my tumble I was finding it difficult sleep. Laying there like a plank, unable to turn tight or left, I spent most of my nights ironing, making mugs of tea staring out of the window chain smoking, when I ran out of stuff to iron I even contemplated taking the sheets off the bed and ironing them.
It was bloody awful. Now time has passed and things are different. No nocturnal ironing, no night time mugs of tea and copious numbers of fags while staring out of the window. It seems as if I’ve turned the corner at last.
But still tiredness lingers on the outskirts of my conciseness. Every time I sit down I drift off. I must have lost so much sleep during those ninety days. My eyes are happier closed then open. I now sleep in the afternoons, not just a nap but full blown out of the game. I reckon that I’m fully awake about forty minutes a day.
But there is one advantage to all this. Over he last year or so, every time the phone rings I hope it’s my agent with an offer offer of a job but it never it is. Gutting, it really is. But now, I realise I couldn’t do a job because I couldn’t stay awake long enough. So I content myself, and earn a bit, going around to events for Dr Who conventions or Cathy Come Home do’s signing photos and selling a few books.
The punters don’t seem to mind a yawning ex Dalek slayer confronting them.
UPS AND DOWNS
My shoulder’s getting better. But with all the exercise I’m doing, I’m convinced that within a couple of months my arm’s going to resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger’s which is hardly going to match up with my Mickey Mouse other one.
Then wake up with cramp in my foot. Usually this takes a few minutes to clear. But it doesn’t. Could it be gout? It’s not as if I drink 36 pints a day followed by a bottle of brandy (well, not quite). The bit in brackets is a joke, doctor. But whatever it is, it bloody hurts.
Four limping days later it clears up. And then, a front tooth falls out. Shit. The following weekend I’ve promised to a Collecterama for Dr Who, where fans will want to have pictures taken with ’celebrities‘ and, in my current state, it’ll be like having your arm round Ben Gunn’s grandmother.
In desperation, I phone Barry Gatoff, my dentist, who’ll see me at 11.00. Good old Barry. With a couple of valium on board, I go in.
‘You’re going to need a Crown.‘ he tells me. ‘It’ll a take about a week for it to be ready.‘ I tell him about the upcoming Dr Who do. ‘I’ll stick something temporary in, they won’t be able to tell the difference.‘ I leave, the foot’s better and I’m grinning all over the place.
I catch a train on Saturday night, they want us for an early start on Sunday morning.
Milton Keynes is lit by 40wt light bulbs. The taxi to the hotel drives like the wind, either trying to escape MK or the driver’s got a death wish. I arrive in one piece.
Jury’s Inn loomed gloomily out of the murk. I’ve stayed in one before. Hard beds, plastic pillows and pictures of trees and bushes line the walls and no ‘room service.‘ I’m starving, so I have to go to the bar. I order a Panini with ham and cheese (why don’t they sell sandwiches anymore?)
I really don’t like these do’s. Sitting at a long table, in a space the size of four aircraft hangers with photos in front of us, supplied by the management, charging £10 with signature and the money all goes to the bosses. I do get a few bob for turning up, but my main purpose to try and sell a few of my books.
Fifteen minutes later I’m still waiting for my bloody Panini getting myself into a right frazzle about the following day when there’s a tap on my shoulder. It was if all the 40wt bulbs had turned into 150wt’s. The tapper was none other than Michael Jayston, an old pal. With him on board, tomorrow was taking on a new allure.
At 8.40 in the morning the coach arrived. Michael and I were the last to board. It was hard to find a seat. Who are all these people?
We arrived at the M.K.Dons football ground. It was a bleak scene. A few yawning punters hanging around waiting for the ‘big event.’
We were led to the dreaded table. Forty of sitting there, pens poised waiting for the signings. All of us, who thirty years ago had killed Daleks, Cybermen, now looking like for all the world like old aged pensioners waiting to have chilblains treated. But the punters didn’t seem to notice.
Michael and I kept popping out for fag breaks, catching up on old times, laughing at cock ups, yes, having a great time.
Surprisingly I managed to sell two books in the morning and then, miracle of miracles, I sold four more in the afternoon. Eventually, it was time to leave.
On our way out, the organizer of the event came up to me. ‘I’ll let you know when the next one is, Ray.’
‘Thanks. But make sure that Michael is there as well.’
Six books sold and rekindled an old friendship.
The two old granddads wandered through the gathering gloom to the railway station. They’d both had a lovely day in Milton Keynes.
5.45 Saturday the 31st of August 2013. They order some more drinks. The chat is dominated by the game. ‘Stupid last minute goal.‘ They were gutted. Then someone says ‘Checked the train times. Sorry, it’s not 6.00 o’clock. It’s five to. Better drink up.’
At about the same time a taxi is arriving at Newcastle Station. A man, we don’t know, climbs out with his wheelie bag. He searches for his wallet. ‘Sorry, mate.‘ he says to the driver. who’s giving him a beady look.
Our pals are trotting down the hill to the station. The wallet is found and the driver is paid. The pals reach the platform with minutes to spare. ‘Coach H.‘
The man is is dragging his case along the platform. ‘Coach G, coach G.‘ he mutters. He finds it, the door is open and he climbs into the train pulling his bag behind him.
The pals are hurrying along the platform searching for their carriage.
One of the wheels of the man’s bag has become wedged under the carriage step.
‘Here’s coach G, next one along.’
The man pulls at the bag trying to dislodge it.
The pals can see coach H. One of them his lagging behind. ‘Are we nearly there?‘ he gasps.
The man has got one foot against the door frame, tugging at his bag still trying to release it.
The pals are at coach H. The straggler is bringing up the rear. ‘Hurry up!‘ they shout at him.
With a final mighty heave, the man pulls at the handle of the bag, this bag is a cheap copy of an up market brand certainly not made to a high standard, the material is of sub standard cloth and the stitching is hap hazard therefore the handle, not used to this rigorous treatment, gives up the ghost and separates itself from the bag, which tumbles back on to the platform.
The straggler, unaware of anything but the need to get to coach H, hits the wayward bag and falls on the platform like a ton of bricks.
I open my eyes. ‘Where are we?’
‘On the train.’
I’m aware of blood dripping down my face and my left shoulder is giving me terrible pain.
‘This Jordan, dad, the physio with the Arsenal under 18 team, they’ve been playing in Sunderland, he’s going to help you.’
Jordan cleaned me up and put a plaster on my forehead. Then made up a sling for my painful shoulder.
‘Now, Ray.‘ he said. ‘Keep you head still and follow my finger. No, don’t move your head, just use your eyes. Good. Good.‘ he looked at me intently. ‘What were you doing in Newcastle?’
‘Watching Fulham playing Newcastle.’
‘What was the score?’
‘We lost one nil.’
‘Who did you play last week?’
‘Arsenal at home.’
‘We lost three one.’
Jordan looked at my son. ‘He’s alright. Not concussed.’
I don’t remember the journey but when we arrive at King’s Cross there are two Special Constables waiting for me. ‘The train phoned ahead, there’s an ambulance waiting for you.’
My boys came with me to the local hospital. After an X-ray and a tetanus injection and good news that I didn’t need stitches or an operation on my shoulder, I went home. Ten weeks later I’m writing this.
The last three blogs about Brownlee Home for Demented Actors I was just marking time. Saving you the tedium of me going on and on about the shit I was going through, bloody exercises and not being able to sleep.
What a good boy I am!
GOING, GOING, GONE.
I had to get some money to get out Calais and back home. Busking was the only way to escape. I had to come up with a bright idea to replace Roger’s almost irreplaceable rhythm on the washboard. I needed some sort of backing. I hammered six tacks into the soles of my shoes, laid the washboard on the ground and while strumming my guitar, did my impression of the Wilson, Kepple and Betty shuffle over the ribbed steel on the board. It went down a storm. The Euros tumbled in. I could have ended my days there but I had to get home.
The English Channel was flat as a snooker table and the sun was shining (!) I sat on the deck and dozed off. After a few minutes it seemed as if a cloud had covered up the last rays of the sun. When I opened my eyes, the sun was still shining but the ‘cloud’ turned out to be a crowd of people standing in front of me staring out to sea. It was a bloody nuisance, I decided to move to another chair. I stood up. ‘Excuse me.’ I said and pushed through them to get to my guitar and the washboard that I’d left leaning on the ship’s rails.
As I went to pick them up, a voice behind said. ‘Excuse me, sir, is that yours?’
‘Yes, it is.’ I said tersely to the owner of the ‘voice’, who looked like a double portion of cheese cake covered in custard.
‘Please let introduce myself, sir, I’m Herman Winston Grasshopper the 7th. And this is my good wife Martha.’ Martha stepped out and curtsied. ‘Wonderful to meet you, sir.’ She was just one portion (‘easy on the custard’) with whitest teeth I’ve ever seen, so blazing white they would have blinded a pride of marauding lions looking for a quick lunch. ‘Such a talented guy, ain’t he Herm?’
She turned swiftly to he husband and hissed into his ear, searing and pointedly, like a nurse trying to clear a blockage of wax. ‘Buy it, Herm, I want it, I want it, I want it, I want it.!’
Herm turned to me. ‘My wife and friends here have been on a year long tour of great buildings, castles, cathedral, museums and art galleries. We’ve had a wonderful time.’ There was a mumble of agreement from the assembled cheese cakes. ‘Now occasionally theres’s bolt of lightening that can knock you off your feet. And my wife has been struck.’
His wife jabbed him in the ribs. ‘Shut up, Herm, get on with it. It’s time for drinks!’
“Okay, Chammy, keep your knickers on. $750 for your art work, sir?’ he was pointing to the guitar and washboard.
Gob smacked? Yep, I sure was. Anyway to cut my negotiations short (thrilling as they were) ending up with me getting £1500 and an invitation to New York to display my other ‘art‘ in a gallery Herm owned, I disembarked ( to cheers from the assembled cheesecakes) and made my way home.
The great cover up is now over, so back to reality in more ways than one. The disastrous Newcastle Station and wheelie bag adventure. So much to look forward to!
So much has happened in the last few weeks. Roger Walker has been a dynamo, he cobbled up a guitar for me using a couple of hub caps soldered together and a flattened exhaust pipe for the neck, using wire from a tatty old soiled mattress for the strings and a washboard for him and then he managed, after getting a wax impression, to make a key for the basement door into Brownlee’s grounds, then we went into the local town busking. We enjoyed ourselves. Did well. Made a few bob. Then out of the blue he announced ‘We’re off tonight.’ A mate of his, who drove a bread van, dropped us off at Dover and within no time we were on the ferry.
The sea was rough, we were like a cork in a washing machine, sick bowls were filled and emptied by pale faced stewards, a group of wild eyed nuns prayed desperately for a change in the weather or an early death, me, my head permanently in my bowl, the ferry creaking and groaning threatening to fall apart any second, while Roger sat calmly eating a bacon sandwich. I nicked his spare ginger wig, he’d told me while puking, and while he was busy searching for it, I nipped into his office and took our passports, he told me.
I sipped my Calvados, lifted my fork and pushed in a piece of ham and pineapple into my mouth, chomped away all the time salivating at the thought of a Full English breakfast. God, what am doing in this foreign land? I hate it. Can’t speak the language but Roger can, of course “I used to be a teacher.” People were scuttling past the cafe. It looked like rain. Lucky old Roger out of these soon to be teeming streets and gone to Paris to see an old friend who ran a British fish and chip bar. ‘Making a fortune’.
‘Complete, Monsieur Brooks?‘ Gaston, the cafe owner, who had let Roger and me have a room at the back of the cafe for a couple of our ‘musical evenings‘ at weekends, plus a few bob in our pockets and free ‘breakfasts’. Our musical repertoire includes mash ups of Rock Island Line, Does Your Chewing Gum Lose it’s Flavour on The Bedpost Overnight, Maggie May, Dancing Queen, the Engelbert Humperdinck songbook followed by Edith Piaf numbers (a bit of a strain on the vocal chords these), and of course a couple of my songs but naturally the punters don’t take any notice, too busy stuffing their faces with frog’s bits followed by Gaston’s speciality, ‘the world famous Horse Fritters’ and jabbering away nineteen to the dozen. I downed my coffee.‘Very nice, Gaston.’
‘When will Monsieur Walker be returning? You have to play tomorrow night.‘
I lifted my empty glass. ‘I’m sure he will. And can I have a refill?’
Gaston shuffled back into the cafe with my empty glass. He didn’t like minions like me having ‘seconds’. But he had leant me his lap top, hence this blog.
‘Monsieur Brooks, Monsieur Brooks!’ Gaston was running back out of the cafe. ‘Monsieur Walker is on the phone!’
‘Ray, I’m flying back to London tonight. Got a job.’ He’s got a job! ‘Remember Gordon Glow?’ Yeah, that little shit who was directing his musical version of ‘The Mousetrap’. ‘Well, he’s got a new musical of ‘Waiting for Godot’ it’s coming into the West End. He wants me to play Estragon. The lead! Big songs and dancing.’
‘Gordon Glow! How the hell did he get one of his crap musicals in the West End?’
He started to speak softly. ‘I have a confession to make, you know that I took the passports out of Ginger’s office. Well I got mine and I took Gordon Glows by mistake.’
So, that was it. What with Gordon Glows connection to the theatrical hierarchy, once he’d gone missing, excepting that he hadn’t just Roger’s mix up with the passports, they’d have had police all over Europe searching for him. So with all the publicity that engendered, some bastard West End producer snapped up Gordon Glows latest lash-up. A musical of Waiting for Godot! Hell’s bells!
Pass the sick bag.
ME AGAIN ??
Walking down a London street. An empty street. Except for one young man sitting on a wall staring at his mobile phone. My shoes, bought for £10 in an antique supermarket in Brighton not dissimilar in their effect as the 50’s Brothel Creepers, made no sound as I whispered towards the statue like youth. As I became parallel with him he looked up and at me. He must have had a radar app for his mobile so sharp was he.
‘Are you on telly?’
‘Yes.’ I replied.
“Why bother doing this? You’re not on telly. You haven’t been since 2006.”
Who said that?
Who are you?
“You. The sensible you, before you had delusions of grandeur.”
‘What have you been in?’ the young man said.
“Oh God, here we go again. Give him that tired old list.”
‘Fools and Horses.’
“What? You weren’t in that!”
Of course I wasn’t but he won’t know
‘Oh, yeah.’ he said, happily. ‘You were smashing, I loved you. You was Rodders, weren’t you.’
“That’s a lie and you know it. Stop pissing about. You’ve been writing on your blog for the thick end of three years and hardly anyone reads it. Most posts are trying to sell you Viagra. You’ve got to pack it in. It’s bad for you.”
“Yes, because nobody, nobody reads it! Now, let’s get you home, have some hot milk and bed.”
I want a coffee and a cigarette.
“No more smoking. It’s turning your brain inside out. Before you know it you’ll be talking to yourself.”
P.S. Ray has now been incarcerated at The Brownlee Care Home for Demented Actors in Kent.
I read a lot of books and reviews. I’m not saying that I read books constantly but I seem to get through a good few each year.
One of my mistakes recently has been buying hard back books from the Guardian Review magazine. This I suppose is the high end of the market, the so call posh books. My recent acquisitions have been Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life (477 pages) and Michelle de Kretser’s Questions Of Travel (515 pages). These are very large books. The sort of books, I always read at night and if I fall asleep these tomes inevitably close up and because of the bewildering complication of the so called plots, it’s almost impossible to find my place. So I have to start again. Large books. Bruised knees.
Other books reviewed in that paper are Kafka: The Years of Insight and Kafka: The Decisive Years, Isaiah Berlin-Building: Letters 1960-75, Isaac and Isaiah, The Men Who Lost America, All The Birds, Singing, The Crumb Road, Ocean At The End of The Lane, The Times of Fading Light. All I’m sure (the titles might give you a hint) as unintelligible as Kate’s or Michelle’s. But the reviewer’s pick these incomprehensible books because it makes them look clever and write about the ‘structure.’, the ‘delicate creation of character.‘ etc, so us poor saps buy the books struggle through them, not understanding a word, end up with headaches and bruised knees.
They never review books written by Peter James. A good marketing ploy by him is always have the word Dead in the title. Why no reviews you might wonder? They are long, the last being 407 pages. Not quite as many as Atkinson’s or Kretser’s but quite close. So why don’t they review it?
The answer maybe that they’re are not obscure or obtuse, in fact they are very straightforward. But there is one inclusion that is irritating. The copper hero named Grace, has a wife who left him about ten years before. He’s looked for her, doesn’t know wether she’s dead or alive. But she’s popped up in all the books, lingering in the background but why? His books sell, according to the blurb on the cover 11,0000,000 copies. So what do I know?
In an independent bookshop, a lady said to me ‘You should read this book, if it’s made into a TV series the main character would be perfect for you.’ It was the first Dead book by James. Within a few pages I discover the hero is thirty seven years old, goes jogging, ex rugby player, tough and has the occasional fag. Me, book lady? Don’t be silly. Good way to shift a book or two. So, I kept buying them just in case the hero got older and if he did, then a great TV mogul might want to film them and I might have a chance. But like Peter Pan he never seems to grow up.
Why have I been writing about the Guardian? Well, there is one review in it that caught my eye (another lumpy title, I’m afraid) called Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business and by Lynda Obst. She’s 63 and her career in films seems to be over. In the past she helped to produce Taxi Driver and then among others she produced Sleepless in Seattle. In 1996, down in the dumps, she wrote a book called Hello, He Lied. The tenure of this book is ‘you never trust anyone about anything’.
That hits the spot. Trust....what a word. I’ve trusted publishers, P.R companies, plumbers, gardeners, accountants, actuaries, lawyers. Yes, I’ve been a fool. I never learn.
In about 1987 I got a chance to do a sit-com. The producer was called Marcus Plantin. After the recording of the first episode, we repair to the bar. Plantin come up to me, puts his hands on my shoulders, he was wearing Buddy Holly glasses with tape wrapped around one of the arms, then he says. ‘Ray, you’re a star. Every time we cut to you it’s money in the bank.’ That man, a few years later, wouldn’t even pick up the phone when I called him.
But however I try to avoid it, the G. R. draws me to it like a magnet. And there are some glorious nuggets to be found there. For instance one is The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink. As I’m sure you’re aware that your dear blogger has a penchant for the occasional small glass of sweet sherry, so he was delighted with a quote by Dorothy Parker who said “ I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
Ah, I’ll drink to that.
I loathe that phrase ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’. It has been used in that pop world, I believe even in the well respected and revered corridors of the BBC, the much lauded Melvyn Bragg even called one of his Thursday morning forty five minute yawn shows, by the same name.
I’ve never stood on anyone’s shoulders. I’ve stood in dole queues, at bars, at football matches, bus stops, school gates, yes, I’m sure we’ve all done a lot of standing.
But being in this ‘glitzy’ world of show biz, all wonderful and frothy, I’ve stood in rooms and ‘breathed the same air‘ as a lot of legends (not stood on them).
In the ’60’s the streets of London seemed to be teeming with potential ‘legends’. Everyone was as thin as a pencil and girls wore skirts so short that imagination went up in smoke. Once Biba and the like opened, childhood went down the drain. And it’s continued at a pace ever since. In 1962, travelling by tube to rehearsals of a telly series called Taxi, starring Sid James and Bill Owen, I was accosted by a strange looking young man called Andrew Loog Oldham, who gave me his card, and said if I wanted to make a record to contact him.
I went to see see him, his office was crowded, I waited got bored and left. It reminded me of when Toni Meehan, the Shadow’s drummer, took me into the the Savile Row headquarters of the Beatles. It was teeming with people, all using the phones, smoking and generally pretending that they were a part of the great groups emporium. No doubt that these days they are very likely to be shuffling around on Zimmer frames or are six feet under.
But. I often think, if I’d put pen to paper on a contract in Oldham’s office and if I’d have known that a few months later that he’d been sharing a cab with John Lennon and asking him if he and Paul had got a song for a group that he wanted to promote. The song was I Wanne be Your Man which turned out to be the hit song that got the Stones Rolling. Missed out there.
If I had signed a contract with Oldham I could have been a pop star, had to have grown my hair very long and snarled my way through songs. In the Oldham style I would have to become a Mick Jagger clone. Would this moody me have ever been allowed to do Jackanory? Would Liam Gallagher have wanted my autograph if I hadn’t done Mr Benn?
The Stones got rid of Andrew Loog Oldham very early, I didn’t sign with him, they haven’t done too badly and nor have I.
But Mick’s still got his hair and I haven’t. Yes, I’d certainly swop my barren patch with his voluminous thatch.
WHO’S ED MILIBAND?
My mate Dave and me were in the pub discussing Ed Balls’ gobbledegook chat on Radio 4’s Today radio programme. The lady working behind the bar said. ‘Who’s Ed Balls?’
‘The shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer’........‘Who?’
‘Have you heard of Ed Miliband?’.......‘Who?’
She has got two children (‘Ten minutes of fun.’), a car, which keeps breaking down and, because she’s pretty, plenty of the lads in the pub fix it for free, when it’s completely knackered her dad buys her another one. But it seems that she has no idea of what happens in the world around her.
My mother was born in 1914 and would be about the same age as the lady behind the bar by 1946. The big difference was that in my mother’s day people talked about politics. They had opinions.
Churchill (‘War Monger.’). Attlee (‘ Bloody Labour party. What can he do?’) Nye Bevan ( ‘National Health Service?’) Frank Cousins, President of the Transport Workers Union. (‘He’s back from Moscow. Got his orders.’ ‘He’s selling busts of himself at the Conference!’)
Yes, there were strikes back then but in a way that showed political thrust. But with no televisions, no computers, mobiles, washing machines, dish washers, central heating with nothing interesting on the radio and after a meagre meal of boiled potatoes and fritters (I’m laying it a bit thick here but there were food shortages.), adults would sit round the fire and talk. And politics would be one of the topics.
But do people talk these days? Even if they wanted to, social spaces are pervaded with musac. They, of course, grunt and mutter, play games on their smart phones, ‘converse’ on Twitter or Facebook.
Their world is full of noise and nobody can hear anything. There’s an opinionated, social network that wraps it’s tentacles around the globe but no one’s taking any notice.
There’s so much going on, that maybe nobody noticed that Ed Miliband (?) had fallen through the cracks.
Sunday the 26th of May: Sitting outside The Chancellors pub having a pint (or a ‘scoop‘ as one of my mother’s husbands always said.) with Paul Winter, who’s organised a Dr Who gathering in the Riverside Studios opposite. It’s a very sunny day!
Then Karen, who’s helping out on the day, comes over. She’s going to interview me during the Question and Answer session after the showing of Daleks Invasion of Earth in which I, an extremely young version of the slob sitting outside The Chancellors supping beer, appear.
Five minutes on, we go into the foyer of the Studio, where a table is laid out with piles of photo’s of the very young me in various productions including pictures of the perennial bowler hatted Mr Benn. I put dow a few copies of my autobiography ( ever hopeful ) on the table.
People come up, I sign photos, some want have pictures taken of me with them, I oblige, then miracle of miracles, I sell THREE books. Bingo!
The film starts but Karen and I still sit at the table twiddling our thumbs. I’m tempted to shoot off to the pub for another ‘livener‘ but resist. Anyway we talk. She has worked in fitness clubs, does Panto’s in Norwich, used to have MGB, doesn’t drink or smoke, and me, who has never crossed the threshold of a fitness club and never intends to, listens to the whippet framed athlete in awe. In between the list of lifting weights and healthy diets, she asks me about the things I’ve done. Obviously needing to bone up for the Q and A session.
‘We need to go up to the cinema in a few minutes the film’ll be over soon.‘ she says. ‘There’s quite a few stairs to climb but there’s a lift you can use if.’ ...‘Don’t be daft.‘ I laugh.‘I’ll use the stairs too.’
She goes up three at a time, I manage just one. In the cinema, standing at the back, the film is coming to an end, Daleks tumbling down shafts and finally the Space ship blows up. The House lights come up, ‘I’ll go down first and introduce you.‘ She zooms down the stairs to the stage. ‘Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Ray Brooks.‘ Applause, applause.
I go down to the stage slowly, the stairs are steep, hoping that the applause will last until I arrive. It does. The Q and A starts. It’s rolling along quite well. I can’t help thinking back to my pub function room experiences, when there were never more than ten people present, they were a struggle. Here there are 200. Questions are asked about Big Deal, EastEnders, Cathy Come Home, Mr Benn etc.
Then Karen said, I think. ‘Say that famous line.‘ So I said. ‘Suddenly as if by magic...‘ The reaction was extraordinary, to my ears anyway. So I continued. ‘Maybe I should go round the country doing the shortest show in the world, just go on the stage and say “Suddenly as if... “ ‘ From the noise they made it seemed that they thought it was a good idea. Then I cut the 100th Anniversary cake for Peter Cushing. This was followed by the trailer for the the film, made by Kevin Davies, which included out takes. ‘You could see yourself dubbed into Spanish‘ he told me.
Later downstairs for more signings and photos taken plus I sold FIVE more books! Good old Dr Who.
Eventually I leave. In the taxi home, the driver suddenly turns round and says. ‘Your voice is very familiar. Aren’t you Mr Benn?’ That little man pops up again. Twice in one day? Could this be the Eureka moment?
I’ve done 4 Dr Who jamborees and 1 Carry On, they’ve all been well attended, the glitter dust of those titles worked.
Could the glitter dust of Mr Benn work for me? Could I go out and talk about Mr Benn?
Yes, a Mr Benn evening, show an episode or two, talk about the background, a few anecdotes, a couple of jokes and conclude with the hit song ‘Suddenly as if by Magic’.
It might work.
NEVER WORK WITH.......
Grace is born at eleven forty five on the 18th of April. I’m having a quick pint in The Sun, having been home to have a shower, shave and change of clothes, after three days and nights without a glimpse of a tap, shaving gear or even fresh socks. Tom, youngest son, had kindly taken Beau off my hands to allow my ablutions.
Beau is the two and half year brother of the newly arrived Grace. My job was to look after him while Anna and Will attended the hospital. Beau is a lovely boy but inevitably was missing his mum and dad, not having seen her for thirty six hours and him for twenty four.
I get back to Will’s house and Tom delivers Beau. It’s time for his afternoon nap. I take him to his room. He’s not happy. Get him in his bed. ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy!’ he wails. ‘He’ll be here to wake you up.’ ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy!’ he goes again. ‘He’ll be here to wake you up.’ ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy!’ ‘You’ll see her later.’ ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy!’ ‘You’ll see her later.’
He stops crying suddenly almost as of a tap has been turned off. He looks older, strangely similar to a fearsome maths reacher at school. He stares seriously at me. ‘Dummy.’ he says. ‘Not mummy. Dummy.‘
Suitably admonished I take the Dummy (not Mummy) down from a shelf and stick it in his mouth.
Next day round to say welcome to the family, Miss Grace. Beau comes up to me. ‘Granddad.’ ‘Yes?’ He takes my hand and leads me to his room. He walks to the side of his bed and turns to me.
‘Dummy.’ he says and holds out his hand. ‘Dummy, granddad.’
He’s got my number and no mistake.
Never work with........
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE ?
‘I was the British spy who came out of the woodwork and told it as it really was’. A quote from an article by John Le Carre promoting his new novel A Delicate Truth. I’ve read a lot of Carre’s books but began to feel them stodgy and over long. I’ve always been interested in spies. I recently bought ‘Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West. Deception.’ by Edward Lucas. I’ve worked with Alec Guinness who played George Smiley in Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Why am I writing about these things? Well, something spooky has happened. Something that has never happened before.
My web site and my email address attracts a certain amount of traffic. Some appreciative and some asking for signed autographed photographs.
In the last week I’ve received ten requests from Russia. Why would Russians want signed EastEnders photos? Most peculiar.
Could my Le Carre reading, the purchasing of Deception by Edward Lucas and my tentative connection to Alec Guinness been lumped together and in a dusty office in the Kremlin someone has decided that I am showing an interest in Russian affairs and all the emails are coded messages trying to drag me in to the dark world of international espionage?
Surely, Pavel, Lev, Eveng, Karine, Ines, Rad Dmakin,Sergey, Smokotina, Mo Rduninceva and Orioskaja are just simple ordinary fans of EastEnders with no hidden agenda. At all my talks in function rooms in Brighton I never managed to garner a crowd of more than eight people. But here are ten Russians. Should I go there? Maybe that’s the market for me.
Ping! Another email from Russia has just arrived. Mykhaylo writes. ‘I’ve been collecting autographs of outstanding political, cultural and public figures. And I would prefer an authentic signature.’
Political! That’s not coded, that’s straight in your face. Authentic Signature! With all their know how they could probably lift the autograph off the EastEnders picture and secure it on the bottom of an agreement tying me to Russia for the rest of my life.
With my email page up, I notice another Russian message had arrived a month ago. And I’d sent on an EE picture and autograph! I break out in a cold sweat. I can visulise going up the escalator at Piccadilly Circus, feeling a needle in the back of my leg, being whipped away in ambulance, put on a private plane and flown to Moscow.
The phone rings. It’s my mate wanting me to go for a drink. I close the door of my office with it’s whirling Cossack dancers and slit eyed spies with hypodermic needles and go out into the real world.
The sun is shining. England is beautiful.
I had one valium before I left home on my way to an appointment to see my dentist Barry. Dentists and me have had a rocky past.
Here are three examples. My first was as a young child was with a dentist call Clutterbuck. A chilly name I’m sure you’ll agree. My mother and I climbed the stairs and in the surgery was a doctor and Mr Clutterbuck and beside the chair of torture was a gas canister. The doctor put a mask over my face and turned the gas tap on. I was terrified, only eight years old, it was like falling down a black hole. The next think I remember was waking up in bed. Apparently, still unconscious, I’d been carried down the stairs and taken home by taxi. I’d been asleep for two days.
My next ‘quack’, in the early sixties, was in Camden Town, who happened to be a great advocate of hypnosis. I only went because a filling had dropped out. He looked in my mouth. ‘Oh, oh, oh dear.’ Those words we all love to hear when muttered by a man in a white coat.
Now his hypnosis technique reared it’s ugly head. ‘You’re watching your favourite film.‘ airy fairy music was playing in the background. ‘You’re sitting in the Royal Circle and you’re very happy. Now relax, relax. You’re feeling sleepy.‘ I felt sorry for him, so I pretended to go into a trance. After all it was only one filling.
He filled seven teeth. Two months later I was ordered to attend a clinic in Victoria. My fillings were inspected. They thought the hypnotist was cheating the NHS.
The final example is the one that lead me to Barry, it was painful and expensive. I was two weeks away from starting a TV series called ‘Growing Pains.‘ My teeth are giving me gyp. A new dentist is recommended. ‘You need a Bridge.‘ he says. I’m whipped into Harley Street. Then wheeled into an operating theatre. ( it had to be rush, rush, you see.). I wake up and my throat feels like someone has rubbed barbwire inside it. I find out later, that once they got you under, they stick half a small ballon inside your mouth and drill and bash away like navies after a heavy drinking session. Then the Bridge is inserted to replace the three teeth that have been ripped out.
Six moths later, and £6000 later, the famous Bridge falls out. They stick it back in. But it falls out again. I give up and carry on with a gap.
I bump into an actress friend who has unbelievably gleaming teeth. ‘Where’d you get those?‘ I enquire. ‘Barry Gatoff.‘ she says. ‘He’s amazing.’
I go to Barry, show him the Bridge and tell him they cost me $6000. ‘Can you stick them back in?‘ He snorts. ‘They are rubbish. You should sue that dentist. I’ll give you a new one. £800.’
He did and they’ve stayed there for twenty years. Today, I have to see him for a wobbly crown. Very few of my teeth are ‘real’, you see. He fixes in a trice. Yes he is amazing.
I love Barry Gatoff.
A week or so ago, a neighbour, had asked me to read Mr Benn books at a local primary school. My first time in public since my abortive attempts to talk in function rooms in Brighton.
I was given a schedule. Four classes of 6-8 year olds, half an hour each and one senior class to talk about Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 . Apparently, the teacher of that class was a big Dr Who fan.
I get to the school, through security gates, at 9.30 and I’m given a cup of coffee. The first class looked extremely tired as if they’d been up most of the night watch Test Cricket on Sky and then had to do an early morning paper round. I hadn’t read the Mr Benn books for a long time and I was suprised how wordy they were. Not like Dickens but still hard to get your tongue round. I noticed, from time to time, a few seemed to lose concentration, maybe thinking about the 2.30 at Haydock. But whatever it it was, to drag them back I showed them the pictures. ‘See how big that dragon is compared to Mr Benn.’ It seemed to work. Interaction I think it’s called.
So the first half hour went by reasonably well. So off I went off to my next ‘gig’. There seemed to be more kids this time. One or two of them seemed to be interested in my black shoes (see my previous blog). Maybe a duo of designers. Who knows? Anyway, in my reading, I managed to truncate the ‘wordy’ words and sharped things up a bit. Sorry, Dave.
I move on to my third group. By this time I beginning to be aware that my throat is getting a bit sore. I read somewhere that Port is soothing for the throat. I stare at my minder, but my telepathic skills must have slipped down the toilet like my vocal chords.
On to number four. This lot are more sparky. One is particularly lively. A red haired boy with ants in his pants. I stop half way through and look at him. ‘Are you alright?’ ‘I’m hungry.’ he says. His teacher says. ‘It’s nearly lunchtime, Tarquin.’ So, I put my foot on the accelerator and speed through the story. The teacher then says. ‘Say ‘thank you’ to Mr Brooks. 1,2,3.’ They all scream ‘Thank you.’ and rush out towards the smell of over cooked sprouts and sausages.
I limp into the senior class. They’re larger kids. I’m not sure but I thought I spotted a couple of beards. The male teacher greets me like an old lost friend. ‘I love Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. Oh.’ whispers. ‘I couldn’t show them the film, they’ve only seem the trailer. But I’ve told them all about your career.’
‘What are Daleks like?’ I told them they were like dustbins, little men got inside and pushed them around like kiddies peddle cars. Silence. The a lone voice. ‘You killed Pauline Fowler, didn’t you?’ Then there was a deluge of wall to wall EastEnders questions. At last someone said. ‘If you had your life again would you still want be an actor?’ ‘Yes.’ I said. Then I asked therm what they would like to be when they grew up. A young boy wearing glasses piped up. ‘Either a barrister or a diplomat.’ There’s no answer to that is there?’
Next the neighbour said. ‘Would you mind signing some books?’ (Not mine I hasten to add) I sat down, with a sandwich and a cup of coffee, and signed 100 Mr Benn books. Mr McKee should be happy with these unexpected the royalties.
The teachers gave me a bottle of wine. Very nice of them. Then I went to the pub.
After my first pint, I realised something. I had really enjoyed my morning reading to the children. With all my attempts of going around function rooms of pubs in Brighton trying to garner interest in me talking (with a smattering of jokes) about my career and trying to sell a few books, I remembered something an old mate of mine Mike used to say to people when introducing me, “He’s a has been.”, I now realise he had a point. But, but, but, after that morning reading to kids, maybe that’s where my future is.
The other day, two of my grandchildren, Beau and Dylan both aged two, were shown a Youtube reading by Michael Rosen of one of his books. The loved it. That’s it I thought. I like children, they like me. Start by reading a Mr Benn book to open the door. Then do one of my own stories.
Yes, Youtube here I come. I hope.
THE BLACK SUIT
I went to Marks and bought a black suit, a new white shirt (seventeen and half collar!) and black tie for £160 to wear at Richard Briers funeral.
I road tested my dark overcoat (which I haven’t worn for two years), people looked at me, normally a scruffy anoraked individual now masquerading as a hit man from the Mafia. My black shoes were merely uncomfortable.
On the day of the funeral, Sadie and I caught the tube. People were looking at us with a mixture of sympathy or possibly derision, thinking that we were going a Johnny Cash jamboree.
The church was packed. Wall to wall actors. Their were readings by various luminaries. Then the vicar talked about Richard, who he knew well, in as much that Richard had been supportive of the many charities in the locality. He said. ‘I saw Richard a few months ago hurrying along the road. Where are you going?’ I said. ‘To the annual Actors service in town. I’m going to have to speak and I don’t believe in the bloody church.‘ The vicar turned to coffin, and said. ‘You’re going to have to now, Richard, aren’t you.‘ As we left, they played ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street.‘ By Louis Armstrong.
After, everyone was invited to a local pub, where there would be food and a free bar. Actors love free food and drinks. The pub was packed to the gunnels. I watched as sandwiches, chicken legs and slices of ham were shoved in pockets and bags. Of course, most actors are poor, the majority only get one or two jobs a year, so the chance of a few freebies are most welcome.
One old actor looked resplendent in a black cloak with his white hair cascading down from underneath a black homburg hat, stood there with a red wine clearly hoping that someone recognise him. Strangely, there were two actors there who I knew (I won’t mention their names), who, to my knowledge, didn’t know Richard. Could it be, that they had heard of the funeral and wriggled their way in for the free goodies? I’m sure Richard wouldn’t have minded.
A few days later, in my local, I was telling mate about the funeral service. ‘And I had to buy a black suit because I didn’t have anything suitable.’
‘Why did you bother to buy a black suit? Nobody wears black these days. Waste of money.’
I told him that I thought it was respectful.
‘You’re a bloody fool. You’ll never wear it again. Look.’ he continued. ‘Weddings, christenings, marriages..........’ On and on he went about dress sense, how times had changed, I was old fashioned and how I’d got to get into the modern world.
Bugger you, I thought, okay, when you die I’m going to wear swimming trunks and flippers. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
(Simon, I’m back. The machine’s been playing up)
SID AND MICHAEL.
Recently I’ve been asked to make contributions to two documentaries. The first was for Sid James.
Sid died in 1976 on stage at the Sunderland Empire, sitting on a couch chatting up a beautiful lady. I worked with him over a two year period from 1962. Twenty six TV shows called Taxi. He treated me like a son. People are always asking me what he was like. Yes, he was a wheeler dealer, a gambler and enjoyed drinking.
He arranged to get me my first car. ‘I reckon a Fiat 600 would be best to start with. I’ve got a mate over in Wandsworth. I’ll organise it.’ When it arrived I noticed that was a lot of rust underneath the bonnet. I told him. ‘Well, what do you expect it’s been sitting on a car lot for a couple of months.’
Then. ‘What date’s Sadie’s birthday?’ 8th of April. ‘I can get hold of a gold bracelet, from a mate of mine in Hatton Garden, with a medallion of St Paul’s on it. £80. I’ll get it engraved.‘ Yes, that was Sid. Incidentally, he never had to buy a car. He always had a top of the range Rover. He was very famous, good for them to have him driving one of their cars.
Everything about him was fun. I felt safe. He seemed to know everybody, jockeys, trainers and owners of horses. Always on the phone checking with them about their nags. Inside information. But winners were few and far between. It didn’t stop him though.
So it was easy doing the interview about him. I had such a smashing time with Sid. I was happy to do it.
The same company asked me to contribute to a documentary on Michael Crawford. Which was strange because this company usually only does programmes about dead celebs. The money would be handy, so I went along, but I was aware that I had to be careful because I didn’t like him, so I had to find the right approach. There’s no point in doing an interview slagging him off.
Of course, he’s well known, after all he’s spent his professional life falling through holes, being blown up, buildings falling on him, car crashes, hanging from skyscrapers, probably plane crashes and being eaten by sharks, anything he did wouldn’t have suprised me.
When I worked with him on a film called the Knack he was well known for being tricky. An example: one Friday morning filming in our location house in Shepherds Bush. The scene was two pages long and I had all of the dialogue. Michael was getting dressed after falling in a lake (natch).
The scene culminated with him, having got his socks on, he steps into a bowl of water which he had been avoiding during his getting dressed business. What a shock, ha ha.
It was an old type clapper board (Circa 1965) on which the ‘takes’ had to be chalked. We got to take five, when a message came up from downstairs that the producer had arrived. Panic, wasting all this film stock, so they changed the take back to 1. Eventually we finished the scene (take 18) and Donal Donnelly, also in the film, and I went to the pub for a couple of pints and sandwich. On the way back Michael comes puffing up. ‘Are you alright, Ray?‘ he says.
‘If you do what you did this morning again I'll bloody kill you.’
‘What did I do wrong.‘ all innocent.
‘I’ll bloody kill you.’
That Friday evening, the director Dick Lester (Hard Days Night, Help, The Three Musketeers etc) was flying to Paris. As he’s about to board the plane, he gets a phone call.
‘Dick, it’s Michael, Ray says he’s going to kill me.’
Monday morning, Dick wants to see me. ‘How dare you talk to Michael like that. He’s a real actor, you're not! He lives his part 24 hours a day, you just go home and live your own life.’
If I’d not been on that film for a couple of weeks, there was no doubt in my mind that he would have sacked me.
Anyway my plan for this interview was to paint Michael as a ‘shy person’. Finding it difficult to talk to people, always on the edge of conversations. To support the picture of Michael, I quoted a story about when he was about twelve he was singing in the Benjamin Britten opera called Turn of the Screw. The union rules are that young people can’t do six performance concurrently, so another young person has to do half the shows in a week. The other person who shared the week with Michael was David Hemmings. He had been a friend of mine and he was one who told me this story.
At the end of the show’s run Benjamin Britten told David that he had a very good voice and that he would pay for him to go Italy to train to be an opera singer. So I said, in the interview, how that would have destroyed most actors but Michael had fought back and had become stronger. Not bad, eh?
But Michael, I remember years later, when he was playing in Phantom, he used to be in his dressing room all day because he had nothing else to do. He had become a lonely man. No friends.
So, maybe my interpretation of his personalty wasn’t too wide of the mark. Yes, he was extremely ambitious but he ended up lonely. I suppose I felt sorry for him.
So, after the interview, I was outside waiting for a taxi that they’d ordered for me. The company used the same cab firm all the time.
It had been a strange hour or so talking about him and it seemed that everything that was said was in the past tense.
The taxi arrived, it was a right rust bucket and the driver looked like he driving the same cab since 1927 when he would have had someone walking in front of it waving a red flag..
‘What you been doing?‘ he said.
‘A documentary about Michael Crawford.’
‘I didn’t know he was dead.’