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Well who’d have thought it? Here I’ve been, leading my quiet unassuming life, unaware of my status as a Milestone in British television history. One of my first appearances on the small screen was back in 1969, two short scenes in the opening episode of a “Dr Who” sequence called “Spearhead from Space,” starring the late Jon Pertwee. On Saturday I went along to an autograph-signing event I’d been asked to by an organisation catering for serious fans of the show, and had assumed that I’d been invited as one of the few surviving performers from that misty, distant era. It was, I have to say, great fun. There were scores of dedicated fans there, mainly because of the presence of one of the iconic Doctors, Tom Baker. Also there were lovely colleagues I hadn’t seen for years, including Petra Markham, Bernard Holley and Janet Ellis. I noticed that my autographs were priced at one-third of Tom’s and one half of Janet’s but, hey, who can set a price on Historic Status?
In between signing lots of alarmingly youthful digital pics of myself (an example provided here) it was explained to me that my character in “Spearhead from Space” is the first person in the history of “Dr Who” to appear in colour. Respect, please. I gather it’s now been released on Blue-ray, so I am expecting my lifestyle to be boosted considerably by a deluge of royalty cheques. Actually that’s fairly unlikely as the royalty cheques usually amount to about four pounds twenty every year or so, but, as they say at Tesco, every little helps.
These last few weeks have exposed a mix of emotions. A high spot was going with my old friend Gwyneth Powell (she who cowed generations of the nation’s trembling youth as the fearsome headmistress of “Grange Hill”) to an international festival of new plays for (and by) young people at the St James’s Theatre, organised by Trinity College, for whom Gwyneth is an examiner. Despite its no longer being a producing house the St James’s remains one of London’s more attractive venues, and on this occasion hosted a striking piece called “Gone Viral” by the Australian writer Sally Hardy, in a stark, simple and moving production by Radagrad Tom Foster. The play is a sensitive contemporary study of a teenage girl dealing with bereavement, and was delivered at the St James’s with wit and imagination, and no hint of mawkish indulgence. A writer, and indeed a director, to be noted.
Gwyneth and I were both old comrades of Chris Harris, whose sad loss I mentioned last week, from our days in repertory at the Worthing Connaught Theatre, and so on Tuesday last we went together to salute his memory at Bath Theatre Royal. I mentioned his famous pantomime performances in Bristol, but in fact for the last 13 years years Chris has been the annual Christmas favourite at the latter theatre, whose management hosted a “jollification” in his honour. The place was packed, and an onstage display of Chris’s panto costumes formed a back-drop to a remarkable tribute show, with moving and uplifting contributions from his fellow performers and of course his family, the high-spot being a brilliant double-act by his two sons, neither of whom are in fact professional actors, but either of whom clearly could be if they so chose. You can see some of the show on the BBC South and West report, via the link at the bottom of this page.
And so to Richmond, to catch up with a revival of The Things We Do for Love, an Ayckbourn comedy from the mid-90s, co-incidentally a tour launched by the Bath Theatre Royal. This was a show at Richmond, Surrey, by the way, not Richmond Yorkshire. Both Richmonds have superb theatres, and I’ve been lucky enough to work at both. The Yorkshire theatre is a nugget of Georgian architecture, the one in Surrey a choice structure by Frank Matcham, the Victorian genius who designed larger glories like the London Palladium, the Coliseum and Blackpool Grand. The point of the expedition was to monitor the progress of one of this blog’s regulars – Edward Bennett, Radagrad and TYA mentor, who co-stars with the stunning Natalie Imbruglia and the brilliant Claire Price. I have to report that Ed’s march to stardom seems well on course, and that the show also features an amazing comedy turn by Simon Gregor. If you’re in southern England you can catch the show this week at Woking, next week at Bromley. Otherwise, book now for the autumn RSC season at Stratford, where Mr B will be giving us his Berowne and his Benedick in a double of plays about losing and winning at love’s labours.
But just buying the tickets for the Richmond show produced steam from my ears! I took to Twitter and to Facebook in my rage, protesting at the venal policies of the Ambassadors Theatre Group. So many theatres now (like the one at Richmond) save on box-office staff salaries by handing over their entire ‘phone and Internet booking process to ATG. Unless you can go in person to the theatre building and buy your tickets over the counter you now often have no choice but to book through ATG. For this privilege you not only pay a per ticket “booking fee”, but ALSO something called a “transaction fee”. Thus the price of two tickets for the Ayckbourn play was boosted by an additional EIGHT POUNDS.
If Howard Panter or any of his team at ATG happen to read this, please write in and explain. No doubt there are all kinds of justifiable reasons for charging eight pounds for a few automated seconds of computer-time, but at present I – and doubtless thousands of other exploited theatre customers – struggle to think of any. Please let us know.
Incidentally, I was delighted to note this week that there have now been well over twenty thousand visits to this blog – a modest enough figure I know, alongside for example the legions who follow Stephen Fry on Twitter – but it’s a great comfort to know our select readership is quietly swelling, so please stay tuned.
Just now my world resounds with intimations of mortality. There was a fine and touching item on the “Today” programme this morning, a poem written and read by the great Clive James, confronting his present serious, probably terminal, illness. It will apparently form part of a conversation between him and James Naughtie in tomorrow’s broadcast. Clive James is one of the finest commentators on contemporary life, and a wordsmith of consumate, elegant skill. I will be listening, and I’m sure so will millions.
I spent the Sunday of the bank holiday weekend in the company of dear friends in a beautiful house with a glorious garden in West Sussex – sunshine, fine food, good wine and incomparable conversation. What else is there?
Links: Chris Harris jollification:
TV fan signing events: