Freddy Gray, Mary Wakefield, Gareth Roberts and Rachel Johnson

28 min listen

This week (01.13) Freddy Gray, on why Ron De Santis is no longer ‘de future’ in the race for the Presidency, (09.50) Mary Wakefield recounts the train journey from hell,(16.10) we hear from Gareth Roberts about the screenwriters and actors striking over AI potentially taking their jobs and (22.24) Rachel Johnson shares her diary of SAS adventures and mishaps in New Zealand. Produced and presented by Linden Kemkaran

The best theatre podcasts

All the world’s on stage again so where to go to for insight into what to see and why? Podcasts, of course. Lowe’s ‘luck’ is that he happens to be friends, neighbours, or have starred, with everyone he interviews Let’s start with Literally! With Rob Lowe. An hour-long conversation between the most swoonable actor in the world who we’ve all forgotten, and everyone he knows and likes, from Alec Baldwin and Oprah Winfrey to St Elmo’s Fire co-star Demi Moore. It’s a wonderful and eye-opening listen. Lowe combines the enthusiasm and curiosity of the best interviewers with a knowledge and experience that makes conversation flow until the cup spilleth over.

The hypocrisy of actors

I’ve been keeping a journal for nearly 60 years. There are piles of the damn things in archives and covered with shoeboxes on high closet shelves. I’ve never looked back at one word in them. Being a vain sinner, I’ve entertained the fantasy that others would but, as it seems I’m not going to be remembered as a national treasure, I must conclude the journals have served their purpose. This was to get me to write things down. The physical act of transcription forced me to place half-formed thoughts upon the paper, making them concrete; a delusion, or obsession became a fact, and, as such, could be addressed as independent

Why I’m glad to see the back of Call My Agent!

For the past few weeks I have been binge-watching the Netflix series Call My Agent! (or Dix pour cent, as it is more satisfyingly known in France). Though it’s not quite as exquisite, multilayered and beguiling as my all-time favourite French drama Le Bureau, it has a similar appeal: strong, well-drawn characters in a distinctive setting in another country (France, obvs) where they do things differently because everyone is just so damned French. This time it’s not about foreign intelligence services but a movie talent agency which, though perpetually on its uppers (for the purposes of that TV concept known as ‘jeopardy’, I suppose), nevertheless seems to have on its

No mumbling allowed

In the audience-free world of TV, where ‘acting’ and visuals have become of far greater importance than the actual words, it is no surprise that mumbling has become the fashion. Any ancient Greek actor engaging in such self-indulgent behaviour would quickly learn all about it. Tragedies and comedies were performed by masked actors, required both to speak and sing, and for the ‘choral’ parts to dance and sing to music, with a script that could veer linguistically from sublime limpidity to the most intense complexity. As a result, the highest premium was placed on voice training and the correctness, clarity and euphony of the actor’s delivery. Technical incompetence was simply not

Would I still hate actors’ rants if they all agreed with me?

I feel a bit sorry for Piers Morgan. On Tuesday, Ewan McGregor was due to appear on the sofa with Piers on ITV’s Good Morning to talk about the Trainspotting sequel, but he failed to turn up. Later, the actor explained on Twitter that it was due to the journalist’s remarks about the women’s marches that took place last weekend, in which he described some of the participants as ‘rabid feminists’ and suggested he should organise a men’s march in response. I had a similar experience about five years ago when the actor Matthew Macfadyen pulled out of an interview he was due to do with me. Like McGregor, he

Real legs and fake people

The Soho Hotel is an actors’ hotel. They come for press junkets and interviews that reveal nothing because there is nothing to reveal; in fact, I have long suspected that this consuming nothingness, screamed across newsprint with all the conviction of denial, is the point of them; anything to evade reality and bring forth the realm of stupid. So it doesn’t matter that the Soho Hotel doesn’t know what it is; that is a benefit, quite possibly a design. Actors don’t know who they are either, and this is why they feel comfortable in the Soho Hotel. It is another mirror. It is part of the Firmdale Group, which has

Corn again

The Carer is a Hungarian-British co-production about a cantankerous old thesp (Brian Cox) and the young Hungarian woman (Coco König) who is dispatched to look after him, much against his wishes, and whom he’ll eventually throw out on her ear. I’m joshing you. She wins him over, naturally, and mutual respect develops, naturally, and a friendship blossoms, naturally, although I wish he’d thrown her out on her ear as that way this wouldn’t have felt like something we’ve seen a hundred times before. There are affecting, powerful films to be made about old age, loss, mortality and dependence, but this, alas, has all the emotional grit of a Driving Miss

Good cop, bad cop | 23 March 2016

Which is better, British TV drama or American? A couple of years ago, merely asking the question would have had the hipsters chortling into their obscure US box sets — and even now a strange cultural cringe seems to persist. Nonetheless, I’d suggest, British television drama these days really is in the midst of an era that will have commentators in 20 years’ time routinely (if a bit unimaginatively) reaching for the adjective ‘golden’. Already in 2016 we’ve had War and Peace, Murder, The Night Manager and Happy Valley — and that’s before the hugely welcome return of Line of Duty (BBC2), Jed Mercurio’s riveting thriller about a police anti-corruption

Are theatre audiences getting out of hand?

Laurence Fox has this week joined an increasing band of actors hitting back at misbehaving audience members who seem to forget that they are in public rather than their own living room. He ramped up the drama by launching a foul-mouthed attack on a heckler before storming offstage during a live performance at a London theatre. During the play, The Patriotic Traitor at the Park Theatre, he was heard to say: ‘I won’t bother telling you the story because this cunt in the front row has ruined it for everybody.’ The audience member had been muttering and heckling during the play and apparently became so loud that, for Fox, it was impossible

Is this a golden age of protest?

Are we living in a golden age of protest? A bunch of aggrieved citizens only has to raise a murmur of protest, whether it’s about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia or Islamophobia, and the institution they’re targeting instantly capitulates. A case in point is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. No sooner had a group of prominent African-American actors and directors complained about the lack of black Oscar nominees this year — ‘whitewash!’ — than the president of the Academy announced she would be taking ‘dramatic steps’ to address the problem. The Academy will enlarge its membership to include hundreds of entertainment industry figures from diverse backgrounds. To date,

The Oscars have a disgracefully racist record

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Rod Liddle and Tim Robey discuss whether the Oscars are racist” startat=1039] Listen [/audioplayer]In 2017 it will be exactly 50 years since a dapper Sidney Poitier announced to Rod Steiger, in the excellent film In The Heat of the Night: ‘They call me Mr Tibbs!’ Rod Steiger, playing a somewhat right-of-centre sheriff of a small town in Mississippi had hitherto been disposed to refer to Poitier — a senior policeman on his way home to Philadelphia — as ‘boy’, if you recall. I say the film was excellent, but the plotting was flawed, convoluted and unconvincing. The pleasure was to be gained instead from decent dialogue, a very good soundtrack

Sex acts

Poor Eddie Redmayne. Just because he looks quite like a girl, he finds himself a spokesperson for the burgeoning trans movement. Recently, he was forced to explain to those of us watching BBC News that ‘the notion of gender being binary’ is now considered ‘antiquated’. People are very excited about being trans at the moment. Countless TV shows and films depict it, Mark Zuckerberg has just called his daughter Max, and a man called Hilary has just talked us into another war. Being trans is clearly catching: hermaphrodite whelks on the undersides of fishing boats are growing penises, and vast swaths of young people, unable to buy a home or

Why should we listen to Benedict Cumberbatch on Syrian refugees?

Because I just don’t know what to think about the Syrian refugee crisis — not even after Simon Schama’s powerfully cogent argument on Question Time the other week, where he explained that if you don’t want to house them all in your guest bedroom you’re basically a Nazi — I thought I might pay the scalps a couple of hundred quid or so to see Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet at the Barbican. Apparently the really exciting bit isn’t anything he does as the Dane but rather Shakespeare’s rarely performed postscript where Hamlet comes back to life in the terrifying form of a preening, hectoring Old Harrovian luvvie to berate the

Press night

Sam Mendes once said there is no such thing as the history of British theatre, only the history of British press nights. That observation takes us closer to understanding the taboo that constrains journalists from reviewing the opening performance of a West End play. A dozen or so previews take place before the critics are invited in for a star-studded gala, or ‘press night’, which is fixed by the producer to make the show appear in its most seductive light. Newspapers are usually wary of censorship in any form, so their assent to this convention must be considered a great anomaly. The vanity of the lead actor is a significant

Shakespeare’s duds

I love Shakespeare. But when he pulls on his wellies and hikes into the forest I yearn for the exit. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a moonlit, sylvan location populated by a syrupy crew of hectic fairies, humourless bumpkins, panting maidens and swooning aristocrats in disguise. Shakespeare wrote it during his apprenticeship and he had yet to learn that several romances are far less interesting than just one. The result is a cloying, over-busy fantasy whose highlight is a love potion that makes a sprite called Titania fall in love with a donkey called Bottom. If you find the passion that flowers between a Sloane-y dryad and a pack animal

The Heckler: down with the actor-commentariat!

I’ve never been terribly keen on actors. I prefer hairdressers and accountants. And teachers and builders and lawyers. I may even prefer politicians and footballers to actors. It’s a modesty thing. No profession demands more attention. And no attention is less warranted. Everywhere you look, there they are pouting and grimacing on billboards and TV screens, like oversized teenagers. How have we come to this? These people dress up and pretend to be other people — for a living! It wouldn’t be quite so bad if that were all they did. But these days actors are taking over our public space in a way that is unsettling and impossible to

A beautiful speaking voice is a window to the soul

Recent text from a female friend. ‘I’m in love with Neil MacGregor.’ To which I reply, ‘But of course! Up there with the Dean of Westminster and Frank Gardner.’ The same day, walking in Kensington Gardens, another friend admits, ‘I think I’m in love with Neil MacGregor.’ We mourn the fact that MacGregor’s Wikipedia entry tells us he’s ‘listed in the Independent’s 2007 list of most influential gay people’, so the director of the British Museum is, sadly, out of reach to womankind. It’s his beautiful speaking voice that does the trick. I like the way, in his Radio 4 series Germany: Memories of a Nation, MacGregor pronounces ‘Germany’, with

The summer of love

Last time I was allowed to write a story for The Spectator, I managed to get away with a frankly smutty and boastful piece about sex. Well, it’s been a while, so… I do hope nobody minds if I do that again. If I’m honest, when young, one of the reasons I decided to mortgage my life to showbiz was because I thought that if I did, I would get more than my fair share of bedroom action. Hang on. Sorry, not more than my fair share. (I must stop putting myself down.) Firstly, as we all know there is no such thing as fair in these matters; very attractive

Sean Penn: A Kissinger For Our Time

One of Henry Kissinger’s great gifts is the ability to write op-eds that are clear as petrol. I recall one such piece, published by the Washington Post (his favoured venue for ex cathedra announcements), that left opponents and supporters of tougher measures against Saddam Hussein believing the old man was on their side. Kissinger had, still has I assume, the ability to inject complexity into a coin-toss. He baffles with nuance. Though I suspect their politics differ, Sean Penn evidently fancies himself a Kissinger for our times. The great man has space in the Guardian today, revealing his thoughts on the future of the Falkland Islands. For this we should,