Laurence olivier

My Negroni-soaked lunch with Laurence Olivier

Breakfast is my preferred meal, in case you’re interested. I broke my fast this week with my walking laser-light of a friend, William Shawcross, at Fischer’s in Marylebone, which serves an egg rosti to rival that of Café Sacher in Vienna. Fischer’s consists of a small entrance area, a bar to the left, and at the rear a faux Austrian dining room with wall-to-wall antlers (synthetic, but that’s how the strudel crumbles these days). The main room forms a St Helena to which second class patrons are exiled. Preferred clients, selected with unerring snobisme, are placed at the front. Novelising to Mantel was as solemn a business as trimming a

The joy of being cancelled

New York I’ve never met anyone called Othello, certainly not in Venice nor in Cyprus, but perhaps there are men by that name in Africa. Someone who was referred to as Othello, but always behind his back, was the greatest of all Russians, Alexander Pushkin: a ‘raging Othello’ was how les mauvaises langues in court described the great poet. Pushkin’s great-grandfather, General A.P. Gannibal, was Ethiopian. I’ll get back to Othello in a jiffy, but first a few words about marital jealousy and Pushkin. The poet got a bee in his bonnet soon after marrying the beautiful but coquettish Natalia because she flirted, harmlessly but nevertheless disastrously. Innocent flirtation might

Granada’s Brideshead Revisited remains the sine qua non of mini-series

It is 40 years ago today since Granada’s masterly adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited first beamed into British homes. This 11-part serialisation of a book originally entitled A Household of the Faith soon gathered millions of faithful householders. The autumn of 1981 was an especially cold and wet one and it was still too soon in the Thatcher premiership for her patron saint, Francis of Assisi, to have worked his magic. So while ITV was not able to deliver harmony, truth, faith or hope, it certainly provided 659 minutes of romantic escapism. It began very soberly with the credits — a simple black screen announcing the first episode’s actors in stark white script — propelled only by Geoffrey Burgon’s majestic score. The opening scene —

How Cecil Beaton offended the Queen Mother

In December 1979, the 28-year-old Hugo Vickers, dining with a friend, declared: ‘I see little point to life these days.’ The following day, an editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson rang to tell him that Cecil Beaton, seriously debilitated by a stroke, was looking for a biographer. Vickers visited Beaton three days before his death in January 1980 and, shortly afterwards, was confirmed as his official biographer. This was to give point, along with glamour and excitement, to his life for the next five years. Beaton’s sister, Lady Smiley, exhorted Vickers not to make it ‘one of those gossipy books. There’s so much more.’ He followed her counsel and his biography