Jonathan Cecil

Rogues’ gallery

The distinguished writer Brian Masters in his handsomely produced book on the actors of the Garrick Club has set himself a formidable task. Not only, until he reaches the mid-20th century, does he have to assess the art of long-dead actors from contemporary accounts; he is also writing a history of the theatrical profession from

Squeaks and squawks

How often, when listening to announcers or weather forecasters or politicians on the radio, do I think, ‘That’s an ugly voice’! This seldom applies to speakers with educated regional accents, such as Scottish, Irish or Yorkshire, but all too often to those from London or the Midlands where good standard English is becoming a rarity.

Big is beautiful | 10 November 2007

It is odd to think that fatness — now known as obesity and apparently a serious problem — was not so long ago a subject for ribald hilarity. The disgraced clown Fatty Arbuckle was once considered funny simply because of his size. The fictional schoolboy Billy Bunter and his sister Bessie were icons of greedy

From Cleopatra to Queen Elizabeth

In my childhood we used to make what were called ‘scrap screens’. We pasted magazine photographs, coloured and black-and-white postcards, reproductions, advertisements and flower friezes on to a folding screen, overlapping sometimes unevenly, to create a colourful collage; it was a pleasant, inexpensive pastime. Helen Mirren’s In the Frame is a scrap- screen autobiography. Her

Carrying on with gusto

‘When you reach your seventies,’ mused a once successful actor, ‘you either don’t work anymore or you’re Leslie Phillips.’ Indeed Phillips’ career has been, and still is, something of a phenomenon, and not only his career in the theatre. His great secret from childhood onwards has been continual self- reinvention. Starting life in extreme poverty

Anxieties on and off the stage

Listing page content here On the face of it the actress Anna Massey’s life would seem to have been a charmed one. The child of distinguished theatrical parents — Raymond Massey, the powerful Canadian actor, and Adrienne Allen, the original Sybil in Private Lives — Miss Massey was steeped in the world of the stage

Top marks for charisma

In the delightful correspondence (1944) between the late actress Athene Seyler and the actor Stephen Haggard, she inquires of a potential professional performer: Does he aspire to be a power in the theatre, a leader or more vulgarly a star? Then let him be prepared to devote his entire energies, thoughts and interest to his

One rung below greatness

Actors’ biographies, once a comparative rarity and usually ghosted and bowdlerised, spring forth every season. They are often pruriently, dubiously, sensational: we are told that Olivier had an affair with Danny Kaye, that Peggy Ashcroft was a near-nymphomaniac and Alec Guinness a covert gay cruiser, all with scant evidence and with little relation to their

He who would be king

Asked who was the greatest French poet AndrZ Gide famously replied, ‘Victor Hugo, hZlas!’ I confess to having had similar feelings about King Lear. Of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies I find it the bleakest and least sympathetic, with the most exasperating protagonist and the most preposterous sub-plot. The naivety and perverse behaviour of young Edgar

Pure and impure genius

As Hamlet said, ‘Look here upon this picture and on this.’ Early this year Garry O’Connor produced a book about Paul Scofield. The actor’s personal life being famously uneventful, there is little there for lovers of theatre gossip. It is, despite a few pretentious notions about Scofield’s psyche, an admirably thoughtful book on the player’s

The man who hated being typecast – and was

Whenever, searching through the television channels for something worth watching, I come across a Dad’s Army repeat I invariably stay with it. The series has not dated, partly perhaps because it was dated when it started. Few of us who were young in the 1960s had clear memories of the Home Guard and many of