Torrential rain and hailstorms in parts of London and suddenly it’s clear despite the heat that autumn is rolling in quicker than we might wish. Before long this heat will be a dream as feverish as the ones we have every night as we thrash around like bits of bacon rind frying on our sweaty duvets. Opening the window only makes it warmer. In america I mostly can’t stand the air con. I switch it off before I go to bed so I don’t wake up coughing from the parched recycled air. But at least there’s the possibility of switching it on when I wake up. I haven’t been this hot since San Antonio and the fact I’m not doing it to myself on purpose via Aircon fuckery makes it worse.
I’ve been driving again, but I’m exhausted. My concentration is shot to hell. I’m glad I got my passengers home and myself here to the Chelsea Oven before I fell apart. I occasionally need to recharge on my own and this is the first time I’ve been on my own for a few days.
As part of my careful travels I met an 80 year old couple a few days ago and today it was a 95 year old couple I’ve known before. Michael and Doreen – part of my wider family of friends. Tristan’s grandparents. Cue lots of washing of hands and care and thought about distance.
I met Michael when he was a mere stripling in his late eighties. Michael Beint. A veteran of the stage. He still has his agent. He’s a brilliant man. If I can be anything like him at his age that’ll be enough. I hadn’t been in the house five minutes before he and I were in deep theoretical discussion about aspects of the message behind the words in William Shakespeare’s plays. What might have been his belief structure, based on clues in the writing. Also geeking out about his puns and words with multiple edges. Then into Benjamin Brittan and Peter Pears and Germanic influence on the English language and much more… Occasional glances askance at the fuckwits in office in this country but mostly curiosity and thought and debate while Tristan made his grandparents a birthday lunch in the kitchen.
We’ve always got on, Michael and I, and I’ve always been curious about one of his early jobs, that I’d read about when I was at school. I asked him…
In 1956 the sexual offences act was passed, and in the wake of the furore around Lady Chatterley’s Lover, some bloody fool decided that there should be no difference between people actually committing the offences themselves with real skin and bits, and actors pretending to do them on stage every night as part of a story. This was never really acted on. Until 1980, at The National, and Michael was an actor in Howard Brenton’s play “The Romans in Britain”. Mary Whitehouse – (“horrible woman. She never even saw it”) – was at the height of her power as “an activist against the permissive society”. Brenton remains an extraordinary playwright, wordsmith and storycrafter. He had a scene where Peter Sproule pretended to “bugger” Greg Hicks. The trick involved a thumb, sightlines and trust. Greg is very physically capable. Peter is very punctilious. Likely a shocking scene, certainly not celebratory, and important to a powerful story by a great modern playwright.
Whitehouse got wind of the depiction of “an act of buggery”on the stage – the first of its kind – and she didn’t like it one bit.
She failed twice to get the Attorney General to act against Michael Bogdanov – the show’s director. Eventually she went private and sent someone to watch the show and take notes. There was nudity elsewhere, and when the scene came round the geezer was sufficiently credulous and the two actors sufficiently capable and well choreographed. The geezer was able to think he saw what he was looking for – despite sitting in the back row likely with his coat still on and folded arms, sweating gently with rage and righteousness. An erect penis, God save us all. Peter has big thumbs, I guess.
Bogdanov ended up in the dock for “procuring an act of gross indecency between two actors in the play.” So basically for being a pimp. Seriously? Did Mary Whitehouse cut people’s livers out when she played doctors and nurses at school?
Eventually it was thrown out as being as ridiculous as it sounds, but not before a media circus. The trial might have gone the other way and started a gradual process of fettering our industry. Thankfully not. Instead, ten years later a bunch of Cambridge graduates named a rude sketch show after her. Milky milky.
Michael chuckles and says to Doreen as she comes in from the garden “do you remember the night you came to see the Romans in Britain? A camera crew thought you were Mary Whitehouse and asked you what you thought of it!” She laughs at the memory as if it was yesterday. 40 years. I’d love to see that footage. Doreen is so quick, so sharp. They both are.
A lovely afternoon with them. Doreen keeps the garden immaculate. Michael paints on an easel in the shed. “Carpe Diem” says the sign above the shed door. Bloody right. And don’t stop.