This extract from my monologue “No Robe for a Hermit”, printed below, has received much interest from certain quarters. I was pleased with the response: no-one knew if the voice of the unnamed actor was autobiographical or not. The unnamed actor is introspective and, as he begins to question all he has achieved early in his career, during the late 1950s and 1960s, his doubts begin to creep in as he believes that success is an illusion and will bring no happiness to him and his wife.
“Those who are born to a country usually die protecting its freedoms. No ifs or bastard doubts about it !” There were no more genuine words than those words spoken by my grandfather. As my father later said, he only needed to say something once and it was never forgotten. How far will those principles hold today with this generation? Would they lay down their lives to protect Britain? I know how I would respond, but I cannot speak for others when ideals have become twisted. The apologists will rue the day when they try to change an ordinary person’s perspective on history. There again, I am getting ahead of myself. The earlier words will be put into significance much later. When my grandfather lay wasted, dying in hospital, he was delirious most of the time. His thoughts were of the past and the boys he had grown up with who were long dead. He thought he was back on the Somme when the order to go over the top was given. The nurse was frightened by how his voice became hoarse when he could no longer shout. He told my father that he survived the onslaught because he would not drink the rum the other men were given. He wanted to keep his marbles he told the sergeant-major afterwards. My grandfather told people, years later, that he saw Charles Laughton with his regiment during the build up to the offensive. Not many people believed him, but it was true. My grandmother always referred to Charles Laughton as Charles Laugh-ton, as in laughing. This really annoyed my grandfather. He was calling for his mates who were dying around him when he was in the hospital bed. The world I see is different now to those who have been forgotten and are only remembered from memories and faded photographs. There is no rosebud in my tale. My accent veers from broad northern to the upper-class accent of the King’s English and the affectations that are part of the BBC that I slavishly copied. Compassion and humility, I have. My detractors speak otherwise. They believe I am a parvenu. Therefore, I am wrong if I seek perfection and abhor others who do not see things as I do. Now, I am getting ahead of myself again. Those who dramatize themselves do not know themselves. I suppose there is some truth in this saying. Everyone tries to hide their true selves. I have found myself taking on a different persona as if I am trying to become the person I am characterizing as I wait in the wings before going on stage. There is no stranger feeling than this. The explanation may sound facile, but there is some truth in it. I am committed to this precarious existence; I suppose I have offended my people. That is their fault, not mine. A slight may not be the same as I envisage it to be. Jealously is the prime motivation behind the antipathy towards me. I don’t give a damn. Like a cancer eating away at their thoughts, they see me as something I am not. I have learnt many things and done, to my own mind, so little. This is what grates for my contemporaries. My unobtrusiveness is well-know. I have got up the nose of many noted thespians that they will never speak to me again. I became what I am, today, by observing, learning the nuances of the best actors and actresses. (Laughs). I was a stage manager then. Some gave willingly of their time; others couldn’t care less. I stayed in the background, part of the darkness, and waited for the opportunities that I knew would come. (Pauses). I never knew who I was quite then. I had so much fun reinventing myself that I lost sight of myself under the layers I had entrapped myself. As I said, all actors display emotion, mannerisms, that the audience note. Their true character is never revealed. No actor is ever original. They all borrow from others, eventually believing their definition of characteristics is their own. You ask for examples? Well, Rex Harrison took on the persona of Gerald Du Maurier; it did his career little harm. He watched no end of his performances. I saw Burton at the Old Vic and it was then that I understood. By watching him and the ensemble perform. His voice brought out every anguish of Hamlet and, for a moment, I understood every word I was hearing because of Burton’s interpretation. (Pauses). He was Hamlet. I learnt much that afternoon. Never have I seen an actor become someone else. You could see he was contended then and not disillusioned like he became in later years. I never forgot where I came from. That is what you must remember. All of this, I have now, is nothing but an illusion. . .
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