Magazine article The Spectator

Guinness Is Good for You

Magazine article The Spectator

Guinness Is Good for You

Article excerpt

The slot on Radio Four that consistently delights, and gets its choice of material right, is at 8.40 in the morning, immediately following the Today programme. This week, Sir Alec Guinness has been reading from his diary, written from the beginning of last year, My Name Escapes Me, abridged by Neville Teller.

These are not just thespian jottings but a record of his daily routines, often minor events which, in a Pooterish way, he succeeds in making interesting and amusing: the frustrations of old age - he's now 82 - such as deafness and diminishing eyesight, the dying family dog Bluebell and worries about losing his hat at a Chelsea restaurant.

He includes some marvellous anecdotes. He recalls Coral Browne rehearsing her role in a period play in New York and wearing a huge, overstuffed wig. `Are you happy with that wig?' cries the director in the stalls. `If you really want to know,' she replies from the stage, 'I feel as if I'm looking out of a yak's arsehole.' He tells the story of a rich and famous actress, unnamed, visiting Sir Harold Acton's villa near Florence and being shown around the house. As she's about to leave Acton tells her to go back inside and replace all the pretty things she has stuffed into her capacious handbag.

He's offered the part of the butler in a Hollywood film of The Cherry Orchard. `Idly, it came into my head that the point about knighthoods for British actors is to enable them to go to Hollywood to play butlers in glossy movies.' He grows hilariously anxious about a newspaper advertisement showing an elderly lady lying at the bottom of some stairs clutching her accident alarm. `She's been lying there for two years and nothing has been done about it.'

Obsessive fans alarm him. One woman used to send him presents from Boots and later he discovered she'd been arrested for shoplifting. 'I suspect I have been the unwitting receiver of stolen goods.' Guinness writes and speaks with sharp observation and sardonic world-weariness; his voice is like a gentle stream rippling over smooth stones. It's a pity these morning readings disappear when Parliament resumes, to be replaced by Yesterday in Parliament.

George Melly is another performer who is always welcome on the radio and, to mark his 70th birthday, he was interviewed by Mavis Nicholson on Radio Two last week (Friday). Some years ago, Melly and his band enlivened annual parties of the World at One, turning them into popular events at Broadcasting House. He knew an editor on the programme, and seeing this tubby figure in striped suits and with a florid, debauched-looking face thumping out his vaudeville jazz numbers always left me smiling. …

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