Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Los Angeles

It could only happen here. I was auditioning for my Shakespeare project. The time had come for me to leave - I had to catch a plane back to London. Although one very promising actor had failed to show, I simply had to finish. After the fuss and flurry of the check-in, I was disturbed in the departure area by a mysterious message summoning me through immigration, through luggage screening, all the way back to the check-in desk. Apparently, someone was desperate to see me. It was the missing actor. He pumped me warmly by the hand and explained that he had failed to catch my vanishing car on the freeway. But he had to do the audition, no matter what. `Where?' I asked, in some alarm, glancing round the vast departure hall of LA airport. `Here,' he said and launched into `Thou, nature, art my goddess' from King Lear. His voice reverberated impressively off the cavernous ceilings, while hundreds of people trudged past, pushing their luggage carts. Nobody gave him a second glance. People who shout fanatically in public places are quite common in Los Angeles. You certainly don't risk looking at them. Finally an elderly couple, bearing large suitcases, stopped to listen. After some minutes, the man smiled with delight. `Shakespeare,' he announced. `Where is Qantas?' Did the actor get the job? Alas, no. During my car ride to the airport, the part had been offered to and accepted by a second choice agreed on during the morning. Showbusiness....

My daughter Rebecca has been here on holiday. She was searching for a book in one of the glamorous bookshops that are sprouting all over LA. They are decked with cappuccino and juice bars, and every book you can think of. She wanted material on the Hollywood Ten for an A-level history essay. `Are they a pop group?' asked the smooth young assistant. There are short memories in this land of little history.

It is also the land where, to my irritation, I constantly get called `Sir Hall'. The irritation is partly because I never know whether to complain or not. `Please call me Sir Peter, or Peter, or just Mr Hall' - it sounds so prissy. The problem may not exist much longer, though. The title is threatened because computers cannot cope. They print `Sir Peter Hall', but `Sir Peter' always defeats them and becomes `Sir Hall' - just as in America. Airline operators, hotel telephonists and insurance sales girls all follow this lead and get very snotty indeed if there is an attempted correction. I am now waiting for `Mr Sir Hall'. But clearly in another ten years, the handle will be obsolete. I have had it for more than 20 years now and I've enjoyed it, though it does keep prices up. Initially I had doubts. It didn't seem quite right for an elementary schoolboy of the Richard Hoggart generation to perpetuate the ancient class system. For some reason, No. 10 made a mistake and sent the letter to my parents' home. My father, concerned by the very officiallooking envelope, telephoned to ask if I was in trouble with the police. I told him to open the envelope and read the contents. He burst into tears. I did of course accept. It is the way we honour theatre people and it would have been churlish, not to say humourless, to refuse.

The Shadow Arts Council grows apace. A very large body of artists feel that New Labour has simply not given the arts a high enough priority. …

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