Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Visit from a luvvie

I’m not one to name-drop, but living near a safari camp means that famous humans often arrive on your doorstep. A few years ago, I had the good fortune to rub shoulders with Lord Attenborough of Richmond-upon-Thames, elder brother of the revered nature guru. We had met once before after he saw me perform in the circus, and when I turned up at the camp he greeted me like a long lost friend.

“Bananas, luvvie, how are you my dear boy? I heard a rumour that you’d retired to the jungle but I never believed it. I thought you must have signed on with the Brazzaville rep. How’s life outside the ring?”

As a friend and patron of the British film industry, I felt duty-bound to engage the ennobled thespian in the style of conversation to which he was accustomed. So I clasped both his hands and responded warmly to his salutation.

“Dickie, old darling, how wonderful to see you! I’m strictly a jungle ape these days, but I do try and keep up with events in show business. Got any projects in the pipeline?”

“Funny you should ask, because I’ve just received a script from Disney,” replied the peerless peer. “They’ve offered me the lead in a sequel to Mary Poppins called Uncle Poppins. I go around the English countryside on a magical tricycle, curing sick fauns and saving lambs from the slaughterhouse. They think it’ll be a smash.”

“Glad to see you’re not getting typecast,” I remarked. “It sounds like a worthy addition to the acting portfolio, Dickie, but what about directing? How about another epic like Gandhi?”

“Bananas, luvvie, if you knew what I went through in making that movie you wouldn’t mention it. The weather was sweltering, the food gave me the runs and Ben Kingsley was always nagging me about nude scenes.”

“Nude scenes in Gandhi?” I replied in some bafflement. “You mean bathing in the Ganges and so forth?”

“No, he’d read somewhere that the Mahatma used to sleep naked with young women to test his powers of self-restraint. So he’d set his heart on getting starkers with Mirabehn, played by Geraldine James. I said: ‘Ben, luvvie, we simply can’t have that sort of thing in a family film. It’s not essential to the plot and the Indians might kick us out of the country if they got to hear of it. Forget about the nudity in this one and I’ll recommend you to Jean-Jacques Annaud, who’s a master of the tasteful bum-shot.’ Funny thing was that in spite of his disappointment his performance afterwards was superb. An actor is always more relaxed when he knows he won’t be taking his briefs off.”

This revealing anecdote inspired me to suck my teeth in admiration. “I always knew you deserved the credit for the Oscar he got,” I said. “You know, I bet you could make a classic little film right here with your camcorder. Have you met Bonzo, the resident chimpanzee? He’d just love to star in a Dickie Attenborough production.”

Dickie pretended to pooh-pooh my suggestion by chortling and standing on one leg, but I could tell by the twinkle in his eye that I’d awakened the artistic impulse in him. After sharing a late-morning pot of tea, we parted company – he drove away with his tour party to observe the wildlife, while I returned to the jungle.

A couple of days later, I returned to see how Dickie was getting on. On arriving, I was delighted to observe that the great man had taken my advice to heart. Wearing his director’s beret, he was pointing his camcorder at Bonzo, who was fiendishly attired in a striped blazer and straw boater. While a nearby portable stereo played Memories Are Made of This, the gifted chimp performed a beautifully choreographed dance routine, using a bamboo stick as his cane. As the music came to an end, Bonzo removed his hat and took a bow.

“Wonderful!” gasped Dickie. “Bonzo, luvvie, that was marvellous beyond words! I’m going to show this tape to everyone when I get back to England!”

But Bonzo had no interest in winning the admiration of unknown humans living thousands of miles away. The vain little chimp wanted the tape for himself, so he could watch his own performance repeatedly in a fever of unbridled narcissism. He scampered over to get his hands on the camcorder, but the ageing thespian was having none of it.

“Out of the question, dear boy!” spluttered Dickie, hugging the device to his body. “Not even Larry Olivier got to see the rushes before the director!”

At this moment, I thought it best to intervene to prevent an unpleasant altercation. Taking the chimp by the arm, I gently escorted him off the set while trying to explain that a copy of the tape would be mailed to him later. Bonzo had little option but to accept my assurances, but before departing he showed his resentment by giving Dickie a sullen glare and snapping the bamboo stick in two.

When I returned, I saw Dickie reviewing Bonzo’s act on the camcorder’s monitor.
“A most remarkable talent,” he mused, “and temperamental too! My brother David often says that chimps are our closest relatives, but I never quite believed it until now. I wonder what he’ll make of this footage.”

“Are you sure you ought to show it to him, Dickie?” I asked. “The most he’s ever achieved with chimps is getting them to break a few nuts. You wouldn’t want to provoke any sibling jealously, would you?”

“Bananas, my dear chap, that’s a very good point you make,” said Dickie grinning mischievously. “Now that you mention it, I’ll certainly have to show it to him!”

Dickie may be a luvvie, GB, but you've got to give him credit for the way he keeps going into his 80's. I read that he's currently directing another romantic epic, partly shot in Belfast. Those Attenborough brothers are made of solid stuff.
Funny way he has of talking - all those "luvs" and "darlings" and so forth. You'd think his wife would talk him out of it, wouldn't you?
At my imaginary dinner-party I'd have Sir Dickie and Sir Dave. (With a nice chianti - (tongue waggle). I jape, obviously.) I'd have Sir David on a Saturday night but, while I admire his accomplishments immensely, I can't help thinking that Sir Dickie would be better to have over for Tuesday tea-time - I've heard he gets on Shakespeare's nerves at imaginary dinner parties and Shakespeare has a lot of those to attend. He's in great demand, very choosy and a bugger to seat. And he's a vegan. I think Sir Dickie slurping on a lamb chop beside him, might put him off his 17th century anecdotes.
Better luvvie than old cock, which Sir Ian McKellen insists on calling me every time we come across each other.
Sam is right. Dickie is the better companion in spite of all the "luvvies". Davey is a good earnest boy, but not necessarily the ideal human to take tea with.
I.m so glad you didn't say anything nasty about 'Dickie'. I wrote to him when he and I were both very young and I was puttng on a play with student nurses. I asked his advice on the right play for inexperienced girls and he was so sweet and helpful. I don't believe he has changed.
That doesn't suprise me, Pi. Dickie is one of the few men who can be trusted to give inexperienced girls the right kind of advice. A true gent indeed.
every time we come across each other?

Unfortunate turn of phrase, there, Footie...
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