Doctors & Nurses. October 2011.

Dear Rowley,

Forgive the radio silence, I’ve been stricken with the mother of all flu but count one’s blessings while writhing in abject agony on my deathbed like Mimi in La Boheme. My darling Dr B gave me an appointment within 20 minutes on a Monday morning – which at my surgery is not dissimilar to getting a ticket on the last frigate out of Yalta with the Dowager Empress of Russia in 1918 – and stuffed me full of antibiotics. Forget all the crap about Lemsip, bed rest or even the hot whiskey 36-hour regime. When one catches a winter bug the only option is to nuke it like Nagasaki.

So in the absence of gorgeous photographs of high life in London I am sending you a couple of portraits of the marvellous Hattie Jacques in Carry on Doctor. What we all wouldn’t give for the days when the doctor made house calls and if – God forbid – we ended up in hospital we were looked after by a bosomy Matron with an imperious manner and an undercarriage like Arc Royal who ruled with a rod of iron.

As you know Rowley, I am no stranger to the NHS. In fact I would go as far as to say my next book launch should be sponsored by Glaxo Smith Kline. Life is kind, don’t you find, in its ability to erase one’s memory – ‘Obliviate’ – and you’re only reminded of the misery of sickness when it grips you like the Grim Reaper’s receptionist. But much to the disappointment of many, I am on the mend. In fact I am propped up on the duck down watching Mary Queen of Frocks.

I’ve been in the locker room of fashion with Ms Portas more than a few times over the years. Where the Mockney accent came from I have no idea. Where baiting the competition in House of Fraser comes from I understand entirely. Television makes people behave in much the same way as Mickey Mouse is forced to dance and mug to the cameras in Fantasia. Funnily enough, I was on a table with one of the directors of House of Fraser last week at a Banqueting House lunch. What he had to say gave one an awful lot of insight into why they agreed to dance with the television devil.

On to more salubrious subjects. I have seen a preview of Michelle Williams’ remarkable performance in the upcoming film My Week with Marilyn. The woman is extraordinary as is her channelling of MM. The story is a delight. Marilyn is in London in 1956 to film The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier. She holds two press conferences at the Savoy (of which more anon) and sallies forth to Pinewood to film The Sleeping Prince: a role Olivier performed on stage with his wife Vivien Leigh. There is much acrimony about Marilyn’s unprofessional behaviour and Hollywood ways and yet when Olivier sees the rushes it is clear that Marilyn is acting the Britishers off the screen.

This episode in Marilyn’s life is gold for a script writer. Many moons ago I met the legendary Fleur Cowles – editor of Flair – and doyenne of the Albany. She told me that Marilyn would stay with her in her Piccadilly set and weep at the betrayal of her then husband Arthur Miller who was siding with Olivier. MM felt alone so befriended the runner on the movie Colin Clark who subsequently wrote the book upon which the film is based. The week in question was one when Clark accompanied Marilyn on a tour of London and its environs that included a surprise appearance at Eton and much skinny dipping, secret shopping and nightclubbing. We see Marilyn at large, at loose and enjoying her life for one of the brief periods that she was allowed to.

Many actresses have attempted Monroe. The most successful to date were Theresa Russell in Insignificance and Mina Sorvino in a made for TV movie Norma Jean and Marilyn. Many actresses  can dye their hair champagne blonde, paint on the beauty spot, carmine their lips and wiggle and pout. But so few can capture the souffle of vulnerability and sexiness that was Marilyn Monroe. I think My Week with Marilyn is honest and true and a beautiful film. Do try and see it when it goes on to general release in November. Much of my sickbed vigil was spent watching old Marilyn movies. Top five? Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, Some Like it Hot and – yes – The Prince and the Showgirl. The latter film is flawed but Marilyn shimmers as only she can.

Watching Marilyn puts me in mind of how dread-ful television is at present. Pre Mary, I sat through five minutes of Gok Wan. What an act! Hats off! The guy is genius with a certain level of British fashion. He can sell a ratty old bit of faux fox fur glue-gunned together and strung onto a cheap clutch bag by a tatty key ring and make it sound like The Song of Angry Men from Les Mis. Power to the people. We can all unite, spit in the eye of high fashion and dress on the cheap. Well, I hate to shatter illusions but we can’t. After the age of 30, cheap looks cheap rather than cute. Fact of life.

Who do I love on telly at present? The people who don’t ‘act out’ and wear fancy dress. According to my delectable agent Geraldine, the buzz word in telly at present is ‘Imminent Danger’. Will Mary’s ‘dream’ be shattered? Will Gok’s cheap schmutter be booed off the catwalk? The answer is of course that as long as the cameras are rolling nothing will be allowed to get between the talent and the audience’s will for them to succeed…until, of course, the audience turns. And, as Helen Mirren’s Queen says to Tony Blair, ‘they will, Mr Blair, when you least expect it’…a lesson for us all.