I love a Biblical Epic, don’t you? Only problem with Hollywood Biblicals is that the pagans always appear to be having infinitely more fun than the Christians. They also get nicer cossies. I’m just watching a rerun of The Robe on BBC4 and hooting with laughter over the ad libbing – in thick Noo Yawk-ese if you please – by an extra hired to play a centurion at the crucifixion of Jesus. I swear he called Our Lord a ‘doyty rat’ only for an Israelite extra to reply with an anguished cry ‘you piddiful moyderer’.
Movies made before CGI graphics are to be treasured. It is a joy to see the Hollywood set-builders of the 1950s at their most inventive: constructing Roman temples, palaces, villas and gladiatorial arena. If it couldn’t be built, backdrops were painted in much the same way they are in the theatre. The Robe won the Oscar in 1953 for Art Direction and Costume Design and as the movie progresses you understand why. The Technicolor is utterly sumptuous and I believe The Robe was the first Hollywood film shot in Cinemascope.
Would The Robe be made today? I doubt very much whether it would be distributed in the UK without countless multi-cultural pundits appearing on the Today programme saying it offended the Moslem, Hindu, Islamic or Voodoo communities. I rather enjoyed that UKIP MEP criticising the Coalition this week for sending international aid to dictators in Bongo Bongo land. On what level is using Bongo Bongo Land as a euphemism ‘disrespectful’? We’re all aware that African potentates bank UK aid and go on shopping sprees that make Immelda Marcos look like Sister Wendy.
A little candid thought is increasingly welcome in British politics however archaic the language. It’s not fifty years since Elaine Stritch stopped the show on Broadway with a ditty called Bongo Bongo Bongo, I No Like It In Di Congo and received a standing ovation. Not five years ago, a children’s drink was advertised with the rhyme Umbongo, Umbongo Dey Drink It In Di Congo.
While we’re on the subject of race relations, I happened to see BBC Breakfast lauding A-N-Other rapper called Dizzeee Dream or N-Dubz or some such who – God only knows why – had been asked to perform a ‘mash-up’ of classical music and dub-step at The Proms this year. Said rapper apparently had a Damascene conversion and decided he ‘respected’ classical musicians. If candour were king, the presenter would have questioned whether classical musicians reciprocated.
I find the concept of ‘respect’ rather cockeyed these days. The people who use the word seem to be speaking from a position of arrogance and supremacy when the true feeling of respect comes from one who looks up not down. I am increasingly respectful of the few people in London who demonstrate good manners and consideration towards others who happen to share the shops, restaurants and streets. It is such a rare commodity these days that when you give or receive a pleasantry or a smile it tends to make one’s day.
La Farmer and I are both entirely in agreement that most people in London are FAR TOO LOUD. Like Queen Alexandra, I am going rather deaf as the years go by. This is a blessing and a curse. I’d rather not hear the nonsense most people spout but at the same token when I’m in a restaurant I would rather not be engulfed by the table next door’s ‘riveting’ conversation. I only wish that people would speak at a moderate pitch if their conversation isn’t at least as brilliant as Dorothy Parker.
I hope my pictures today thrill. As you know, the Admiralty Arch has been put out to tender and won by a company who will turn it into a hotel and suite of luxury apartments. I was introduced to the owners by the lovely Ian Denyer who directed the three-one-hour Savile Row documentary that followed us to Palazzo Pitti in Florence all those years ago. Having worked on the Savoy in the two years leading up to its reopening and recently written the Royal St. James’s book for the developers of No 88 St. James’s Street, Ian thought I’d be an interesting character to throw into the mix.
Well, long story short I was utterly beguiled by a private tour of Admiralty Arch. We went up onto the roof to survey the view of Buckingham Palace up The Mall and a new perspective on Trafalgar Square. We trawled the basement levels where the government archive used to be stored (including the Margaret Thatcher Falklands papers) and numerous secret passages leading to other government buildings on Whitehall. The state rooms where the First Sea Lord used to reside are magnificent as are the offices where Winston Churchill used to preside.
I love being at the start of a project and hope to be involved on whatever level. This is infinitely preferable to being at the end of a project when relationships inevitably tend to unravel and one leaves a much-loved team in much the same way as Conan the Barbarian ends a movie: with villages smoking, children screaming and adults sinking to their knees to ululate and shake their fists at the sky. I have noticed that I have rarely ended a project with a happy finish. This is a lesson to be learnt. After all it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.