Can you remember me saying I’d recorded a short interview in Covent Garden piazza with Tim Wonacott for a new BBC2 programme called The Great Antiques Map of Britain? I’m sure it was summer because it hosed it down with rain for at least part of the filming. I had a collection of pieces from the Henry Poole & Co archive to talk about and jolly good fun it was too. Well the series finally aired Tuesday night.
What I’d forgotten was the mid-life crisis haircut whereby a trendy Bloomsbury session stylist gave me Sebastian Flyte on top and a grade one buzz cut to the back and sides. In the 80s we called it a wedge. Not having done any telly on the BBC since Royal Ascot, I watched with no little apprehension. But apart from the barnet, I thought my Norma Desmond moment went better than expected. At least I wasn’t mistaken for one of the antiques.
Speaking of television spectaculars, since when did the Super Bowl become so camp? I didn’t even know about the traditional half time entertainment until Madonna stepped up to the plate a couple of years ago. Last weekend it was Katy Perry’s turn to entertain the stadium and almost 115 million people watching on TV or online. Despite her brief marriage to Russell Brand, I still rather like Katy Perry. She seems to be an influence for good singing uplifting ditties like Roar and Firework with chorus lines as catchy as rubella.
Miss P began her set on top of a Rio Carnivalesque gold paper tiger puppet wearing a flaming mini dress designed by Jeremy Scott…Miss P, not the tiger. She ended the act fifty feet in the air hurtling round the stadium hanging from a rocket trailing fireworks wearing a crystal-encrusted floor length star costume. It was, as Miss Midler would say, a bravura display of ‘hits, glitz and tits’.
A few minutes into the performance was interrupted by Missy Elliott wearing a track suit, trainers and baseball cap rapping repetitively about how ‘she works it, she works it’ without me being any the wiser whether she was talking about a Zumba class or a mangle. All the while Katy Perry flailed around on the floor trying to look street. It was like watching a kitten pawing at a Hell’s Angel’s biker boot.
Katy Perry is one of the most famous women on the planet who has more followers than the Pope if you gauge power by volume of Instagram, YouTube and Twitter hits. Miss P is at the top of her game but she must have Britney Spears in the back of her mind who was last seen lip synching while playing a season in Last Vegas. Do today’s stars propelled from bedroom webcam to Super Bowl wonder whether their fans will ever send them back again?
Success today is judged by how many people pay attention rather than actually pay to see an artist and that’s rather sad. It is with great regret that I never saw Geraldine McEwan, who quietly passed away over the weekend age 82, perform on stage. McEwan was one of the greatest British actresses and a cornerstone of Sir Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s. She remained a strong presence on stage until the late 90s giving a definitive performance as Lady Wishford in Congreve’s The Way of the World and Noël Coward’s Judith Bliss in Hay Fever.
I like millions of devotees of E. F. Benson’s Mapp & Lucia novels will always worship Geraldine McEwan’s performance as Emmeline ‘Lucia’ Lucas in the 1985 BBC television adaptation. Face painted like an inquisitive parakeet and sporting copper coloured bobbed hair, Lucia is in turn majestic, vain, risible and theatrical and yet McEwan plays her with immense affection as a heroine however flawed. Lucia is pretentious so to play her with fearless stagey flourishes is entirely appropriate.
Geraldine McEwan’s fans such as I are left genuinely and profoundly sad but also celebratory of this remarkable career. Her most critically acclaimed roles were her hardest: the fanatically religious mother in Jeanette Winterson’s autobiographical Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and the sadistic Sister Bridget in The Magdalene Sisters. I find it hard to watch McEwan play a role with the minimum of sympathy or humour simply because I adore her as Lucia.
I recently discovered McEwan’s performance in a 70s TV adaptation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie that was much more drab than the Maggie Smith film version but powerfully performed. Of course anyone under thirty will remember Geraldine McEwan’s twelve appearances as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. They are a lovely valedictory hurrah to the actress. She is surrounded by an ensemble cast of famous and beloved actors and not once does she upstage them while always remaining the anchor of each story.
It has been a pleasure to watch McEwan’s Marple twinkling her way through the rather brilliant The Moving Finger with co-starts James D’Arcy, Emilia Fox, Frankie de la Tour, John Sessions and Ken Russell. Perhaps my favourite is Nemesis in which Miss Marple is charged with avenging a historic wrong which she does with all due seriousness. It was McEwan’s last Marple before passing the baton to Julia McKenzie. It must be marvellous for children and grandchildren of actors and actresses to know that with the magic of film and TV they will never die.