Donald Sinden was one of those rare actors who excelled in both comedy and tragedy, and offstage he was a brilliant performer as well. He liked to assume the role of a scatty old man — while retaining his rich, fruity intonation — while in fact he kept his marbles more or less up to the end, succumbing to cancer at age 90. We first met when both of us were made honorary Patrons of the Oscar Wilde Society, which both produces scholarly articles on the Irish playwright and organises very special social events. But whereas I have only written about Wilde, Donald had a more intriguing connection, having as a young man befriended Oscar ‘s nemesis, “Bosie” Douglas. But I usually saw Donald at the Garrick Club, where he was the doyen of the actor members. Indeed, most unusually a room was named after him there while he was still alive. He enjoyed giving guided tours of some of the great pictures there, mixing real erudition with an impish sense of humour, which caught out many an unwary visitor. His impersonations of preposterous characters were a joy.
Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Wilde Society’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th September, 2014
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th October, 2012
When Merlin Holland was invited to the United States some years ago to give a lecture on his grandfather, Oscar Wilde, the woman at immigration at JFK asked him what claim he had to be an authority on the Irish playwright. Merlin confessed the blood link, at which point the immigration officer — rather surprisingly, perhaps — said, ‘Oh, when Oscar Wilde came to America didn’t he say “I have nothing to declare but my genius!”? So what do you have to declare?’ Merlin replied, ‘only my albatross.’ And indeed for much of his adult life being Wilde’s only grandchild did weigh like an albatross on his shoulders. Fortunately, in a more liberal age than that his father Vyvyan lived in Merlin did not have to confront acrimony or shame; on the contrary, Wilde is now such a cultural icon that the problem is more one of heightened expectation. At times Merlin feels like a letterbox receiving Oscar’s undelivered mail. All these points came out this evening at the 21st annual Oscar Wilde birthday dinner put on by the Oscar Wilde Society (OWS) at the National Liberal Club, at which Merlin was the guest speaker, giving a preview of his next book, After Wilde, which will recount aspects of the Wilde legacy as experienced by him and his family. The OWS Chairman, Don Mead, had been trying to get Merlin — who now lives in France — to address such a dinner for several years, so finally ‘bagging’ him for this sell-out occasion was a triumph, and he did not disappoint. He is a stickler for accuracy when it comes to his grandfather’s life and works, for which all serious Wildean scholars must be truly grateful. I certainly benefited from his help and advice when I was writing my three books about Oscar and his coterie. Being a stickler didn’t always make Merlin popular however; he has pointed out errors and possibly unfounded speculation in Richard Ellmann’s classic biography of Wilde, for example. Those shortcomings (some of which could be put down to the fact that Ellmann was dying of motor-neurone disease while trying to complete his book) have been scrupulously analysed and corrected by the German schollar Horst Schroeder, who fittingly introduced Merlin this evening. The thanks were given in a bravura performance by Gyles Brandreth, who has been making a good living from a series of detective novels based on the conceit of implications of the friendship between Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle. At least Brandreth makes no bones about fabricating his stories, and he has certainly added to the gaiety of Wildean circles.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th July, 2009
This year’s London Pride was certainly the most enjoyable I remember: perfect weather for the march, excellent stewarding and a really great atmosphere amongst both the participants and the crowds. The Liberal Democrats made a bigger splash than ever before, with a striking banner, a balloon-festooned, disco-music blaring, Union Flag-topped Mini driven by Hackney South and Shoreditch PPC Dave Raval and borough-specific placards for other LibDem participants to hold aloft as they walked. Very positive response from the punters. I don’t know what the speeches and entertainment in Trafalgar Square were like afterwards, as along with many of the other marchers, I retired to a local hostelry to rehydrate.
In the evening, I went to Jeremy Trafford’s literary salon in Earls’ Court to hear Lord Gawain Douglas give a reading with interlocking textual commentary of his book of poetry, Fortuna (Alma Books, £9.99). I first met Gawain many years ago at an Oscar Wilde Society dinner, but unlike the Irish playwright, who followed the then traditional path of writing poetry in the spingtime of his life, Gawain came to the ‘highest art’ in the late summer of his. The result is not just mature but finely honed and some of his generally short poems are as pregnant with suggested meaning as a Zen-inspired Japanese haiku. I far prefer his work (as well as his personality) to that of his great uncle, Oscar Wilde’s nemesis Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas. Most poets are rubbish at reading their own work and usually should not be let within a million miles of it. But Gawain, as I discovered this evening, is an exception: his performance was brilliant, giving added value to the text and much for one to ponder on a still almost midsummer’s night.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bosie Douglas, Dave Raval, Hackney South and Shoreditch, Jeremy Trafford, Liberal Democrats, London Pride, Lord Alfred Douglas, Lord Gawain Douglas, Oscar Wilde, Oscar Wilde Society | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th May, 2009
I’m increasingly being asked, ‘So, what are you going to do after the election, then?’, to which the obvious response is: ‘that depends on the result!’ But because the UK votes on Thursday, whereas most of the Continent only goes to the polls at the weekend, the results of the European elections won’t be known in London until Sunday evening. Which leaves a hiatus of almost three days.
The Friday plan is easy, as it’s my birthday and I’ll have to clear all the accumulated clutter from the house in preparation for an early evening party for my fellow candidates and election team, to thank them for all their hard work (which is still going on!). But Saturday is more ‘exotic’ and totally non-political, as Stephen Fry and I — both Patrons of the Oscar Wilde Society — have a long-standing engagement to perform at ‘Oscance': the 125th anniversary of the wedding of Oscar Wilde to Constance Lloyd, at St James Paddington, compered by the broadcaster Christopher Cook. Stephen will be interviweed about playing Oscar in the film ‘Wilde’, as well as reading the story ‘The Young King’. I will be reading passages relating to the theme ‘Wilde about London’.
Tickets for the event are available only through advance booking, for a donation of a minimum of £15 each (the Church is raising funds to erect a beautiful screen in Wilde’s memory), available from Oscance, 39 Westbourne Gardens, London W2 5NR. Bookings asap. The performance is on Saturday, 6 June, starting at 3pm, with sparkling wine and canapés.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Christopher Cook, Constance Lloyd, European elections, Oscance, Oscar Wilde, Oscar Wilde Society, St James Paddington, Stephen Fry, The Young King, Wilde film | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th April, 2009
It’s well over a year since I was last at the theatre — odd, really, when one considers that after I quit Reuters in Brussels in 1974, I spent much of the rest of my time in that city as a theatre critic. Anyway, I was invited to go along to the Duchess Theatre in London this evening — when by chance no pressing political event was taking place — and thus had the chance to see Nicholas De Jongh’s Plague over England. The drama is based on the real life experience of actor John Gielgud, who was arrested for cottaging in the 1950s, when a horrendous purge of homosexuals was underway. The scandal hit the front pages of the national press, but to their credit, theatre audiences in Liverpool and London gave Gielgud an ovation when he next appeared on stage.
Inevitably, such a play — which was originally written for the more intimate Finborough Theatre in Earl’s Court, before being transferred to the West End — succeeds or fails on the talents of the lead actor. And Michael Feast (who played alongside Gielgud in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land at the National Theatre in 1975) captures the old thespian’s voice and mannerisms beautifully. There are plenty of jokes — some corny, some camp, some Wildean in their witticism — as well as plenty of pathos.
I only met Gielgud once, when he unveiled a plaque to Oscar Wilde at the back of the Haymarket Theatre, for the Oscar Wilde Socierty, of which I am a Patron. But I loved his collected letters, which were pubished after his death, and theatrical London still rocks with laughter at dinner-table accounts of his famous gaffes, when he could be quite spectacularly rude to people, without, so one is led to believe, intending it.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Duchess Theatre, Earls Court, Finborough Theatre, Haymarket Theatre, Michael Feast, National Theatre, Nicholas De Jongh, No Man's Land, Oscar Wilde, Oscar Wilde Society, Plague Over England | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st December, 2008
A hundred years ago today, the cream of London’s literary and artistic world (sugared with a sprinkling of aristocracy) gathered for a huge dinner at the Ritz Hotel in London to honour Robbie Ross, Oscar Wilde’s devoted friend and literary executor, who had just succeeded in clearing off the late playwright’s debts and thereby brought his bankruptcy to an end. Henceforth, Wilde’s two sons, Cyral and Vyvyan Holland, would be able to benefit from the proceeds of Wilde’s literary estate. Though the dinner was a tribute to Robbie Ross’s tireless efforts over the preceeding eight years, it also marked a milestone in Wilde’s posthumous rehabilitation. There was one notable absence from the occasion, however: Oscar’s nemesis, Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, who boycotted the event.
Last night, a much smaller but nonetheless splendid dinner was held, also at the Ritz, to mark the centenary of that remarkable gathering, as well as to reiterate the tribute to Robbie Ross, whose biography I wrote. Organised by leading lights of the Oscar Wilde Society (of which I am a Patron), the celebration was marked by very short readings from letters of appreciation from guests at the original dinner, some of whom complained about the length and poor quality of the speeches, with the notable exception of that by Robbie Ross himself, whose words — reprinted in an elegant souvenir pamphlet given to guests last night — still bring a lump to the throat as an extraordinary testament to friendship and determination.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th June, 2008
This afternoon I took part in the Oscance event at the Church of St James the Less in Paddington, to commemorate the wedding there of Oscar Wilde and Constance Lloyd. The broadcaster Christopher Cook compered the programme, which included a dramatic reading of the Wilde children’s story, ‘The Happy Prince’, piano music (incuding the ‘Oscar Mazurka’ and the ‘Aesthetic Waltz’) played by Donald MacKenzie and a reading by me from my book André & Oscar. Oscar Wilde Society members were well represented in the audience. Sparkling rosé wine and canapés were served before, during and after the event, an indulgence of which Oscar would, I am sure, have approved. But there was a serious side to the proceedings, as there is much that is tragic not only about Oscar Wilde’s life but also about Constance’s. She died in Genoa without ever seeing her husband after he was released from prison, having essentially lost him to Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas. Next year’s Oscance will mark the 125th anniversary of the wedding, so there will be an extra-special event in the Church. The date is already fixed in the diary: Saturday 6 June, at 3pm.