‘I take it you won’t need a microphone?’ said Christopher Dean, Chairman of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society. Flattering of course, but I said we ought to have the option. For the luncheon party to celebrate the launch of The Attenbury Emeralds we were to be practically on the terrace of the House of Lords and I imagined, from the map Dean had drawn me, a long room with people spread to my left and right and the River Thames behind them. It turned out to be just so and to be a beautiful day. We spilled out onto the narrow terrace, narrow because the ‘room’ we were in was really a semi-permanent marquee occupying most of the width of the terrace. 
A view of the terrace in Edwardian times.

This famous spot affords views of the South Bank with the unremarkable 1980s addition to St Thomas’s Hospital opposite and the more attractive brick original obscured by trees. There are steel and glass buildings to the west, including the one with the most lovely view of the Houses of Parliament – from its choice lofty penthouse you feel as though you are hovering over the middle of the river: I know this because it is owned by Lord Archer and I have hovered there myself by virtue of being in his play, The Accused. On one of his walls there is another splendid view of the Thames, painted by Monet from the room he hired at the Savoy Hotel. What I am saying is that the Houses of Parliament themselves are surrounded by inferior views whilst providing a spectacular Victorian Gothic fantasy to the hospital patients, office workers, millionaire penthouse dwellers and the tourist hoi polloi.

View of the Houses of Parliament from the terrace of St Thomas’s Hospital, 1960.

The fabric of the ‘tent’ absorbed the sound of the human voice very efficiently, even though there was a mike. The difficulty was compounded by a noisy ventilation system. During the speech of welcome I stood next to Norma Major; noting the problem, she told me she was off on a quest to get the ventilators turned off. She succeeded in time for Jill Paton Walsh’s little speech. Jill confessed to being in love with Lord Peter Wimsey as Dorothy Sayers had been before her. The passage I read featured, amongst other things, a long speech by the Dowager Duchess and played like a marvellous light-comedy script. The ‘luncheon’ consisted of the most diminutive canapés I have ever seen. 
On the way out I was impressed by a striking portrait of Baroness Amos of Brondesbury, former Leader of the House of Lords and current UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator. 
The Baroness Amos of Brondesbury by Paul Benney. 
Oil on canvas, 48″ x 44″. 2004.
Brondesbury is in Brent – one thinks of the National Theatre of Brent. Modest areas of our land have become ennobled in these democratic times. Actually the National Theatre of Brent provides me with the perfect link – not to portraiture but ‘modern art’. Did you happen to catch their hilarious history of contemporary art broadcast on Radio 4 in August – ‘Tracey Emin and How She Done the Bed’? So much more to the point than the trendy journalism about art and art curators and dealers, which pervades every paper I pick up at the moment. And so I come to my own small self-portrait – not to be mentioned in the same breath as all the talk in these modish articles with their impossibly modish personalities in their impossibly smart minimalist interiors.
This, I hope, shows an advance from last week’s preview:

Vintage Seer and Yellow. Acrylic on canvas, 10″ x 14″.

I finish with a modest footnote on art from a 1953 weekly rep programme. My first professional job, at the tender age of seventeen and whilst still at drama school, was in Halifax, Yorkshire, playing Frith, the white-haired butler of Manderlay, in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. There was not much to read in those old theatre programmes, unless one was interested to learn, yet again, that wardrobe care was by Lux, nylon stockings by Kayser Bondor, cigarettes by Senior Service or Abdulla, and that Act 2 was the same scene four days later. 

But in coming across the programme of Rebecca, what I love and wouldn’t have missed is the half-page letter to the members of the Theatre Club of the Halifax Theatre Royal, touching on a plan to adorn the walls of the theatre’s corridors with exhibitions of paintings.

The current exhibition is by members of the Halifax Art Society whose members get their living in various ways. They help to keep their sanity by observing nature and trying to interpret her secrets in line and colour – in short by making pictures.

I rest my case.

If you would care to glimpse a portrait of the artist as a young man, I have recently uploaded to YouTube a few clips of my Lorenzo in the 1972 BBC production of The Merchant of Venice, directed by Cedric Messina.

  • jentay61

    Unfortunately I missed the terrace view due to the inability of the wheelchair to negotiate the gap between the marquee and the ramp to the outside so thank you for the description.
    The view from below eye,or in some cases waist, level is often exasperating but also fascinating.
    And you were so right about the canapes – a nod to cut backs perhaps?
    Am looking forward to the arrival of my copy of "Artist's Impressions"
    Have a good week.

  • dtstoner

    Why is "yellow" in the title? I am not an artist, but I like the use of color. The background reminds me of the willows in your Malvolio. Glad you are keeping sane and painting pictures.

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