Sunday 17th July 2011
DAME Barbara Cartland had everyone smiling.
Way into her nineties, prolific in pink, mischief-eyed, she alights from the limousine like the bestest-ever birthday cake, icing-glooped and candle-flicked.
I hover, production manager playing festival security, eavesdropping crumbs.
LOCAL PRESS: Tell me, Dame Barbara, how many books is it you’ve written now?
DAME: Seven hundred and fourteen.
Through stage door; on fairy wings to wings; chairs chosen; clip-on microphones for sound check. Other crew and I lurk. Interviewer rehearses welcome, enquires after Dame’s journey here, asks same-old question about books.
DAME: Seven hundred and fifteen.
INTERVIEWER: A truly amazing achievement…
ME (sotto voce): Not what she said ten minutes ago.
STAGE MANAGER (likewise): Right answer though. She wrote another on the way in.
Same venue, some years later. The invasion of Iraq is imminent. Blair has recently concluded that Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated at very short notice, even though no evidence has been found of the whereabouts of these weapons of mass destruction.
Always amiable Barry Cryer my on-stage guest.
ME: What about the new book, Barry? I gather publication’s been delayed.
CRYER: Stockpiled in a secret bunker. But we could release its mass destruction on an unsuspecting world within forty-five minutes…
Same venue. This time, Eddie Braben, scriptwriter for years for Morecambe and Wise. Just out, his autobiography, The Book What I Wrote. A shy man, a little nervous: large audience out there. We’re about to go on.
BRABEN: I know you don’t do clipboard questions, Marcus, but could you perhaps say what the first one might be? It would help me relax.
ME: Er… something about this being your first time here?
He nods, instantly gives us opening lines. House lights fade. We enter and sit.
ME: Welcome to Cheltenham, Eddie. Have you been to the Everyman Theatre before?
ME: When was that?
BRABEN: Six months ago.
Much laughter. Great gig.