Drawing: Sir Peter Ustinov

peter ustinov001

One of the people I had always wanted to to meet was Sir Peter Ustinov – actor, writer, noted wit and raconteur. In July 1990 I was privileged to see his one man show at the Civic Theatre in Invercargill, New Zealand and meet him afterwards.

In an interview, Sir Peter mentioned the Invercargill incident, “in a theatre that smelled of a furniture depository and made it very clear that it wasn’t very often used. Suddenly in the middle of my performance all the lights went out, including the exit signs.”

He continued performing in the dark, and got more laughs. He compensated for the lack of being seen by verbally expressing his actions in a more descriptive manner. After 20 minutes, the lights came back on, “I was dying for them to fail again,” Sir Peter said.

The interview was in 1992 – two years after the performance, when time allowed him to view the incident in a more positive way. But on the night his mood was colder than the Winter’s evening. At the time I was Deputy Mayor, and hosted a function for Sir Peter after his show. As you could imagine, he was not in a good frame of mind and his sense of humour had vanished. It took some coaxing by our City Manager, Richard King, to get him to the Mayoral Lounge, next to the Theatre.

Once there he was very charming. I asked him to sign my caricature. He looked at it for a while, then quipped, “yes, that’s me.”

My wife, Senga, had given birth to our son Ben the day before, so I asked him to add on “and wee Ben” to the inscription. He duly obliged, with ‘Ben’ in much smaller script. His sense of humour was restored, but no one mentioned the unscheduled black-out.

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