Drawing: Sir Peter Ustinov

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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.

Drawing: Jeremy Irons in The Gods Weep at the Hampstead Theatre

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Oscar winner Jeremy Irons had previously signed a sketch for me when he played the lead role in Chris Hampton’s adaption of EMBERS at the Duke of York’s Theatre in 2006.

Expecting a similar result I waited at the Hampstead Theatre one Saturday afternoon to catch him going in for a performance of THE GODS WEEP – an update of the King Lear saga by Dennis Kelly. The Hampstead has a number of entrances and exits, providing a challenge for the ‘siggy stalker.’

Alas, I missed him, so left the sketch with a suitable note and a stamped reply envelope at the stage door. I received the drawing back a few days later, unsigned with a message from Jeremy’s PA. It said that Mr Irons would be happy to sign it if I made a donation to the Prison Phoenix Trust which offers yoga, meditation and books to prisoners. He suggested £15 would be an appropriate amount.

I duly sent the sketch back with the recommended contribution and it arrived back signed and dedicated along with a thank you for the donation. A couple of weeks later, Jeremy was attending an opening night in the West End with his wife Sinead Cusack and signed some autographs… for free!