Drawing: Sir Tom Courtenay in The Dresser

Tom Courtenay

There’s maybe a dozen actors that I truly admire, some dead at the moment. But very much alive is Tom Courtenay…correction, Sir Tom Courtenay. He was knighted by the Queen in 2001. On a much earlier visit  to the Palace (1965 to be precise) at a reception for Doctor Zhivago in which a not-yet-knighted Tom played Pasha Antipov, Her Majesty apparently noticed his shyness and was said to have remarked,”Look at him…and to think he’s just lead a revolution.” My favourite film and play in which the shy-yet -to -be sir starred is Ray Harwood’s The Dresser. There’s a ‘Sir’ in it, but Tom didn’t play him. He played Norman, an ageing actor’s personal assistant who struggles to keep ‘Sir’s’ life together.  He  played Norman right from the start. The 1980 stage version transferred from Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre to the Queen’s Theatre in London’s West End before moving to Broadway the following year and earning Tom a Tony Award nom. Two years later the film , directed by Peter Yates was released, earning five Academy Award nominations, including one for Tom and for Albert Finney as ‘Sir’. They were both also nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe, with Tom picking up the later. Despite his cinematic accolades, Tom prefers his first passion-the stage, which he has excelled in equal measure.  One of his solo performances is in Pretending To Be Me, based on the letters and writing of poet Philip Larkin. I drew this sketch of the now-Sir Tom and was planning to ask him to sign it at the British Film Institute earlier this month. He was doing a Q&A after the screening of his latest film 45 Years with Charlotte Rampling in which both won acting Silver Bears at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. I didn’t however, so I posted it to him and he kindly sent it back adding a compliment.

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Drawing: Maggie Smith

Maggie Smith001

Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van opened at London’s Queen’s Theatre in late 1999 with Dame Maggie Smith in the lead role as Miss Shepherd, an eccentric bag lady who lived in a van.

Bennett first became aware of ‘the lady in the van’ in the late sixties. She died in 1989, after spending two decades living in her broken down Bedford van in his driveway. She could most kindly be called eccentric, hearing voices and the Virgin Mary appeared to her on a regular basis. The play is the story… or, more accurately, a series of incidents… between the playwright and the delusional, failed nun, Miss S, who was reclusive but not opposed to publicity.

Dame Maggie is once again nominated for another primetime Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the ITV drama Downton Abbey. She is one of the few people to win the ‘triple crown of acting’ (Emmy, Oscar and Tony). Her impressive list includes seven BAFTAS, two Oscars, three Golden Globes and a Tony. She is the only person to receive an Academy Award for playing an Academy Award nominee – Diana Barrie in California Suite (1978).

Despite being nominated six times, she has never won the Olivier Award, the highest honour in British theatre. Her last nomination was in 2000 for her role as Miss Shepherd.

I was fortunate enough to see the play just before it ended in July 2000. Dame Maggie signed my sketch last week at her London office.