Friday, 11 March 2016


On Wednesday evening (2nd March. I'm getting behind with my blogging)  I was back in Bath's Guildhall to see (and hear) the incomparable BRIAN BLESSED. 

He was utterly superb. The festival had, wisely, decided against giving him a mike, and despite a spirited attempt to get him up onto the stage, he chose instead to bound out into the aisle, explaining that he 'hates stages' (which might, one would think, be a slight disadvantage to an actor, but maybe theatre stages are different!)

He roared "GORDON'S ALIVE", which met with great enthusiasm from the audience, before starting to talk to us about himself and (very briefly) his book.

He told us that he has recently completed Cosmonaut training with the Russians, at the age of 79, and that we should ask him about Space. And Yetis.

He then complimented various members of the audience and  spoke briefly about other actors, and the normal sort of actor's biography which is all about which other actors they know. (He then mentioned Kenneth Branagh, saying that they have a father/son relations where Ken is the father,  before deciding to give us a bit of Shakespeare, so declaimed the glorious Chorus's speech from Henry V, which starts "O for a muse of fire..."

It was superb, and  made me regret again that I didn't learn that he was performing King Lear, last year, until after the entire run was sold out. I've never seen him perform live - although his performance as Exeter in the Ken Branagh Henry V is memorable (Even if the sight of Brian Blessed in full armour on a war horse makes the outcome of battle of Agincourt seem more like a foregone conclusion and less like a forlorn hope)

And then... there were anecdotes about the different places and circumstances in which he has been asked to do the 'GORDON'S ALIVE' thing.. I'm sure that normal actors get asked to quote from their most famous performances, probably in the street, or at restaurants. BRIAN BLESSED, it seems, gets asked in slightly different situations. You know, by Masai warriors half way up Kilimanjaro, by the Queen, at Buckingham Palace, by the Prime Minister, in the Cabinet Room, or (my personal favourite) by the captain of the Russian submarine which has unexpectedly surfaced through the ice near the North Pole!

Then he spoke about his background - he was the son of a coal-miner, and left school at 14 after his father was injured. He spoke several times about having not been to grammar school, and having been in a 'C Class' (I assume as opposed to an 'A', top stream), and seemed to have a great sense of astonishment and appreciation that he has come so far, and had such an interesting life.

He talked about having been friendly, as a young man, with Patrick Stewart - they were both involved with amateur theatre before turning professional, and about how they both applied to go to Drama School, but that he did not expect to be able to attend, being just a 'class C' lad, who had left school at 14 and had no scholarships.

He did, of course, get into Bristol Old Vic theatre school, and they provided him with a scholarship, so (after a stint of National Service, in the parachute regiment (74 jumps)) he arrived in Bristol.. where, among other things, he went jogging naked with Peter O'Toole. (no, we didn't get an explanation as to *why* they were jogging naked..

A little later he talked about his time at the National Theatre (not, I think, a fan of the building. He described it as being 'like Colditz'.) And about hiding in a cupboard and jumping out at John Geilgud. As one does.

And about filming the Flash Gordon, and playing Vultan, and being told, gently, by the director that it was not necessary to add one's own *pew* *pew* *pew* sound effects during attack scenes with the Hawkmen. . .

He described how his work on 'Peppa Pig' is just as popular as his more classical work..

An talked with huge enthusiasm about his involvement in the Mars project (He has been training with astronauts and other scientists), his optimism and enthusiasm for space exploration, and for the human race, and his admiration and love for Shakespeare ("The blue planet, our planet, has had it's author. It would be greedy to expect another")

It was such fun. I did have a certain amount of sympathy for the poor festival person who ha the difficult task of interrupting him and persuading him to stop talking (she did a splendid job, the event only over ran by 15 minutes)

And afterwards, he signed books, and posed for photos, and said thank you to us for buying his book.

I'm just disappointed there wasn't time for him to tell us about Yetis, or the time he punched a Polar Bear.

ETA: I just re-read this, and I can't believe I forgot to mention that he finished up the evening by telling us about the time he appeared as Pavarotti on 'Stars in their eyes' and then singing us o sole mio. On top of everything else the man can sing. Glorious!

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