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Excitement mounting amid countdown to seminal life-changing cultural event

Posted on 27 August 2012 | 12:08pm

The excitement (mine) is mounting … Not quite to the peak of the day I trotted out in front of 72000 people at Old Trafford with Diego Maradona (I never talk about it as regulars know) and three other World Cup winners as team-mates … Nor even an excitement to match election days 1997, 2001 and 2005 … Perhaps it is more on a par with the excitement I felt on seeing my first volume of diaries go to Number 1, or on seeing my first novel published, or playing my bagpipes in front of 2000 people at last year’s St Andrew’s Day concert in Glasgow.

Cultural you see … Beneath the political hardnut veneer is a culture vulture who has just finished Ian McEwen’s latest novel, Sweet Tooth, which is so brilliant, and with such a wonderful twist, that I have gone back to start it all over again to work out why I never saw it coming. And alongside it I was reading (late to the party) Claire Tomalin’s splendid biography of Dickens. It didn’t make me want to read it again, but it did make me want to read more of her – and his – books.

So get to the frigging point, you cry … Why the excitement this Bank Holiday Monday? And the answer is that tomorrow is Tuesday, and on BBC1 at 9pm, a largely indifferent public will witness my professional acting debut. Yes professional. I was paid – modestly I think – to play myself in episode 3 (I am also mentioned in episode 4, he added proudly) of Jimmy McGovern’s latest dramas in the ACCUSED series he makes with his RSJ partners Sita Williams and Roxy Spencer.

They were kind enough to send me all four in the series to France, where I am currently spending my last day on holiday before coming back to be close to a telly for the ACTUAL screening, to await the inevitable calls from agents, moguls and Hollywood studios who, provided they don’t blink twice in quick succession, will witness the magnetic appeal, the natural acting talent, and want to launch me on my next career, Eric Cantona style.

The critics, unsurprisingly perhaps, have tended to focus more on the fantastic, and rather deeper performances, of transvestite Sean Bean, and in last week’s ‘Mo’s story,’ a stunning performance by Anne-Marie Duff. Tomorrow is Stephen’s story, just as stunning, really powerful, and if it will be a surprise to some to see me in there, it will be a bigger surprise I think to see what a good serious actor Scouse comic John Bishop happens to be, playing Stephen’s dad.

I will give nothing away of the plot, other than to say that Stephen is going through a lot of family-created mental anguish, and in his developing madness, he thinks that I am giving him advice about how to deal with it when he sees me on television.

The invitation to take part came out of the blue, and I assumed Jimmy McGovern, who I first met at a MIND charity event we were both supporting, was aware that when I went mad in the 1980s, and ended up in hospital, I was convinced Des Lynam was reading the football updates to me on Grandstand, in code, and that if I cracked the code, I would be allowed out. I spent hours doing anagrams of East Fife 3 Albion Rovers 2 and the like, to the seeming consternation of the nurses. Then I got a phone call from an old pal, Chris Boffey. We chatted away and after a while he mentioned that he would be watching Taggart on TV later.

And then he added, very slowly, ‘you know the one … About the Scottish detective with a smile carved out of granite’.

At the time, I was in a Scottish hospital, having been sent there by two Scottish detectives not dissimilar to Taggart who had arrested me for my own safety because I was behaving oddly.

‘Thanks Chris,’ I said, quietly replacing the receiver, then cursing myself on realising that Des was a decoy, a waste of my time, and my friend was advising me that the real route to escape was via Taggart. I had to study the smile, develop it, practice it, deliver it to the doctors and nurses, and I would be free.

The next few hours seemed to drag on forever but eventually Taggart was on. He didn’t smile much, but when he did, it was indeed a tough man’s smile. I saw it three, maybe four times, went to the bathroom to practice in front of the mirror, back to bed, called for the nurse, told her I had cracked the code, did the smile …. And then…

‘Eh, I wonder if we might not need to up yer dose, darling,’ she said, another plan reduced to nothingness.

So when I arrived on set – how exciting does that sound? – and met Jimmy in the (equally exciting) location catering bus, I said I guess you asked me to do this because of Des Lynam and Taggart – at which point he looked at me a bit like the Paisley nurse had done in 1986.

Lunch over, into make-up, final swot on my lines, then lights, camera, action. As a student of power, I found it fascinating to see where the power lay on a film set – my assessment was director, cameraman, producer, writer, actor – in that order. They knew what they wanted, they knew they were not dealing with a professional, but they were determined I would be the best I could be. I had a 12 line monologue, delivered direct to camera. I did a little crib note of key words which I stuck to the bottom of the camera lens. The cameraman reacted as though I was not the first person he had worked with to have done likewise. Somewhere between six and ten takes later, we were done.

Fair to say I have a small part, but a big role in the plot, which carries on without my face next week. I enjoyed it, tiny though it was, and the final product – the film as a whole – is really powerful, and next week’s in many ways even more so. So tune in, not for my cameo, but for top quality TV drama the likes of which Elizabeth Murdoch was saying Britain does best in her thoughtful and interesting Mactaggart Lecture.

So anyway, enough of all that excitement … Here’s more. As a result of chatting to Jimmy, once he had recovered from my Des-Taggart psychotic recollections, we got chatting about mental illness and he made the extraordinary confession that he hadn’t yet read my first novel, All In The Mind, despite Stephen Fry’s observation that it was as brilliant a study of the human mind as he had read… Jimmy was about to go to Vietnam, and he said he would take it with him, and read it there… and I thought blahdiblah, another bloody luvvie, he’s got what he wants out of me, and I will never hear from him again.

Me of little faith. A few weeks later, he emailed to say he loved it. Then Sita and Roxy emailed to say Jimmy never enthused like he had about this, so they read it too, and the next thing they were sitting at my kitchen table, buying the rights for a TV adaptation.

So that’s why I am excited. I know lots of books get bought and films never get made. But Jimmy McGovern is Jimmy McGovern, and if you watch ACCUSED, you will know that he, Sita and Roxy just get this stuff about what goes on inside troubled minds.

All in the Mind did well for a first novel, and I hope has played its own part in the campaign to get mental illness more out into the open. But a Jimmy McGovern adaptation will do a hell of a lot more, so I am not just excited but grateful.

I took a while before deciding to say yes when he first asked me to play myself. But at the time I was working on The Happy Depressive, and reading about the happiness’ experts view of happiness ingredients. One was ‘keep trying things you have never done before.’

So I said yes, and one thing has led to another, and I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be good – however badly my acting debut goes down with the critics who don’t blink.

  • Ehtch

    Reached about the third paragraph, and still said que?
    Knew you would get like this Alastair, mixing with those break leggers on their stage.
    jesus wept – I am lonely as a claaawd! give me strength!

  • I once played a corrupt priest in a reconstruction for a documentary. I decided to turn my back on fame after that. Well, okay, in fact you could only see my back in the documentary, so it was rather unlikely to be the launch of an acting career. The priest was corrupt in a financial way. It is a sign of the times that I feel I ought to include that detail.

  • Catriona Smith

    This is fantastic AC!! I am looking forward to seeing the adaptation of ‘All In The Mind’. Well done!

  • Anonymous

    Who’s going to make a joke about Alastair and Tony being consummate pros at acting?
    Lol, I missed the first couple of episodes of “The Accused” and don’t really like watching bits of series… I guess maybe I can iplayer it, but sounds interesting, and interesting to see Alastair’s bit as well. Certainly would look forward to seeing All in the Mind get made, I’d like to read it but I don’t really do fiction and I’ve got so many books I need to read first.
    On another note, related to tv shows with politicians and Alastair, I watched “Game Change” about Sarah Palin. Its hard to believe it’s real, and if so you would think that the campaign was badly in need of a Malcolm Tucker / Alastair Campbell person to scream in her face “You are going on the tv and you will fucking prepare the way I fucking say you will prepare, right?!”

  • Anonymous

    reaguns, the first one was good, but dark, but the second one was downright depressing for me, since I could see where it was going. This one with Alastair in it? Could go anywhere….

  • Anonymous

    Forgot to mention to Alastair and all, who saw Flashbacks of a Fool on beeb one last night telly with James Bond, aka Danny Craig from Chester? Excellent film, but I suppose it could have been brushed up better in the editors back room, to make it more sparkling.

    Best clip of it available here, from youtubby,
    The WWII mine and seaside prefab wooden home in south England next to the sea was interesting too, you could say, if you are that way inclined, noticing certain things.

  • Anonymous

    … furthermore to Flashbacks of a Fool, there is the end scene of course, which is the eye filler,
    wives saying to their husbands “are you a man?” at times like this, us prapping and sniffing into our mansized hankies….

  • Anonymous

    bluddy ‘ell Alastair, Bill Paterson, narrating Edinburgh Tatoo on the beeb at the moment! He was the fella I couldn’t remember name of from that channel 4 brilliant short, a few months ago Alastair in another thread, and it has been nagging me, him taking his family around europe in his car on holidays, and slowly flaking away as his car in life.
    AND, I have found it in full, on vimeo, not youtubby, which makes a change, you could suppose Alastair. Here is the link to it, Bill Paterson,
    ‘king brilliant and sad and good it is.

  • Michele

    Have only caught last week’s ‘Accused’ which was brilliant and yes, A-M Duff was incredible, I don’t know how anyone dare take themselves in to that terrritory 🙁 … writer or actor.

    Olivia Colman, who must work 24/7, was also great. We’ve got some great homegrown actresses on TV/radio at the mo, Maxine Peake is up there too.

  • Michele

    You need R4 Ehtch, you’ll find yourself talking to it.
    I really miss it on my trips but World Service does play the best bits.
    I think WS might have been why AC couldn’t get his Lido prog from iplayer straight away, things don’t get on till broadcast for the last time (whether on R4 repeat or WS).

  • Michele

    It’s not a series as such, I believe each is standalone.

  • Anonymous

    ..furthermore, on the Bill Paterson vid I just posted Alastair, just to be pedantic, where it said at the end his old car was always taxed and insured even though it hadn’t moved from the driveway for ten years, it couldn’t have been taxed, since you need an mot certificate, on taking it down to a local garage to be tested, each year.
    However, still, a brilliant short.

  • lucy

    *prepares to not blink*
    All in the Mind remains one of my favourite books

  • Ehtch, the second was excellent. Depressing yes, but Jimmy McGovern at his most brilliant and perceptive. For too many kids and their families, it was all too real. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s episode. BBC at it’s best.

  • Anonymous

    Ah ok, in that case I’ll probably watch the one with Alastair in it when its one, and if its any use I’ll check out the others. Well, I mean I know its supposed to be good, but if its my cup of tea i’ll check the others.

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm… I’m not really into dark and depressing – thats why I gave up The Killing after a couple of episodes. I only like those sort of shows if the evil guys get shot, thats why I like the Sopranos/

  • Anonymous

    Haven’t really listened to radio 4 in a while Michele, I find it too uncomfortably smug, since my memories of it was during the days of Thatcher’s thunder. I am sure I have mentioned it before, it is too home counties for me, as if it was their private channel, and they do show ignorance on Blighty and NI as a whole quite a few times.
    And yes, if I did listen to it, I wouldn’t be talking back to it, I would be screaming and shouting, I know I would be, and would be looking for the nearest window to throw my bag of electronics out of, sorry. : )

  • Anonymous

    …furthermore Michele – but I have just listened to McGovern with Bacon on R5 just – that is more up my street. I like Bacon I do, and to think he was Blue Peter once upon a time, until, harumph!, he had slight cultural difference with them. Bacon was also brill on channel 4’s Big Breckie Show too – that’s a few years ago now. Time passes.

  • Anonymous

    Yes Janet, but being from a mainly working class environment, it was telling me a story that is thirty years old for me. When you have seen this sort of social and communiity rot starting to happen before your eyes, it brings it all back, and one gets one’s mind all agitated yet again.

  • Anonymous

    bet you play computer games at home, shooting everything in sight reaguns. And I bet grand auto theft is where you learnt to drive properly, even if I sense you are close to my age! : )

  • Anonymous

    A corrupt priest makes a change, you could say, hysterically in these days, Patrick? : )
    Love Father Ted though – heard of the irish invention? An auto pilot for a wheelchair invented by Mrs Doyle? Here it is, well funny it is – and plenty of fecking and blaspheming in it, which is nice, Father,
    Not bad, ey Dougal?
    What did you say Ted, I missed it, was just looking at the cows “far away”….

    OOPS, edit, you will have to click the actual link, channel 4 apparently doesn’t allow embeded, it seems, Father. My apologies.

    by the way Patrick, got the top comment there on that vid, you might notice. Yes, I am Yippity on youtubby, that be me.

  • Michele

    Yep, I’d already sussed you’re not in to subtle 🙂 Perhaps you’ve not listened in a while?

    I like Richard Bacon a lot too but I don’t often have the TV on, not still enough.

    Contradicting my own first line I think R4 is often very hard hitting and less salacious than many other channels – especially those with phone-ins … yawn.
    The comedy slot’s brilliant (often filthy but Posh Humph is much-missed for his contributions in that dept! Jack Dee is good but just not as naughty or incongruous).

  • Gilliebc

    You looked like you were enjoying that AC. The Jimmy McGovern thing, I mean. You were quite scary. Good stuff.

  • Anonymous

    oh jeezus, this is too close to home after my mother died, what with the idiot woman that was floating arounds us. also my father’s sister, both have problems with men, in one way or another, generally. Might explain more, later, no doubt.

  • Anonymous

    ok, furthermore, thankfully, since I was not young, it didn’t get as bad as this, but it was touch and go for a while, went for councilling, and was found to have got over the hump, but “things” didn’t help. Watching your mother going down hill over twenty years with RA was not nice, and the end was terrible, when her lungs became fibrosed, and her heart giving out with it, and seeing her gasp for days, and giving out when finally I told my mother that her granddaughter was here with us, after managing to logistically fucking finally sort it – she gave out right after I said that to her. Yes, it fucked me for years, I suppose, as if I needed any help for that, since I am built that way, so can’t help it. You feel everything is against you when things like this close is happening to you. You do tend to become slightly irrational, and it magnifies things you are not happy with around you in life.

    I am still the same character before crisis, and have my passionate emotional moments, but, I think I’ll get by with the rest of my life fairly unaided. I am getting stronger – ten years ago, I was a mess.

  • Sorry Ehtch, I can understand why it might have been just too depressing. I’m lucky enough not to have experienced that personally, even though I grew up on a council estate, but I know it’s a reality for some. It makes me very angry to think of people trapped in that sort of neighbourhood, especially the thought of kids having to cope with it.

    The reaction of comfortable Britain to the riots shows how easily misery can exist alongside wealth but be hidden from view. It’s a reminder why politicians need to be in touch with all strands of society and not just draw on their own personal experiences.

    By the way, just watched this week’s ‘Accused’ and it was excellent. Alastair was right all along, she was an evil bitch …. I think!

  • Michele

    OMG I stayed on the same channel so have just seen people at the Republican convention.

    Even more scary than AC staring out of the box with words to effect of ‘She’s behind you’.

  • Michele

    “I find it too uncomfortably smug, since my memories of it was during the days of Thatcher’s thunder”

    I think you must mean you found ?
    Your’re talking about 30+ years ago fgs (thank god).

  • Anonymous

    Yes Janet, she did play an, umm, cow of a role, quite a nightmare her character was, pulling the strings of everyone except the one who had any sense and intelligence, who was obviously suffering. For his mother’s nursing carer to jump into bed with his dad soon after she died was a bit strong. Bring back the old days when it was frowned upon if a widow or widower was seen galivanting around within a year of a loss, but maybe I am old fashion in that way.
    With my upbringing, I was lucky both my parents had good safeish jobs, however, my mother was off sick for long periods having various new joints put in, with her rheumatoid arthritis. It was family friends that I could see being damaged by political policy of the time, let along local people which certain numbskull politicians would describe as “people from the otherside of the tracks”, or something similar to that.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, sorry Michele, but I am scarred by 1982 R4, with their Thatcher is right and the rest of the country is wrong spouting, I remember it well.
    Then followed Falklands load of nonsense and Thatcher bullying the car and coal industry for political next election reasons only. It was a shit time, and R4 was well behind her, it seemed to me.

  • Liz Broomfield

    I was excited to find out “All in the Mind” is going to be adapted for TV as I’ve just read it on my holidays – came to it late via a BookCrossing copy from a friend. A brilliant book which I’m recommending to all and sundry, especially for the accurate portrayals of what depression is like from the inside and the outside.