Books: Fine art of friendship

Richard Eyre acclaims a memoir of the agent who outshone her stars; Love Is Where It Falls by Simon Callow Nick Hern Books, pounds 14.99, 214pp

ONE SHOULD leave one's mark on everyone one loves," said Peggy Ramsay in a letter to her lover, the actor/writer/director Simon Callow. Only he wasn't her lover exactly: more, as the subtitle of his book suggests, a "passionate friend", which is a euphemism that denies the book its most fascinating aspect. It is a love story, and if it is a love story without sex, it is only because one of the participants was a 70-year-old woman, the other a 30-year-old homosexual man.

The affair with Simon Callow began with a coup de foudre. They met by chance, they talked without drawing breath, they exchanged letters, she watched him act, she became his patron, he became her "Puppy". To him she sacrificed the thing she held dearest: her independence.

She found in him energy, youth and unambiguous passion for the things she cared about most: Life and Art - but not in that order. For Art everything had to give way: friendship, comfort, marriage. "Expect nothing," she said, "and everything becomes a bonus". With Simon it became apparent she expected everything of him, and in his way he gave her everything he could. He gave her love without desire.

Peggy Ramsay was a literary agent, who dealt exclusively with writers who wrote for the stage and - much less important to her - for the screen. She left her mark on all her writers, all of whom at some time or other, however briefly, she was infatuated with: David Hare, Christopher Hampton, Robert Bolt, Alan Aykbourn, John Mortimer, Joe Orton, Edward Bond, Caryl Churchill, Willy Russell, John McGrath, Howard Brenton, Peter Nichols and more.

She had what Simon Callow described as an "amorous" relationship with all her authors; she identified something in their work that she wholly admired, pursued them, represented them, encouraged them, and was almost invariably disappointed by them. She judged her clients by comparison with dead authors ("Is he as good as Shakespeare, dear?") and would say to one client of another "Do you think he'll write anything really good, dear?".

She provoked strong feelings in what one client decribed to me as her "menagerie". They wanted to be loved by her, and were sometimes hurt by her contempt, or exasperated by her exacting standards. When I took over the National Theatre, she said to me: "Dear, I hope you'll have the courage to be unpopular."

Most of what one knew of Peggy was legend: her age, her lovers (who possibly included Beckett, and certainly Ionesco), her background, her acting career, her home life - if one could ever have imagined Peggy being so bourgeois. It's shocking to discover the factual detail: her mother, her husband, her abortions, and the solitariness of a life in which the company of books was almost invariably preferable to people. Except when it came to Simon, with whom she desperately craved companionship. "Should we adopt a child, you and I?" she said, and he, for once, was silenced with amazement.

Peggy was a good deal larger than life - or life was a good deal smaller than Peggy, which is why it's possible to write about this book and ignore the fact that Callow's love story is a triangular one. Through most of the years of his "affair" with Peggy, he was having an affair with a rich, handsome, sad (and suicidal) Egyptian boy.

Callow has a brilliant eye and ear. No photograph could do justice to Peggy. A very good portrait painter might have painted her over many sittings if she had ever had the patience, but unless she had been listening to Schubert or Strauss she wouldn't have stopped talking. Callow brilliantly captures her gloriously idiosyncratic conversation, larded with epigrams: her flights of smoothly modulated sentences interrupted by italicised attacks on words, her voice swooping like herons diving for fish.

At the end of her life and the onset of Alzheimer's, the droll gave way to the tragic, and she became as small as life. As David Hare said, she became just like a human being. She was frail, needing reassurance, needing to be convinced that her life had mattered, and Callow describes this painful decline with an immensely touching fastidiousness. If she hadn't been its subject, she would have loved this book; it is about everything that mattered to her. "It's frightfully well-written, dear," she would have said. And it is.

Sir Richard Eyre was Director of the Royal National Theatre from 1988 to 1997

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little