OBSESSIONS / Marvellous, darling: In leafy Hendon, Donald Sinden is showing a few of his favourite things. Serena Mackesy stands back in amazement

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The Independent Culture
Hendon: home of the pantile. This suburb was constructed during the Great Pantile Crisis, when a genetic warp made the creatures breed beyond control and the only available solution was to find uses for them. In Hendon, the architects set to work and created a great gingerbread village with pantile windowsills and pantile columns supporting pantiled porticos.

But lurking in this leafy environ is a threat to civilisation far greater than anything posed by an explosion of inanimate objects: Donald Sinden, Actor and denizen of the nearby Hampstead Garden Suburb, has spent the past 50 years diligently amassing memorabilia of his histrionic career and has made it available to the public.

In the delightful, plain-tiled 17th-century surroundings of the Church Farmhouse Museum, above rooms filled with churns and grandfather clocks and ladderback chairs, dedicated luvvie-watchers can immerse themselves in the glamour of showbiz: the pancake, the sofa- covers converted to jerkins, the wisps of grey hair so effective in feigning insanity. Donald, veteran of such film classics as The Island at the Top of the World, The Cruel Sea and Mad About Men has kept it all; his house must have been a maelstrom of frustration for children, crammed with fabulous dressing-up box goodies that they couldn't touch lest they compromise posterity.

Donald (or 'Don' as he was billed in early productions) Sinden was born in Plymouth and got his big break when his brother was drafted into the RAF. Rumours that the youthful heart-throb had slipped a backhander to the draft board are entirely unfounded. He claims to have never planned to be an actor: he, like his successor in stardom, Harrison Ford, wanted to be a joiner, which noble trade supported him while he pursued the urge to tread, rather than plane, the boards of Stratford and the West End.

Mr Sinden is, as they say, a man of parts, and he has the props to prove it: a sword the size of a horse; his own severed head, smeared with ketchup; a velvet dressing-gown, stripy jacket, breeches and eye-glass from that damned elusive Pimpernel role in 1985; a scarlet uniform coat from the 1984 School for Scandal. The pink Lord Foppington costume, with matching wig, from The Relapse is not on display: but some - well - dramatic oils by Leonard Boden and Jack Gilroy of the Great Ham in the role, shriek from beside a cabinet containing a Franklin Mint-style statuette of his interpretation of Sir Harcourt Courtly in London Assurance. He has been so many Restoration fops, and so successfully, that he probably mutters things like 'prithee' in his sleep.

But there's more: the TV Times cover with makeup so thick it could double as sticking plaster; the photo of himself in a miniskirt in the BBC's The Road to Rome; the caricature beer stein; the publicity material for Simba (MARK OF THE MAU MAU]), one of the roles of which Dirk Bogarde is also reportedly most proud. Playing in two of the rooms are videos of film classics such as Doctor in the House. Casually displayed are copies of The Everyman Book of Theatre Anecdotes; The English Country Church and the big red book that commemorates his ambush by Eamonn Andrews in 1975. Plates, bowls, mugs and goblets bear legends like There's a Girl in my Soup; a silver star denotes his Variety Club Best Stage Actor award and the CBE lies reverentially in its velvet box. Ah, success.

Donald Sinden must have had a fun life so far. It's nice to see from publicity photos from Cannes and Venice that he generally lived it up: today's stars just have no sense of style, dear boy. But it's amazing how much tat you can accrue in that room under the pantiles over half a century.

Donald Sinden: Actor continues at the Church Farmhouse Museum, Greyhound Hill, London NW4 until 27 March; admission free. Donald Sinden is currently appearing in She Stoops to Conquer at the Queen's Theatre, London W1

(Photograph omitted)

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