REVIEW / Bringing in Bond to fight the blooming soap

I seem to remember a Spitting Image sketch in which a rubbery version of Sir John Gielgud intoned poetry while someone poked at him from the wings with a broomstick. It was a running joke - on would come the wobbly Sir John, voice tremulous with diction, and then an unseen hand would attempt to stem the flow or to hook him offscreen. The sketch didn't appear in Omnibus's mostly reverential trot through Gielgud's nine decades in the theatre, though they did acknowledge in a more formal way that his style had gone out of fashion at one point. More interestingly, Gielgud himself recognised the dangerous perishability of any acting style, listening to an early recording of himself and observing, with nice diplomacy, that 'it sounds to me very voice- conscious'.

This was good mannered of him. Modesty can be a very self-advertising virtue but Gielgud's here is the real thing - an unfussy observation that, for an actor, a recorded performance can only hope to preserve what we least want preserved - the manners of the time. The spirit of the thing evaporates.

Gielgud opened the programme with a little speech (like others in the programme it sounded written out rather than spontaneous) in which he confessed to his envy of painters and writers: 'I have often thought how happy they must be to do their work in private, at home, unkempt and unobserved, able to destroy, or renew or improve their creations at will'.

I doubt if the ability pick your nose as you work is really what animates him here - it is the fact that paintings and novels, if they last, mature with age. Theatrical genius on the other hand is a flower which begins to dry and discolour as soon as the curtain drops. Indeed it is one of the cruelties of the stage that your best shot at immortality lies in the hands of your critics - a fact that video and film haven't really done much to change. 'To see him act' said Coleridge of Edmund Kean, 'is like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning'. But if we had film of Kean acting we probably wouldn't know where to look for embarrassment.

So, as unsatisfactory as it was, Omnibus probably offered the best you could get - recollections of distinguished fans (John Mortimer, Harold Pinter and Peter Hall among others) and the undiscriminating adoration of theatrical colleagues. These were evidence for an actor of exceptional decorum and verbal precision, a man who used his star status to bring Shakespeare into the West End. His style was described as Romantic by several speakers but it appeared quite the opposite in the clips and recordings here - which showed a senatorial presence who seemed to have disciplined the passions by means of rhetoric. 'He's probably best known now for his quintessential English screen performances, like the butler in Arthur' said Kenneth Branagh at the beginning of the programme. This didn't exactly sound promising as an epitaph for a great Shakespearean actor - but it contained an element of truth. Where some celebrated actors are houseguests from hell, all temperament and torment, Gielgud is the perfect domestic servant - bearing the text before him with exemplary carriage and never spilling a drop.

'Living in a Boom Time' looked like a DIY documentary, filmed on a home- video and narrated by the cameraman with undisguised committment to his subjects. I think this rather misses the point of lightweight video, which is surely that it gives people the opportunity to present their own lives (with all the artifice that involves) rather than just run one-man film crews. But, that apart, . . . . .'s passionate film was a useful reminder of the distress and anxiety faced by the 1000 families every week whose homes are repossessed. Both families here were victims of the Right to Buy, a nationwide con-trick that has probably disrupted more lives than timeshare salesmen.

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'