The son also rises

Diary of a single father

Seth has spent the day on location with the BBC, filming a sequence for a long-running soap opera. It goes something like this. First a helicopter descends upon the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore. Then an actor, strapped to a stretcher, is rushed to the Spinal Injuries Unit. "How serious is it, doctor?" he asks. "Will I ever walk again?" The medic smiles. Good news, surely.

"Do you mind being back here?" I ask Seth, when I turn up in the evening to collect him. My son considers the question. "No," he replies. Why should he? How could anyone think unquiet thoughts on such a summer's night? The cerulean sky is simply too benign. Even so, I cannot help but recall a scene that occurred here two summers ago.

It happened in Ward 8. Fran - my wife, his mother, our holy ghost - had been resident since the previous February, when she had suffered a six-hour operation to remove an osteosarcoma from her sacrum. By June, despite a false spring, she was in desperate trouble. The consultant, Mr Pistol, asked to see me in camera. "I'm afraid I didn't tell Mrs Sinclair the truth," he said, holding an x-ray up to the light box. "Look at this erosion. There is no doubt that the cancer has returned." "Does this alter the prognosis?" I asked. "Is a cure still possible?" Mr Pistol looked uncomfortable. No wonder so many people prefer soap opera to real life.

Seth's job is to assist the floor assistants, best described as personalities made flesh. Already he looks the part, sporting white T-shirt, Levi 501s (mine, actually), and a talkback (a headset with a tiny mike attached). Crew members approach and whisper: "The kid's terrific, like a duck to water." In reality Seth is still a schoolboy, and this two-week interlude merely work experience, but he has seen the future and he loves it. "I only hope his dreams come true," says my father, much moved by his grandson's enthusiasm. "Tell me," he says, "how did you manage to get him into the BBC?" "I slept with the right people," I reply. "People?" he says. "Men, women," I say, "whatever it took."

Seth is following a family tradition. As a young man my father frequented the studios at Elstree, pleading for a job; alas, he never got past the gates. As for myself, between visions of being the new Toulouse-Lautrec and a born-again Franz Kafka, I considered becoming England's Ingmar Bergman. A visit to a theatrical agent put paid to that delusion. "Are you ruthless?" he enquired. "Are you a bully? Can you dominate a room?" Even then, I found it hard enough to be myself, let alone pretend to be someone I was not. Instead I elected to become a hermit and write books. My father, however, was more persistent.

"Have you heard of Paul Robeson?" he asks Seth. "Of course," his grandson replies indignantly. "Good," says my father. "Not only was he a superb actor, singer, and athlete, but he was also a political thinker, a man of the left. In short, an authentic hero. Who is his equal today? Perhaps only Nelson Mandela. It's still difficult to believe that I actually trod the same stage as him." "You're joking," gasps Seth, who has a proper respect for the giants of yore. "It's the gospel truth," says my father, "it was, in some ways, the greatest night of my life. You must understand that in the Thirties I was something of a political firebrand, eager to fight fascism wherever it reared its ugly head. I didn't get to Spain, but I was at Cable Street when we stopped Mosley's blackshirts from marching. At that time a new theatre opened in St Pancras, called the Unity. It was a co-operative venture, dedicated to the cause. I joined as a stagehand, my main task being to lay out the costumes for the performers. It may not sound much, but it was quite important. At the beginning of 1938 we learned that our next production was to be an American play about working-class solidarity, Ben Bengal's Plant in the Sun. The sensational news was that Paul Robeson had agreed to play the lead, a character called Peewee. On opening night, I was summoned by Herbert Marshall, the director. He asked me if I was prepared to take a small part, which required me to learn two lines. The Goldington Street theatre was full of posh critics, more accustomed to West End extravaganzas. My heart pounded, my ears buzzed. 'You bet,' I said. The reviews were great, though none, I recall, mentioned me." "Wow," says Seth.

Thanks to my son, I am allowed through the BBC's gates at Elstree. Unlike the pubescent girls who have gathered in their dozens. "What are they doing here?" I ask the gatekeeper. He offers four words by way of explanation. "Top of the Pops". Seth has been to a rehearsal, with his new friends the floor assistants. "Paul Weller was great," he informs me, "but the others were disgusting." As we drive out of the compound, and enter the gauntlet of jail bait, the precocious sirens all lean forward. Several wave their arms and scream. "Who are they yelling at?" asks Seth. "Not me," I reply, as I turn left on to Clarendon Road. With the screams still echoing, father and son drive off into the sunset

Starting next week: Alex Kershaw's diary. Clive Sinclair returns in the autumn

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

    £40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

    £30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum