Election '97: Labour Sherlock snubs Bottomley

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The Independent Online
It was the case of the missing photo-opportunity. Leading members of the cast of The Return of Sherlock Holmes mysteriously disappeared yesterday evening, just before a photo-call with Virginia Bottomley and the prospective Tory candidate for Cheltenham.

Mrs Bottomley, the MInister for National Heritage, had arrived at the Everyman Theatre in the Gloucestershire town hoping to have her picture taken with a group of famous actors.

However, the smallest amount of sleuthing would have revealed that the star of the play, Michael Cashman, is a prominent supporter of the Labour Party who spent much of the weekend canvassing with prospective Labour MPs in London and Kent. As such he makes an unlikely choice for a Conservative Party publicity shot.

Cashman (who previously starred in EastEnders) and his co-stars Frederick Pine (of Emmerdale Farm fame) and Nicholas Smith (from Are You Being Served?) were only told yesterday morning that they were "being press- ganged" into meeting and greeting the senior Conservative and John Todman, the prospective candidate. After a quick meeting, they decided to boycott the event.

"The theatre management told us we had to be there to greet Bottomley," said Cashman, "but I have been an active supporter of the Labour Party since 1973 and I'm certainly not going to help her." So where did Cashman disappear to? "I sat at the back of the theatre and did some writing and went to the toilet. A much more productive use of my time."

It was only when The Independent contacted the Conservative Party and reminded them of Cashman's political affiliations that they realised there might be a problem.

"I thought that it might not go altogether smoothly. I gather they have rather strong views," said a spokesman for the local constituency party.

"This was an informal visit and we didn't say we had to see this person or that person. What we wanted to do was have a discussion about the arts."

What the people of Cheltenham will think of this snub to a prominent government minister is unclear.

Members of the local Conservative Association famously snubbed John Taylor, who was confronted by local racism when he tried to become the Tories' first black MP.

Mr Todman, the Conservative hoping to beat the incumbent Liberal Democrat, said he was unconcerned about the actors' boycott: "The suggestion that we should meet them originally came from the theatre management. It's an opportunity the actors are missing, not us. I'm not disappointed."

It was members of the theatre management who were disappointed, having hoped for good publicity for their play, which only started on Monday.

"We thought it would be quite a good idea," said Vanessa Ball, from the Everyman Theatre.

"It seemed like a perfect chance to meet the person in charge of the arts, but what the actors do is entirely up to them. I'll put on the deerstalker and magnifying glass to make up for them."