Barrymore fails to impress the TV chiefs

Eye witness: Michael Barrymore - A fallen star's bid for a comeback
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The Independent Online

When Michael Barrymore strode on to the stage at the Edinburgh Television Festival yesterday he must have known he was about to deliver the most important performance of his career.

Facing an audience of television executives at a question-and-answer session - his first major attempt to step back into the limelight - Barrymore veered through a range of moods from businesslike to nervy, verging on the manic.

It couldn't have been a more influential audience. The TV producers and executives who lined the stuffy conference room looked harmless enough, but behind every pair of colourful glasses, every apparently receptive smile, lay one common thought: could he prove to them that, after his long months in the wilderness, Britain's erstwhile favourite entertainer was once more worth their respect?

Nine months ago, Barrymore was still a taboo name in media circles. Stuart Lubbock, a 31-year-old married father-of-two, drowned in a swimming pool at the presenter's multi-million-pound home after being invited back from a club to a late-night party in September 2001. In December, an inquest recorded an open verdict, but the performer's reputation remains tarnished in many people's eyes, not least because of his perceived refusal to accept responsibility for his part in the circumstances leading up to the tragedy.

Behind their cultivated airs of cool reserve you sensed that the ratings-hungry executives really wanted to see if the man who once held audiences rapt with his bounding energy had finally earned himself another chance.

It wasn't to be. Barrymore bit his fingernails pensively and looked away as a series of tabloid headlines flashed up behind him. His voice lapsing immediately into the telltale slur of the recovering alcoholic, the entertainer went on the defensive. Did people realise that he had been abandoned by his former paymasters at ITV and Granada after a nine-year association, that they had never called him since cancelling his contract to see how he was? They even paid for the rehab they sent him on before dumping him.

"I'm an alcoholic. I've got a disease and there's a misunderstanding of that. I never got up one morning and said, 'I'm going to be bad today'. It's just that God said, 'Barrymore, you've had some good times, now I'm going to give you some problems'."

When someone asked him if he didn't think he should show less arrogance and more humility if he was going to persuade TV companies to take him back on, he looked confused. "I'm not aware I'm being arrogant," he said. "If I'm being arrogant, if people tell me I'll try not to be."

He was adamant that the time he had spent out of the limelight had been constructive. "It's enabled me for the first time in my life to get myself well. So now I'm able to be there for other people."

Only a prolonged set-to with Nicola Howson, ITV's director of communications, who pleaded the case of the absent executives he was badmouthing, briefly shut him up. Leaning back in his chair sheepishly he looked every inch the chastened schoolboy.

But there were flashes of the old Barrymore. When Sky One's Sara Ramsden, the only station controller brave enough to respond to a question about whether anyone would be willing to hire him again, politely said she didn't "do" light entertainment and felt he was better suited to a future on ITV, he asked her what kinds of programmes she favoured. She mentioned The Simpsons and Buffy. "Michael, what do you want to do next?" she asked. "Buffy, Simpsons ..." he said.

After exiting to murmurs from executives that he had not done himself any favours, Barrymore chatted with journalists and returned to his favourite subject: berating ITV for dropping him.

But he added: "Would I go back on television just for the sake of it? No. If it was the right project I would."

Talking of a film, Peachey's Manor, next year, he was suddenly sober and businesslike again: " I play a henchman - Flowers. I have a slight stammer. It's nice being a character, rather than being Michael Barrymore, now and again."