The obituary of Keith Waterhouse (8 September) reminded me of an interview I once did with Albert Finney, who told me a lovely story about his West End debut as a leading man, in Waterhouse's famous play Billy Liar, writes Brian Viner.
Finney was not yet well-known when he was cast, but after Billy Liar had opened at the Cambridge Theatre, Karel Reisz's film Saturday Night, Sunday Morning came out. Practically overnight, Finney became a star, and the producer of the play promptly had his name put above the title. The following Saturday Finney's parents came down from Salford to see Billy Liar, but it had to be a matinee because his father, a bookmaker also called Albert Finney, needed to be back by evening to do the reckoning.
"I met them at the station," Finney recalled, "and we took a cab to the stage door, where they left their bits and pieces, then we went off for a spot of lunch. We went up the side of the Cambridge Theatre, crossed Seven Dials, and when we got across the road I said, 'Look.' And there it was, 'Albert Finney in Billy Liar'. I said, 'Right, come on, let's go and get some lunch,' and my mother and I strolled on, but my father just stood there, looking up. I went back and said, 'Come on Dad, I haven't got much time.' But he just stayed there, gazing. 'I never thought I'd ever see my name in lights,' he said."