When Julian Belfrage wanted to make a point he spoke in clipped, exact military syllables; each word had equal emphasis, sergeant-major style. Yet his tone and delivery were oddly theatrical, so that one never felt trapped by the exactness of the information he wanted to convey.
Julian's father, Bruce, read the news during the Second World War and each newscaster announced his or her name at the top to counter the possibility of Nazi impersonation. So for the most important years in European history in the 20th century the youngJulian would have heard his father say every day, "Here is the news, Bruce Belfrage reading." And yet Julian himself cared for those in his mother's profession; she was Joan Henley, an actress, and Julian, as an agent, poured into the nursing of those in the acting profession the same clarity of speech, directness of style and sense of importance that he inherited from his father. Anybody who could read under the surface of the waterfall of words that was Julian Belfrage was very careful not to puncture the theatricality of style in case he turned on them an anger that was final and abrupt. He often fired clients he did not like and yet the lowest he would sink in condemnation was that such and such didn't know how to live. Julian Belfrage was an expert at living.
Apart from his work, the turf was his great love, especially over the sticks and he was fiercely loyal to his horses and his horses, like the people he worked with, were mostly loyal back. When Leading Artist failed to live up to his potential in the first year, the trainer Nick Gaselee recommended that he be sent to another stable. Belfrage refused and brought along his young actor John Hurt to Towcester to see the no-hoper run. When the horse came in at 100-1, and Hurt had backed him against Belfrage's orders, he knew he had another loyal winner in his stable. His ire at being outmanoeuvred by Hurt was tempered soon after when he backed the horse himself, again at Towcester, in the company of Christopher Reeve, who refused to follow Belfrage's instructions.
All his horses were winners, usually game battlers to the end, and he watched his last winner at Nottingham only three weeks ago when Spinnaker came home for him.
I first met Julian Belfrage when I went to England to try and convince Daniel Day-Lewis to play Christy Brown in My Left Foot. We had a lovely meal and quite a lot to drink and quickly realised that we came from entirely different worlds. Belfrage told Day-Lewis after the meal, "I think you would be mad to get involved in any way with that mad Irishman." Belfrage knew, however, that calling Day-Lewis "mad" would whet his appetite and calling me "mad" to him put me in the same company; and the wor
d "Irishman" was almost an imperative for Daniel to work with me.
Belfrage cared not a whit for money except to get by and go racing and that was why he had such a small pool of actors, whom he looked after like a father. The actors were safe with him in the knowledge that money was not his over-riding interest. His o
w n mother was his first client and you get the feeling Belfrage put the same love and protection into all his clients.
Judi Dench was with him from the start to the end and his eyes would light up at the mention of her name. When I rang him after Day-Lewis won the Oscar he shouted - very forcibly for a sick man - "Happiest day of my life." That was until he met Victoria van Moyland, his second wife, and one feels that he would not have battled so long or so heroically in the last few years against a cancer that consumed him had it not been for her.
Jim SheridanReuse content