David Lister: It was not Corden's stomach you could see. It was the generation gap

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The Independent Online

Something very unusual happened at an awards ceremony this week. There was a moment of genuine drama. At the Glamour Women of the Year evening, Sir Patrick Stewart turned on the host James Corden accusing him of discourtesy, and the two actors then verbally slugged it out.

Sir Patrick, who was presenting an award, told the Gavin and Stacey star not to stand at the back with his hands in his pocket looking as if he would rather be somewhere else when recipients got up to collect their gongs. He added: "From where I was sitting, I could see your belly."

While that may indeed not be a pretty sight, the joke, if it was one, failed to get a laugh from 31-year-old Corden, who told 69-year-old Sir Patrick to get on with presenting the award, and started to look at his watch. He then sniped at Sir Patrick: "You could see my belly. I can see you dying right now."

With the women of the year, and women generally, now completely forgotten, the two men went on. Sir Patrick retaliated: "Do you want one more? If you fancy one of the Jonas Brothers, cover your belly." Corden had earlier joked about fancying the singer and actor Nick Jonas, who had presented an award. Corden then said: "OK, can we get a taxi really quickly please. There's an old man going home."

Well, if there were more awards ceremonies like that one, I would go more often. Banished for once was the often faux bonhomie between actors. Out of the window went the carefully cultivated impression that actors old and young respect each other, are one company of players, and mix socially with age no barrier. Instead, it was evident that the generation gap exists just as much between stars of stage and screen as it does in every other walk of life.

"Get your hands out of your pockets" was the instruction barked at many of us in our schooldays by teachers who despaired of the younger generation. Who'd have thought to hear the veteran of Star Trek, the Royal Shakespeare Company and scores of great performances say as much to one of today's cult heroes of television?

Unfortunately for Sir Patrick, most of those in the hall were much nearer to Corden's age than to his, and from singer Duffy to actress Zoe Saldana they publicly lent their support to Corden.

But I think Corden slightly blew it. Sir Patrick had shown himself a fish out of water with his hands in the pockets remark, a man who had failed to realise that a studied cavalier casualness is a part of Corden's appeal. But Corden's request to summon a taxi as "there's an old man going home" was just plain rude. If he had said that he couldn't help showing his belly as there was so much of it, that might have been funnier. He simply insulted a fellow professional with a brusqueness that his alter ego Smithy on Gavin and Stacey would have rejected for being devoid of wit.

Nevertheless, I'm grateful to Corden and Sir Patrick for showing some genuine ill feeling. At least no one can call all actors "luvvies" any more.

Some people have short memories

Repeat something often enough and it is accepted as unvarnished truth, as I noted a couple of weeks ago regarding the Rolling Stones' album Exile on Main Street being a classic. This week I noticed publicity for the 25th anniversary of Les Misérables in the West End. The publicity inevitably mentioned that the show received poor reviews when it was first produced, but went on to conquer the world. It is one of the most repeated stories in the arts, but is it actually true?

I would claim that Les Mis actually got some rather good reviews back in 1985, and this romantic story of triumph over adversity doesn't quite stand up. The West End premiere back in 1985 was before the internet age, and copies of those early reviews are not that easy to come by. But the producers must surely have them. Why don't they reprint them for the 25th birthday so that we can see just how bad they were – or weren't?

A lesson in driving away audiences

My campaign against booking fees at theatres, rock concerts and other venues has, I realise, been a little too London-centric. The exploitation of ticket-buyers by West End theatres and concert halls is pretty awful, but the regions are rapidly catching up. A reader has written to me to say that she booked 12 tickets for a group to go to the Cambridge Arts Theatre. There was a £2 booking fee on each £25 seat, even though all 12 tickets were bought in one transaction and sent to a single address. She says: "Theatre-goers will not continue to tolerate this seemingly widespread and grossly unfair practice. Audiences will become resentful and alienated. There are, after all, lots of alternative leisure activities."

That's putting it better than I could. Well done, the Cambridge Arts Theatre on alienating local theatre-goers.