David Lister: The Week in Arts

Almost famous: the tragedy of the nearly men
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The Independent Online

Amid the mounting Bond fever, in advance of the new 007 film, I found a sobering thought in an article in this newspaper earlier in the week. It was a reminder that the first James Bond was not actually Sean Connery, but Bob Holness, who later found fame as a TV quizmaster with Blockbusters.

Holness played the part on radio in South Africa well before the first Bond movie was made. With such a pedigree he must have thought he was in with a chance for the screen role. It would have been fun for him and fun for me too. Holness is a near neighbour of mine in the London suburb of Pinner, and if he had become 007 on screen, all of us locals could have sat in the Pinner tea rooms, basked in his spreading fame, and made endless laborious jokes of ordering our Earl Grey shaken not stirred.

But it was not to be. How did he feel as the Bond franchise became ever more lucrative? Did he manage to put it out of his mind when he occupied the TV quizmaster's chair and sixth-formers asked for those questions covered by letters of the alphabet? He always coped well with the sniggers that greeted "P. Please, Bob." But now I begin to wonder whether his eyes didn't fill with tears when someone said: "M. Please, Bob."

There is something fascinating about "nearly men". The rock music critic of The Daily Telegraph, Neil McCormick, told me how he played in a band for a while at school in Ireland, then left them to form his own band. I think his band was called something like Frankie Corpse and the Undertakers. Anyway, it clearly didn't last long. The young band he left did slightly better. They were called U2. When I asked him how that had affected him, he replied: "It's like having my nose up against the window pane of everything I've always wanted."

That's a pretty near perfect description of what it must be like to be a nearly man. I'm surprised that no psychologist has written a book on the concept. There must be enough material for one, or at least a lively seminar.

Better still, have an arts festival: a festival of the nearly men who finally get to play the part they came so close to. We could see the famous eye that starts every Bond film wending its way across the screen to the equally famous theme music, and inside it, turning to shoot at the audience, that most lovable of TV quizmasters.

The most famous nearly man of them all, the discarded Beatle Pete Best, could finally get to show just what subtleties of percussion he would have brought to "I Want to Hold Your Hand". Bono could discover how different his anthems might sound with the benefit of a middle-aged hack on rhythm guitar.

And there must be a whole host of nearly men we don't even know about. Which potential Britart radicals did Damien Hirst neglect to put in his exhibition of fellow young turks when he started out? Is there someone somewhere who was briefly an Arctic Monkey before deciding he really ought to take his parents' advice and join that leading firm of Sheffield chartered accountants?

We should spare a thought occasionally for the nearly men. The James Bond franchise alone is full of them. Bob Holness may have been technically the fist Bond. But some current British actors were considered for the latest incarnation, Clive Owen among them. Who knows how many people will be quietly cursing their luck when Daniel Craig eventually pulls the trigger next week?

Faris Rotter's night out

There's nothing new in a rock band attacking their equipment. The Who did that years ago. There's nothing new in a rock band attacking each other. The Kinks had a couple of good fights on stage in their prime. But a rock band attacking their audience does have some novelty value.

The British band The Horrors, fresh out of Southend, might well have earned a footnote in music history at a gig in New York by giving a good hiding to the poor punters who had paid to see them.

A staffer from NME, who was at the gig, explains: "The vocalist, Faris Rotter, started to smash the lights with his mic stand. A kid in the front row grabbed Faris's mic lead and tried to tug him into the audience. Faris responded by slapping him in the face and kicking his chest. Then Faris dived off the stage into the crowd." Mr Rotter, left, himself adds: "It was pretty intense, but the worst thing would have been for us to stop playing."

What a pro.

* I was among the invited guests this week at a recording of a BBC concert by Paul Simon at St Luke's church in east London, now converted into a concert venue. Simon played his full two-hour set to only about 100 of us sitting at tables in front of the stage. But I'm not sure that anyone told him what the set-up was.

After three numbers he stopped and said to the audience: "This is a very strange situation. Who are you? Please, who are you? Did you win a contest or something?"

Nor I suspect had anyone told him that we had been ordered not to stand up and block the cameras. So no one stood or shouted or went mad. "You're very kind," muttered Paul after one number, "but not kind enough."

It was a sensational show, given an added frisson by the sight of a superstar utterly bewildered.

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