Miles Kington: The strange trial of the thespian revolutionary

'I would not describe acting as a business. A business is a place where people make money. Acting is more of an affliction'
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The Independent Online

There is a strange trial going on in the High Court, in which an actor is suing the BBC on the grounds that they damaged his livelihood by brainwashing him politically. It's hard to see how an actor could be brainwashed, but perhaps things will become a little clearer if we look at a transcript of the proceedings.

We join the trial where the actor, James Monaghan, is being cross-examined by the defence counsel, a Mr Charteris.

Counsel: Now, Mr Monaghan, how long have you been in the acting business?

Monaghan: I would not describe acting as a business. A business is a place where people make money.

Counsel: Then how would you describe acting? As an industry? As an art? As a craft?

Monaghan: As an affliction.

Counsel: Very well. How long have you been afflicted by acting?

Monaghan: Since about 1980.

Counsel: And things were going along quietly until the BBC hired you to impersonate various Irish politicians?

Monaghan: Not to impersonate. The position was that the Government had made it illegal for the voices of various representatives of the Republican cause in Northern Ireland to be heard on TV or radio. The BBC therefore had to hire actors to read out the statements made by Republican leaders.

Counsel: And you were one of the actors so hired?

Monaghan: I was.

Counsel: What effect did this have on you?

Monaghan: Profound. I had not really thought much about Northern Ireland politics before, but I had to think deeply about what these men were saying, so as to put some feeling into it, and I found myself realising that the position taken by people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness was utterly sensible and reasonable.

Counsel: You thought it was reasonable to blow people up?

Monaghan: Blowing people up did not come into it. The politicians whose thoughts I was voicing had strong historical grievances and were expressing them in a dignified and forceful manner. The Republican minority in Northern Ireland were an oppressed minority. They had been marginalised for years. I identified with them.

Counsel: But you did not think any of that before you did these voice-overs?

Monaghan: No. My eyes were opened by the words I was saying.

Counsel: Come, come, Mr Monaghan. Plenty of people masquerade as politicians without being convinced by what they are saying. We see Rory Bremner go on television and say the words of Tony Blair. We do not see Rory Bremner being convinced by it.

Monaghan: Pardon me, but there is a difference. Rory Bremner's sole purpose is to mock Mr Blair. He does not use Mr Blair's words. He uses a distorted version of Mr Blair's words and style. I, on the other hand, was, if you like, being Gerry Adams.

Counsel: And Mr Adams' spirit took you over?

Monaghan: No. But I could sense his pain. Remember that his people have been victimised for centuries. Northern Ireland was once the most, not the least, Catholic part of Ireland. That is why the Tudors transported so many Protestant Scottish farmers to Northern Ireland! To dilute the Catholic ascendancy, and impose a Protestant ascendancy. It was almost ethnic cleansing. That is why to this day you find Protestant leaders with Scottish names. Ian Paisley, to go no further.

Counsel: And McGuinness ...?

Monaghan:I think you'll find Guinness is an Irish name. But this is typical of the British, to trivialise the issues and muddy the waters! The fact of the matter is that there are long-standing injustices in Northern Ireland which the British Government has still made no effort to redress! But the martyrs will not have died in vain ...!

Judge: If I might interpose here, Mr Monaghan, this is all getting rather noisy. If you cannot project a little less, I may be forced to get an actor in here, to speak your thoughts for you. I cannot stress how ironic that would be.

Monaghan: No, sir.

The case continues.