The day I took Helen Mirren home

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The Independent Online

I was standing in my favourite video shop the other day, the Video Front in Bath, when a large brown package fell against me. It was very light, which was a pity, because otherwise it would have caused me immense pain and distress and then, in the modern manner, I could have sued the shop for huge amounts of compensation.

"My goodness me," I gasped, trying to sound injured and damaged, "whatever can that be?"

"It's a standee," said the kindly lady behind the counter. "For Calendar Girls."

"What's a standee?" I said, my curiosity overcoming my impulse to phone a crooked lawyer.

"You know those life-size cardboard figures that stand around in video shops to advertise films?" she said. "They're called standees. They come in flatpacks. You have to assemble them so they stand up. But this one came too late for the issuing of Calendar Girls, so we just let it stand in the corner until we threw it away or someone wanted it."

"I want it," I said, surprising even myself.

"Take it," she said. And I took it.

What prompted me to take it was the memory of a film I saw many years ago, made by Pierre Etaix. Anyone remember Pierre Etaix? He was a pale-faced Frenchman, a bit like a very tall Pee Wee Herman (anyone remember Pee Wee Herman?), who in the early 1960s was seen as a possible heir to Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati. He made a film called The Suitor, which had some funny moments, though not enough, and he was then forgotten, though I do remember that in the film he fell in love with a film star, and stole a cardboard replica of her from a cinema. I had always wanted to try it myself. And now I could.

It did not take long to assemble it. A young child could have done it. In fact, a young child did do it. A small neighbour called George strolled in and put it up while I was still reading the instructions, and I found myself the proud owner of the smiling top bit of Helen Mirren, adorned with a sunflower. I don't know why she is wearing a sunflower. I haven't seen the film. I don't think I have even seen the calendar. Though, oddly enough, I have met the 12 women who posed for it. Not the 12 actresses. The 12 real women, from Yorkshire. They were all invited to the Oldie of the Year lunch several years ago, and I talked to some of them, and they seemed lovely. Of course, that was before they were replaced by people like Helen Mirren, and everything seemed to have gone wrong, but I never met them again to ask about their subsequent misery.

Not that Helen Mirren herself is always a happy bunny. In The New York Times the other day she was asked if bad reviews ever rankled.

Mirren: I received an awful dart for my first big role, in Troilus and Cressida. I remember the reviewer: Benedict Nightingale. I'll never forget him.

Interviewer: He's still out there writing, correct?

Mirren: Still out there, the bastard.

Gosh! Diana Rigg once put together a volume of bad reviews received by famous people, called No Turn Unstoned, in which she said that few Americans ever admitted to being badly reviewed, but all British actors had a burning memory of their worst review. It sounds as if Miss Mirren is no exception.

Meanwhile, I still have a standee of Calendar Girls ("They Dropped Everything In A Good Cause"). It has started to become a fixture in the house, in the way things do when you're not looking. The other day my son took it out as a target for air-gun practice, and now I am afraid Miss Mirren is a bit pock-marked, and there is a small hole right through her sunflower...

A reader writes: What on earth is all this about, may I ask?

Miles Kington writes: Certainly. I am trying to find a good home for a bullet-riddled 'Calendar Girls' standee which I haven't the heart to throw away.

Reader: Fair enough. Good luck. And now, if you don't mind, I am going to the sports pages.

Kington: Wait for me. I'll come with you.

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