Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'Matthew loves Richard Griffiths, and has decided not just to worship his idol, but also to behave like him'
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The Independent Online

Matthew is proud of his astounding reservoir of knowledge when it comes to British television character actors. There are few that he can't name, he even knows other parts they have played and, worryingly I find, he can sometimes tell you what an actor has got up to when he or she has been "resting".

For instance, Matthew knows absolutely that Richard Gibson, who took the role of Herr Flick of the Gestapo in 'Allo 'Allo once did a stint as a sub-editor on Tatler magazine in 1992. We might be watching an episode of Morse and the camera might dwell ever so briefly on a corpse, and still Matthew will be able to identify the recumbent actor in question.

"Fred Finnegan!" he'll shout with delight. He briefly played the master baker Sam Snoop in Coronation Street in the mid 1980s and was known for regularly buying a Daily Express and a packet of Minstrels from Mavis in the Kabin."

How he knows these things, although mildly intriguing, seems to me less the issue than why he imagines anyone would be interested, let alone impressed – unless he believes that his extraordinary expertise will be taken as evidence that his life before the invention of internet poker wasn't entirely wasted.

The general rule with Matthew is that the more obscure the character actor, the more excited he is at the chance to show off his knowledge of some arcane biographical detail. He has, for example refused to make any comment at all about Jim Broadbent, a favourite of his, since Broadbent started winning major awards. However, the exception that proves the rule is Richard Griffiths. Matthew loves Griffiths and claims to have loved him long before he played Uncle Monty in Withnail and I – a bit of a cult role. Matthew holds this actor in such high esteem that there is no male part ever played by anyone, on TV or in a film, that Matthew isn't convinced Griffiths could have played better. The first time we saw Thelma and Louise on DVD, Matthew started tutting and shaking his head at the appearance of Brad Pitt. "How ridiculous, casting him," he muttered. "Why didn't they give it to Griffiths? He'd have been perfect."

I assumed he was being facetious, until he made exactly the same point about John Malkovich playing a serial killer in Con Air and Tobey Maguire playing the jockey, Red Pollard, in Seabiscuit. He has even expressed his utter bemusement as to why the title role in the boxing biopic Ali went not to Richard Griffiths but to Will Smith. All of this, though unsettling, I have learnt to live with. But things have taken a distinct turn for the worse since Matthew made the decision not just to worship his idol, but to be like him. Last month we watched the episode of The Vicar of Dibley in which Griffiths plays the Bishop of Mulberry, a man who intersperses perfectly normal speech with sudden bursts of shouting.

The Bishop, an otherwise gentle man of the cloth, who is invited to baptise Hugo and Alice's firstborn, doesn't have Tourettes, but he does make drastic and inexplicable changes to the decibel level of his voice. For 30 seconds he will talk at normal volume, and then for five seconds SHOUT VERY LOUDLY INDEED, frightening the baby and alarming the congregation.

I cannot blame Richard Curtis, the creator of Dibley, for having this funny idea, and much less can I accuse Richard Griffiths for unwittingly sabotaging our lives, but nonetheless I do resent the influence they have had, because that one small televisual moment has given Matthew the green light to excavate one of his most cherished pockets of hypochondria – his alleged deafness. He believes that the Bishop is hard of hearing and that this is what causes the shouting, and he empathises because an ENT specialist told him, after extracting a piece of Roger & Gallet Sandalwood soap that had got jammed up against his eardrum, that, like the Bishop of Mulberry, his hearing was "at the very lowest end of the normal spectrum."

The result of this alleged deafness is that Matthew occasionally fails to react to something I say, usually on a matter he doesn't want to discuss – for instance whether or not we should spend £3,500 redecorating the kitchen. Family lore has it that he is simply following the precedent of a man married to a great aunt who would turn his hearing aid off every time his wife entered the room.

Whatever it is, since the airing of the Bishop of Mulberry episode in this house, Matthew has been shouting suddenly and without warning and putting this new behaviour down to his deafness.

When I point out to him that he is shouting he looks a bit hurt and asks, "Am I? I had no idea," and then he probes his ear with his index finger and says, "I am going a little deaf you know. I am very like the Bishop of Mulberry in that respect." In restaurants the shouting is particularly noticeable. It is disturbing for fellow diners and impossible to escape from. But when it happens at home I have found that the best thing for me to do is I take myself off to the top floor of the house and use the phone to communicate. Because, unlike Matthew, my marvellous mobile has a volume adjustment button.