I had that Steven Berkoff in my garden once. The actor, playwright and actor was in the locality appearing at a literary festival, and he arrived at my front door with a friend of mine, making good on my offer of tea and cakes.
He couldn't have been more polite, only occasionally interrupting his benevolent flow to revert to a classic Berkoffism when pronouncing on a mutual acquaintance, or on someone in the public eye. His assessment could not have been more withering. "He's a total ...." he'd say firmly and unequivocally, utilising mono-syllabic Chaucerian language. It made me think I wouldn't want to do anything to incur the displeasure of the East End's number one polymath.
Even at 76 years old, he still has something of the enfant terrible about him, and he's been at it again at the Edinburgh Festival, excoriating, among others, the BBC - "garbage" -Twitter - "facile" - and critics - "a sordid bunch of bilious scum". His new show, An Actor's Lament, is conducted in clever couplets and satirises the acting profession, lifting the curtain on what happens backstage to reveal a landscape of self-obsession and insecurity. It has played to appreciative audiences, hardly surprising because Berkoff is a rare creature in the world of modern media in that virtually everything he says demands - and generally receives - attention.
His pronouncements are authentic and unmediated, and have the refreshing feel of someone who's not got a battalion of PRs and publicity agents engineering his image and carefully prescribing his opinions. And he made sure he'd sell some tickets for his show by going on the BBC and slagging off the BBC, criticising its output as sub-standard, and pouring scorn on its flagship soap opera. EastEnders, he said, was "stinky, slobbing, clichéd, mindless, moronic"... Say what you think, Steven!
But it was what he said about Twitter that provoked the biggest reaction. At a time when Twitter abuse is a live issue, he brushed aside the protestations of those who felt bullied and victimised on the network. "If I jump into a garbage bin," he said, "I can't complain that I've got rubbish all over me". His view is that if you open your door to one and all, that includes opening it to every sicko in town. This is not a view that holds much water: clearly, signing up for Twitter represents something of a contract, but so does, for instance, having an email account, or indeed choosing to engage in any communal discourse, and that doesn't mean you should be subject to abuse and vilification.
He also thinks Twitter is banal, facile and epitomises the shallowness and vacuousness of modern life. Which is, of course, why we like it so much. Steven Berkoff is the product of a much more serious age, and you can understand why he'd think Twitter is a trashy, superficial medium, but he speaks from the advantaged position of someone who has a direct channel for his opinions. The performer takes comfort in autocracy. Twitter is about democracy. Some of us don't have a slot at the Edinburgh Festival to sound off. We only have 140 characters with which to let loose our views on the world.