DJ Taylor: Six decades have passed since retired thespians Graham and Binkie Margrave first met


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The Independent Online

Each weekday after lunch, the Margraves repair to the sitting room of their cramped retirement bungalow on the outskirts of Lewes to watch the afternoon soaps on TV. Their interest in these programmes lies not in plot, theme or dialogue but in identifying members of the supporting cast.

"Isn't that old Eric standing by the font?"

"I don't think so. Not unless he's dyed his hair again."

"Surely that's Joan at the bus-stop?"

"Well, I hope so for her sake. She could do with a nice change from rep after all this time."

It is several years since either Graham or Binkie graced the boards of a provincial theatre or appeared on television themselves. Graham's last outing was as a roguish Ugly Sister at the Norwich Theatre Royal panto in 2005; Binkie was most recently employed as part of a crowd of Muggles in one of the Harry Potter films. On the other hand, their absorption in the world of light entertainment is no less intense for being vicarious, and Graham still pores over the ads in The Stage – which age and infirmity, alas, no longer permit him to answer – with an air of mild regret.

Six decades have passed since the Margraves first met in the course of a summer season on Great Yarmouth pier, and the bungalow is crammed with mementoes of their shared professional life: the photograph of Morecambe and Wise taken at their wedding in 1962, Graham's walk-on in an early episode of Dad's Army, Binkie's delicious cameo in The Benny Hill Show.

Other mementoes are less tangible, and visitors are sometimes puzzled by the sharp contrast between the white hair and creaking limbs of their hosts and the boom of voices for whom the Lewes sitting room is clearly too small a stage for comfort.

There are not, unfortunately, very many of these visitors, for the Margraves never had a settled enough existence for children, and their friends are either still frenetically at work or dead.

Raymond, their old agent, sometimes telephones, but these are courtesy calls and slightly painful to both sides. On the other hand, it could not be said that they are unhappy, here in a landscape of John Gielgud's remembered smile, and the thought that, if there is an afterlife, it will be some thronged theatrical Valhalla where the cast of Are You Being Served? – in which Graham briefly featured – eternally cavort.