David Lister: Sexy or not, it's best to keep quiet

Tuesday 08 October 2013 05:52

When Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe starred in a film together, Monroe took particular exception to Olivier, who was also directing, saying to her before a scene: "OK, Marilyn, be sexy." The suggestion that her greatest natural asset was a mere technique that any decent actress could turn on did not go down well.

Sixty-two-year-old Maureen Lipman, on the other hand, seems to believe precisely that. As a good actress, she is as capable of "doing" sexy as someone half her age and twice as attractive. That certainly appears to be the implication of her rebuttal to a critic, who queried whether she should be playing the role of the sexy mistress, Mme Desiree Armfeldt in the current West End production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music. The critic in question wrote: "That most angular of actresses Maureen Lipman still strikes me as a wildly unlikely grande horizontale who is supposed to have slept her way round most of the royal families of Europe."

Ms Lipman responded by sending the critic images of some unconventionally handsome loves of kings, including Wallis Simpson and the Duchess of Cornwall. My colleague Philip Hensher applauded Ms Lipman earlier this week for her stance, saying that she "still draws the fascinated eye in her middle age".

I'm less sure that it was a good idea for her to respond. I believe that the best thing one can do in the face of an annoying review is maintain a dignified silence. I once asked Helen Mirren how she felt about a string of bad notices, and she replied: "I am strong in adversity." That's how I like my actresses.

Besides, there's a much more pertinent reason why I think that Maureen Lipman's strategy is very ill-advised. I would refer her to the cases of fellow performers Charlotte Cornwell and William Roache. Ms Cornwell was accused by a television critic of having a "too big bum". Mr Roache, better known as Ken Barlow of Coronation Street, was labelled "boring" by a journalist. Both went to court to prove their critics wrong.

Even those who cannot recall the cases will realise that it is not a smart idea to ask a court to decide on the size of your bottom or your charisma in the full glare of publicity. Few fans of Charlotte Cornwell would have seen the remark about her bum in the People at the time. The Sun's character analysis of William Roache would have come and gone with little fuss. But court cases mean that, for many people, the name Charlotte Cornwell brings to mind the word "bum", while William Roache is accompanied in the subconscious by the word "boring", even though he is not.

And now, for ever, the name of that fine actress Maureen Lipman will be associated not just with the word "sexy", but with how she tried to prove she was sexy. It's better to keep a dignified silence. And if you can't do that, at least give us the fun of a court case.

Behold the battle of the plinth

Applications have opened for members of the public to stand (or dance, somersault or whatever) on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square as part of Antony Gormley's artwork. Much has been made of this – headlines, news stories, feature articles. So I was surprised to see very little made of a terse announcement this week by Westminster Council that it has not actually approved the scheme, that it was "far from a done deal" and that the council had serious health and safety concerns about the whole project.

No doubt there are many in the art world who would think it a terrible blow if the Gormley extravaganza had to be cancelled. But I think that the opposition of Westminster Council could be good news. I relish the prospect of the first member of the public mounting the plinth, a Westminster Council officer trying to pull him down and Antony Gormley wrestling the official to the ground in the name of art. Now that tableau would be a work of art, one worth entering for the Turner Prize.

*What is it about these Beatle wives and their need for collective responsibility? Heather Mills says that she is angry about receiving only 5 per cent of the McCartney money in her divorce settlement, after "all the work I put in on the tours".

I saw some of those gigs and I don't recall Heather being on stage or helping the roadies. Perhaps she was away writing "Eleanor Rigby" at the time. And then there is Yoko Ono who has taken to saying: "When we wrote 'Imagine'..." Only John Lennon is credited as composer on my copy.

It's shameful how their contribution has been ignored. It's almost as shameful as the lack of recognition for PR guru Max Clifford, who keeps reminding us how he helped launch the Beatles in his early days at the EMI press office. Appallingly, not a single Beatle has ever acknowledged Max's efforts.

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