Robert Cohen


Robert Cohen is a writer/actor/producer of both his own work and other author’s theatre and film scripts. ‘Something rotten’ is his acclaimed. self-penned examination of Hamlet’s much maligned uncle/step father, Claudius.
An experienced Shakespearean actor, Cohen has always been intrigued by the missing links within the Bard’s telling of The Prince of Denmark’s story. To this end he has attempted to fill in the gaps, sort of a literary pothole filler!
‘Something Rotten’, coming to Upstairs at The Western on Friday March 2nd, is Cohen’s attempt at righting history, a paraquel running alongside Hamlet’s story and attempting to answer questions such as how long had Claudius craved his brother’s crown? How long had he and Gertrude been at it? How did he get on with his nephew prior to the upheavals? And most importantly, how did Yorick become the most famous corpse in literary history? All this and more will be answered. Sort of.
Written in ‘modern English’ with just a flavour of Shakespearean verse, this is hopefully more accessible to non aficionados like myself.
Cohen’s previous visits to Leicester have been with High Vis and The Trials of Henry Matusow, both sold out shows and both going on to tour extensively.
Tickets are available on www.upstairsatthewestern.co.uk
Full details of his previous and current work are on www.bobbycohen.co.uk

Paul Kerryson

Paul Kerryson's final production as Artistic Director is The Sound of Music, the story of a Governess who tames an unruly bunch of children. Not a million miles away from Kerryson's own trials nursing the fledging Curve Theatre to success over the last five years.
When he arrived at Leicester's Haymarket Theatre in 1991 Paul already had a wealth of experience as a performer and director. Starting off with a 3 year stint in Cameron Mackintosh's production of Godspell he moved to Manchester ( he still has a house there) as an actor and choreographer where he discovered his affinity with Sondheim's shows while working on the European premieres of Follies and Pacific Overtures. Both of which he eventually brought successfully to the Haymarket.
From Manchester Paul moved to Oldham Theatre in his first stint as an Artistic Director. Within 12 months he was in Leicester where, for the last 23 years, he has guided the city's cultural tastes as well as helming the creation of the jewel in Leicester's cultural crown, Curve. Throughout those two decades Kerryson has introduced this oasis in the East Midlands to such diversities as Sondheim, Larry Kramer and virtually every 'standard' musical ever written. A fair few of these revivals have transferred to the West End, notably Mack & Mabel, The King and I and Hot Stuff; the latter an original creation of Paul and Maggie Norris. But his expertise is not just reserved for 'grown up' musicals. He can turn his hand to many genres, including children's theatre and serious drama. I will never forget watching Pillowman in Curve's Studio space. He was also responsible for creating The Haymarket's hugely successful annual Promenaids charity weekends where he cajoled his colleagues into making fools of themselves onstage for a very worthwhile cause.
I moved to Leicester in 1990 and have been lucky enough to have seen countless productions that Paul Kerryson has directed. Amongst the many innovations that he has brought to Curve has been community projects; huge productions involving lots of talented local performers often being given their first taste of performing in a professional show under the tutelage of a master of his craft. He has also been responsible for nurturing strong links with De Montfort University's drama students.
We will miss Mr Kerryson when The Sound of Music finishes but a little bird tells me that he may not be leaving Leicester behind completely.
First published in Western Gazette
© Paul Towers 2012

Sir Richard Attenborough

Sir Richard Attenborough
1923 - 2014
The Rt Hon. The Lord Attenborough, CBE, Dickie to all his friends, eldest of three sons to Mary and Frederick Attenborough, was a prodigious talent with a very firm connection to Leicester which he never forgot.
Born in Cambridge, Richard Samuel Attenborough moved to Leicester when his father, an esteemed scholar and academic was appointed Principal of University College, Leicester (later to become Leicester University) and the young Dickie took up his studies at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys.
Leaving school he was drafted into the Air Force and, luckily for generations to follow, ended up in the RAF Film Unit at Pinewood. His interest in performing had been nurtured by his participation in productions at Leicester's Little Theatre, an establishment he maintained a connection with as patron until his death.
His first film, In Which We Serve, was uncredited but saw him working under The Master, Noel Coward, who both wrote and directed this patriotic morale booster. From that inauspicious start in 1942 right up to 2002 Dickie made at least one film per year. From 1960 he also wore a producer's and director's hat for several films.
Alongside his extensive showbiz career, Attenborough held a huge number of corporate titles ranging from President of Chelsea Football Club to President of BAFTA and President of RADA.
Throughout his life he and his wife, actress Sheila Sim, retained very strong links with Leicester and he filmed scenes for several productions locally, most famously on the Great Central Railway for Shadowlands with Sir Anthony Hopkins.
A slew of titles were conferred on Sir Richard and reached a pinnacle with his ennoblement as Baron Attenborough of Richmond.
One of the most remarkable things about this giant of so many areas of life is that you would be very hard pressed to find anyone to say a bad word about him. As an epitaph for a life well lived you can't ask for more than 'He was a lovely man'
First published in Western Gazette
© Paul Towers 28/8/2014

Jeffrey Holland

To those of us who are (unfortunately) over 40 Jeffrey Holland will forever be Spike, the trainee comedian to Paul Shane's Ted Bovis in TV's Hi Di Hi. The Sorcerer's Apprentice, if you will. Those under 40 will likely never have heard of him unless they have had the pleasure of one of his many theatrical performances.
I met up with Jeffrey as he was preparing for a three night run of his co-authored play 'and this is my friend Mr Laurel' at the Upstairs at The Western theatre in Leicester as part of the Dave Leicester Comedy Festival. As we sat in the empty auditorium he was fulsome with his memories of working in TV and on stage.
We started off chatting about his love of pantomime. He has just finished his 42nd season, 24 of them as dame. Often he is working with his wife, Judy, which mean they have much more time together than if he were touring alone, as he often does. With two grown up children and the recent arrival of his third grandchild, Jeffrey is a contented man doing a job he adores.
The Stan Laurel play is certainly a labour of love for Jeffrey. For many years he has been fascinated by the most successful double act in cinema history. Together Laurel and Hardy churned out 106 films between 1921 and 1951; alongside that Stan appeared in an additional 66 films between 1917 and 1928 without his fat chum.
As an actor who specialised in playing bungling fools onstage, Holland certainly felt an empathy for the onscreen idiot Stan Laurel. Both of them, however, are the polar opposite off-stage, capable, creative and business savvy. Laurel in particular wrote and directed virtually all of the Laurel and Hardy output. While Jeffrey can't claim the same controlling influence over his own livelihood, in his own quiet way he was steered a very successful jobbing actor's career over the past 50 years and shows no sign of slowing down just yet!
Jeffrey Holland's career started in the Belgrave Theater in Coventry where he spent 5 years in repertory learning his craft. Taking any acting job that he was offered he finally came to the notice of Croft and Perry, the creative writers behind Hi Di Hi, Dad's Army and Ello Ello. Several small parts finally lead to the character of Spike being created especially for him in Hi Di Hi, the very successful series set in a tatty 1950's holiday camp. From there he was cast in virtually every Croft and Perry show, even taking Dad's Army out on tour in the stage version.
While Jeffrey is now only seen on TV in cameos for shows like Coronation Street he has a very busy life in various stage productions. As well as touring his one man play, 'and this is my friend Mr Laurel', he is in rehearsals for Ray Cooney's 'Two Into One' running from 8th March to 26th April at Menier Chocolate Factory in London.
'and this is my friend Mr Laurel' can be seen at Upstairs at The Western until Friday 21st February and then at Kenton Theatre, Henley on Thames on March 29

First published in Western Gazette
© Paul Towers 19/3/2014

Quentin Crisp

QUENTIN CRISP
1908-1999
In 1975 I noticed that in the area of East London where I lived and thrust my sexuality into the faces of all and sundry, as many newly out gays tend to do, the general term of abuse shouted at me by louts was 'Quentin Crisp'. This only lasted a couple of years but was the direct result of Thames Television's audacious televising of Crisp's autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant, starring John Hurt.
This book had been floating around since 1968, the eve of decriminalisation, when it had sold a respectable 3,500 copies on publication and garnered several favourable reviews. Being a book it had not attracted the attention of the uneducated masses and had passed most people by. Television exposure put paid to that ignorance.
After having been heard on radio reading extracts from it Crisp was approached by Thames TV who dramatised the book and broadcast it in 1975. The rest, as they say, was history.
Suddenly being 'discovered' at the age of 67, Quentin (née Denis Pratt) took to showbiz like a duck to water. A popular guest on the chat show circuit Crisp had just one philosophy for making successful appearances. 'All you have to do' he maintained 'is look pleased to be there. It's like a party.'
A trip to America for promotional purposes resulted in Crisp moving there and becoming 'A Resident Alien' and inspiring Sting's hit 'An Englishman in New York'. He still travelled all over the world with his one-man show, An Evening With Quentin Crisp and appeared in a variety of film and stage shows. He played Lady Bracknell in Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest and Queen Elizabeth in Orlando as well as many roles as himself. His literary output didn't stop at The Naked Civil Servant (a reference to his days as a nude model working for the Council). Several tomes of his eclectic outpourings on a variety of subjects have sold well along with several volumes of autobiography. He also earned a regular living writing reviews for Christopher Street Magazine and New York Native.
Many will say that Quentin Crisp put back the cause of gay liberation by 50 years when he portrayed gay men as limp wristed, purple haired and out to capture any straight man within striking distance. While this may be true, he should be given credit for at least bringing to the public's attention the very subject of inequality and prejudice. He has been labelled by some as a spokesman for the gay community. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most gay men would run a mile at being confronted by the apparition that was Quentin Crisp in the flesh, and most would be reluctant to admit that he did their cause any good at all, especially when he called homosexuality an illness.
In many ways Quentin Crisp was the Oscar Wilde of the late 20th century; witty, admired (but only from afar) and best thought of in the abstract. He was, without doubt, a singular person, the like of which we will never see again. He leaves behind him legacy of wit which will brighten many a day.
Quentin Crisp died on 21st November 1999 from a heart attack mid-way through yet another tour of his one man show.
First published on Gay UK Net
© Paul Towers 2/12/2000

Wendy Richard

From sexpot in 'Are You Being Served' to downtrodden drudge in 'Eastenders' you may be forgiven for thinking that Wendy Richard has come down in the world. But underneath that much maligned cardigan of Pauline Fowler beats the heart of a woman who has been through the mill somewhat.
In her book, 'Wendy Richard … No S', Ms Richard details the long and varied route her career has taken to this point where she is a national icon for housewives everywhere. From her early days as a pop idol at 15 (singing (?) with Mike Sarne in the seminal Come Outside and re-recorded with Mike Berry in 1986 ) through a stint in the Carry On films, many TV appearances and finally to her long running participation in series like Are You Being Served?, Dad's Army and Eastenders, Wendy Richard has carved a niche for her idiosyncratic style in the British (and worldwide) viewing public's affections.
Rumour has it that Wendy was discovered working as a secretary in Robert Stigwood's office when she was chosen to work with Mike Sarne on the aforementioned Come Outside. But, as she is supposed to have been only 15 at the time (1962) it seems a little far fetched that she was working in an office. However, whatever the truth, she did end up being part of that particular pop sensation and her career was kick started. Rumour also has it that she had a small part in the Beatles film, Help! in 1965. Unfortunately her participation in this particular piece of pop history ended up on the cutting room floor. In her autobiography Wendy dates this as happening at the age of 20, which makes her birth date as 1945. Somewhat at odds with the officially quoted date of 1946, 1947 or 1948 (depending on what source you read)
A graduate of the prestigious Italia Conti Stage Academy after a formal education at the Royal Masonic School for Girls (her father died when she was 11 and, a mason, entitled his daughter to free education), the young Wendy was in demand for TV work after having worked with Sammy Davis Jnr as background glamour with a young Mandy Rice Davies. Several films (including 3 Carry On's) and many TV appearances later she finally got her big break with the part of Miss Brahms in what was supposed to be a one-off called Are You Being Served?
Wendy had served her sit-com apprenticeship in virtually every comedy series on TV with regular appearances in Dad's Army, Dick Emery, Fenn Street Gang, Please Sir, Hugh and I, The Likely Lads, On The Buses and Up Pompeii! These were alongside 'straight' acting roles in shows like Danger Man, The Newcomers (her first soap), No Hiding Place and Z Cars.
From Are You being Served? it was no surprise to find she was to be a lynchpin of the new soap Eastenders in 1985. Despite her continuing role in Walford, Wendy still finds time for panto and radio work as well as numerous appearances fund raising for charity.
Originally born in Middlesborough, Teeside (surprisingly enough) Wendy Richard long ago decided she wouldn't conform with a 'BBC accent' and her adopted working class screech has stood her in good professional stead. With 3 much publicised marriages behind her and a successful battle against breast cancer it looks like the 55 (or 54, 53, 52) year old actress will be entertaining us for another 40 years.

'Wendy Richard … No S' is published by Simon & Shuster

First publised on Gay UK Net
© Paul Towers 28/11/2000

Anthea Turner

Life as a book reviewer, and especially autobiographies, often entails pretending you either like the person or find their dreary lives interesting. When I read Anthea Turner's tome, Fools Rush In, I found that it was far from dreary. However, I can make no bones about the fact that I loathe the woman, perhaps even more than I loathe Ulrika Johnson! After all the never ending media coverage of the Grant Bovey saga I was hoping to find that Ms Turner, ex-Blue Peter lovely and GMTV stalwart, was the unwitting third side of a triangle manipulated by her new husband. Instead I found her to be a scheming, self centred cow who deserves all the vilification that comes her way.
Born in 1960, Anthea's mother is an ex-teacher and her father runs a soft-furnishings company. She went to the local comprehensive in Stoke on Trent but was so unhappy her parents sacrificed financial comfort to send her to a Catholic Girls School (rather too late to instill too many morals, by all account). Gaining 2 A Levels Anthea then went to work for the local radio station before moving to Sky TV as a VJ and thence to Blue Peter. Two years later she moved to GMTV where her image in the public's eye was cemented as the girl next door.
Of course her adoring public had little idea of her bed hopping methods of career advancement and her subsequent rise to prominence. First there was Bruno Brookes (Radio 1 DJ and now dot.com millionaire) and then Peter Powell (Radio 1 DJ and now millionaire Agent) before currently settling for Grant Bovey. She dismisses Brookes as a dominating control freak but she still stayed with him for more than four years. I wonder if that had anything to do with the good he was doing her career, especially the introduction to her second big affair and first husband, Peter Powell, soon to be her agent/manager?
Married to Peter in 1990, a cynic may well have wondered how soon his usefulness would run out. The answer would be 7 years. Grant Bovey, Anthea's second husband, was one of Peter's best friends and he and Della, his then wife, were often seen out with the Powells as a foursome. At the requisite 7 years Anthea got the itch and Grant was the one to scratch it for her. The ensuing media circus surrounding the breakdown of the Powell marriage, Anthea's affair with Grant Bovey, their parting, reuniting and eventual marriage are recounted in uncompromising detail and it is glaringly obvious that Ms Turner is desperate to exonerate herself from the full brunt of moral judgement. However, with nearly half the book devoted to the ins and outs of her love affair with Grant Bovey, she only serves to stir the whole sorry mess up in the public's mind once again. She comes out of it as an insecure woman, desperate for children and a career who will lay down for the person who will give her what she wants. In the beginning it was career advancement and now it is children. One gets the impression that when Mr Powell wouldn't or couldn't give her offspring it was only a matter of time before she either got a turkey baster or a stud. Enter Grant Bovey. Whatever the merits of the man that attracted Anthea this time, once she got her claws into him it is obvious he will never get away until such time as he has outlived his usefulness. I'll give it 10 years.

Fools Rush In published by Little Brown (£16.99)

First published on Gay UK Net
© Paul Towers 16/11/2000