Toby Whines On, Tommo Winds Down?Date: 5 April 2011
I'm much enjoying this week's Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4, not just because I wrote it, but because Toby Jones is giving a masterclass, in his own quiet way, in how to suggest the full range of a life in the everyday detail of work and aspiration.
My account of Ken Campbell in Ken Campbell: The Great Caper is tinged with a melancholy I hadn't really appreciated was there. But in the second episode this morning, and partly thanks to some deft editing by producer Pete Nichols, Jones implied that Ken's hopes for how theatre should be at all times -- raucous, informal, joyous and aggressive -- were never fully realised.
I'm glad that the adaptation took time to explain the historical background; and heightened the poignancy of Ken's initial rejection at the Royal Court being taken by him as "a positive" and leading directly to the formation of the Ken Campbell Road Show -- with which he returned in triumph to Sloane Square exactly one year later.
Like most journalists, on the rare occasions I have to read out something I've written, I tend to gabble and miss my own emphases. And like most real people, I don't like the sound of my own voice. But Jones has a knack of slowing things down so they sound perfectly right, and he wheedles out the rhythm without making a song and dance about it.
He also transmits a proper classlessness with a patina of a Cockney accent. My own Cockney -- or Ilford version thereof -- was adulterated with alien tones after a couple of terms at Oxford, where you have to speak up a lot in tutorials and so forth. Without thinking about it, my voice changed. My mother accused me of doing this deliberately, in order to register some rite of moving away.
Toby restores how I'd really like to speak, I suppose, loose-vowelled but not slovenly, perfectly articulated but not remotely cut-glass. Ken Campbell didn't really talk like Ken Campbell -- in that trademark, rasping Estuary whine -- until he became, well, Ken Campbell. Everyone I spoke to says he was perfectly polite and well-spoken, always neatly turned out, when a schoolboy. I think his reversion to cultural primitivism, and adoption of appropriate vocal personality, was all part of his decision not to go to Oxbridge and not to try and fit in anywhere else.
And of course Toby Jones is brilliant at accents. Everyone who worked with Ken Campbell can talk like him, but only a very few get it absolutely right; Toby does, and so does Chris Fairbank, who's very good on the falling away and then sudden snapping up, fruitily, of the Campbell dipthongs. I was intrigued, too, to see how Toby made a fine distinction between Campbell's voice and the huskier, more market-porterish Cockney of Bob Hoskins. I can't wait to see how he gets away with Bill Nighy, Russell Denton and John Sessions later this week.
The news that The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has failed at the box office seems to be cheering those who didn't much like the show on the blogosphere. The news pre-empted a producer's announcement thanks to an actor's tweeting and was gleefully seized upon by bloggers and tweeters who regard "joining the conversation" as a substitute for checking facts and abiding by proper journalistic practice.
Of course, bloggers and tweeters aren't really journalists (I make exception, of course, for the journalists who blog and tweet), unless you regard them as the "new" democratic journalism. I enjoy all of this as much as anyone -- though I don't tweet myself -- but we're going through a transitional phase where comment and gossip is becoming dangerously confused with reporting and criticism.
Umbrellas had a fairly disastrous opening quarter of an hour. But it recovered well and delivered easily the most engaging and sophisticated musical score on the London stage outside of Love Never Dies. It's sad when real quality fails at the box office, but sadder when accompanied by ghoulish, gleeful dancing on its grave.
Word reaches me of another milestone in the West End. Peter Thompson, the greatest theatrical Press officer of our time, is rumoured to be considering closing his office, after sustained illness and a five month period in hospital.
Tommo has represented virtually every show of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh in the West End over the past thirty years, and is renowned for making rival feature writers feel that they have the scoop even when the same story is placed in countless outlets.
He also glories in the affectionate nickname of "Fucknose" Thompson because, when faced with a question he is disinclined to answer, he merely replies, "Fuck knows." I don't think Ken Campbell ever called on Tommo's services, but had he done so, we might have been treated to the most amusing double act of abusive haughtiness in media relations since Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney.