I studied, like so many other greats who have gone on to similar success on stage, TV, and film, at the world famous Rada. When I first arrived there in the 1970s, London was a very different place to now. There were no McDonald’s (except for Trevor McDonald), mobile phone shops, or Starbucks coffee houses.
Before ‘virtual sex’ became readily available on the internet, ‘live sex shows’ were the order of the day. I remember going to Dolly’s near Leicester Square (now a branch of Pret à Manger) and seeing Lord Longford, Malcolm Muggeridge, Gyles Brandreth and Cliff Richard sitting in the audience, enjoying a performance. (I subsequently learned that they were present as part of Longford's investigation into the dangers of pornography.)
After a tough afternoon of tuition when one would often be required to frantically mimic a bird or an animal, we would relax in pubs, drinking beer and having fierce discussions and arguments about acting, politics and ‘the battle of the sexes’. One of our favourite hangouts was The Bar Of Gold pub in Haymarket (for the last few years, a branch of Pret à Manger). A frequent haunt of The Kray twins during the 1960s, it also played host to the sight of Una Stubbs wrestling the painter Francis Bacon to the ground on the pavement outside.
My agent Jane Plough (pronounced ‘Pluff’, as in Brian Clough, the sportsman) tells a great story about the late actor and hellraiser Peter Finch meeting the critic Sheridan Morley at the opening party for ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ at Nob’s Club in Romilly Street (now a branch of Pret à Manger). ‘Have you seen Warren Organ about?’ asked Finch. (Now largely forgotten, Organ was a regular in ‘Z Cars’ and a fine early interpreter of Beckett.) ‘Haven’t you heard, Peter? He’s gone to “The Great Beyond”!’ replied Morley. Finch was unaware that ‘The Great Beyond’ was a recently opened club in Soho (it’s now a branch of Pret à Manger), and presumed Morley meant that Organ had died.
He promptly organised a memorial service at the Brompton Oratory! (Organ was a devout Catholic.) Six women turned up at the service, each claiming to be Organ’s wife. When it was subsequently established that the actor was still alive, things became rather complicated and he disappeared from the scene for many years before re-surfacing as a second hand car dealer in ‘EastEnders’ in the 1990s.
His name has also recently re-emerged as part of the police investigation known as ‘Operation Yew Tree’, named after The Yew Tree pub in Camden Town. It's now a branch of Pret à Manger. That same pub was also where I first met Oliver Reed – but that is a particularly long story...
‘Toast of London’, Sundays, 10.35pm, Channel 4.
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Matt Berry – complete with a Mallard streak, bushy ’tache and permanently puzzled expression – is perfect, and if the whole feels like a series of sketches knitted together to form an utterly ridiculous narrative, that’s no bad thing; years after its demise, we all still have favourite ‘Father Ted’ scenes, and this warm-hearted series promises to give us lots more.
Some people are just funny. And it’s long been clear that Matt Berry is one of them. It’s all in the voice modulation and expressive bafflement – witness Steven Toast’s voiceover humiliation at the start of this second episode for a perfect illustration. As usual, the plotting is gloriously daft.