From his birth in the home of musical hall comedy Blackpool, Sir Cess tells of his early years as a palm reader, of his training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, on through his career as a colonially famous soap star, and of his latter years as an egotistical, pompous, garrulous, grumpy old man.
Friday, March 5, 2010
From Pool to Poole
All the world’s a stage, and I’ve certainly strutted in finery across many a board.
It has been noted and reported in numerous theatrical gossip magazines that I have, throughout my illustrious career spanning the last fifty-two years, also been found lying prostrate on many a board. Deserted by party-going friends and foes alike, I have been discovered, more times than I care to remember, on a park bench clutching my beloved “Toddie” in gloved hand, mumbling, “Oh, for a muse of fire,” to many a star-lit sky.
These gloriously entertaining events have occurred with an almost curtain-up regularity, from my early days in the theatre capital of the world, London, to my latter years here in my jobbing actor’s garret in “Mr Mandela’s Rainbow Nation”.
A jobbing actor!
Now, that’s a descriptive term that is not used very often these days. I find the lack of use of this very complimentary terminology a great injustice.
Think of all those actors’ faces you’ve seen in one B-grade movie after another, or on one TV soapie in 1973, then playing the same character in another soapie in a different country in 1998. Well, I am one of those.
I’m a jobbing actor. I am privileged to belong to this large and often unsung group of fine talented Thespians who continue to earn a rather limited living and keep their noses just above the waterline.
My “Toddie” and my name were given to me at a very early age.
My mother, Gladys, found herself in the family way towards the end of the Second World War. She was a large-bosomed fan dancer entertaining the remaining American troops and returning British soldiers at the Opera House in the home of music-hall comedy: Blackpool, England. Unable to afford digs in high season, my mother, who was always willing to help anyone in distress, made use of the convoys of military trucks ferrying servicemen back to their barracks, and the free accommodation at a nearby public house.
The journey to the barracks near the small quaint town of Kirkham should have taken three-quarters of an hour but, if an obliging driver, and the accompanying M.P., could be bribed, then a short detour would be made via my mother’s hostelry, which offered an after-hours service. The landlord was a jovial, well-mannered and refined local country gent and, in spite of his name, Robert Ulrich Smelley was extremely well groomed. It was in Mr Smelley’s attic room that my mother used to engage in her extracurricular fan-dancing activities.
Mr R. U. Smelley was able to buy more deodorant than he needed, and acquire some rather expensive French perfume, using his extra bar takings and the ration tickets my mother stole from her clients’ trousers on a nightly basis, so a good time was had by all.
One such night was the August Bank holiday of 1945, and on a foggy London morning in May the following year I was born. My mother never liked hospitals. By eight o’clock that evening I was being cuddled in the muscular arms of visiting American actor Todd Stardust. Todd was young, wealthy and not too wise. He was playing the lead in one of America’s first radio soaps. He was passing through London on his way to Paris, where he hoped he could find inner depth for his two-dimensional character by visiting the bars frequented by Mr Hemingway.
At the airport, the next day, he gave my mother a beautifully engraved pewter hip flask as a momento of his passage. Toddie hasn’t left my lips since Mr Stardust boarded his flight; as my mother discovered that, if she held the open top of it directly under my nose, it seemed to stop the hideous wailing I enjoyed so much.
I was only christened five years later.
The tardiness of this event was due to my mother’s hectic schedule and the high demand for nubile fan dancers across the length and breadth of the British Isles. It was hard enough for her to remember all the newly choreographed routines, and deal with the threat of forgetting a downward fan swing and revealing to the Lord Chancellor something she should not, without having to find time for such trivia as the registration of my birth.
However, in 1952 she was faced with the problem of my schooling and, in order to register me with a local authority, she had to catch up on her paperwork. She managed to convince a friendly registrar in Liverpool that he could do it all for her. With one mighty leap my birth was registered. I was enrolled at a local primary school, and introduced to an Anglican priest who was going to christen me the following day. I sat in the front pew of the Anglican cathedral whilst he and my mother performed a highly athletic display of the Kama Sutra over the font.
The only hiccup in the registration came when the registrar asked my mother the name of my father.
She giggled sweetly at him and said, “Oh, my darling, it was such a long time ago, I can’t possibly remember. It could’ve been Cecil, or was it Eddie? Er, no, no, I think Steven or, yes, yes, dear Simon.”
The registrar smiled, his arm gently encircling my mother’s waist.
She crooned and softly whispered, “They were all such lovely boys at the Old Trout Pool.”
A brainwave filtered down through the registrar’s right hand as he neatly wrote C.E.S.S. Poole on the certificate. The added “e” occurred as my mother guided his left hand further towards her bra strap.
In honour of my mother’s giving ways, on my graduation from the Royal Academy, sixteen years later, I decided to keep my real name when I registered with Equity.