In a truly strange moment of synchronicity I placed a picture I took of the great actor Freddie Jones in a frame and mounted it on my new sitting room table on the very day that he passed away.
Freddie was a friend. I am best friends with his son, Toby, and know the whole family.
You would be forgiven for asking why I have a framed photo of Freddie in my sitting room. I have just moved in and found some photo frames being thrown away by a neighbour and so I am taking advantage of this new thing in my life; framed photos of friends and family around the walls and surfaces of my new house! It was still perhaps a bit odd to put Freddie so prominently, over, let's say, my own family. Well, as it happens I simply haven't got 10x8s of my family to hand. I do, however, have this lovely shot of Freddie and thought it proper to put it in the frame. Incidentally there is another slightly unlikely picture in a frame in my front room, a shot of another dear friend, Lucy Robinson, in a wig, in a show, directed by myself years ago ( Happy Yet? at the Gate) taken by the excellent Simon Annand; similar reasons!
But what I want to do is use this sad synchronicity to pay homage to a man who, some will say, was, maybe the last of the great actors from another age. He was this to a certain extent. He was the sort of man who knew reams and reams of poetry by heart; not a skill much adhered to nowadays. As an actor he had a richness of tone and depth of resonance that really very few ever possess. But none of this made him just old-fashioned. He was working on television until only recently well into his 90s. My experience of this great man was that he genuinely had an interest in what is now and what will be in the future.
He had an unfeigned passion and interest in what we, the younger generation, including his three talented sons Toby, Rupert and Casper were up to; not in that slightly patronising way that some of us parents can have but an ACTUAL vibrating enthusiasm for what was possible for the next generation. I will never forget when he came to the Lecoq school in Paris where Toby and I were studying, and seeing his face light up as he came into the "grande salle" and exclaiming with such rumbling joy about the opportunity that this place afforded us. This was in a room where we were learning things way out of his comfort zone in some ways but this only made him more excited. Truly open-minded.
I was lucky enough to catch a performance of a rehearsed reading of Lear that Toby helped to arrange for him near the end of his life. I will never forget the way that his voice, and the thoughts that lay behind that voice, moved me that night. I can, literally, still feel it. In a more intimate setting and the last time I saw him in rude health, at Rupert's wedding to Ashley, he took centre stage for a few moments, as he recited or read, unforgettably, The Owl and the Pussy Cat. Again, the "performance" was so telling of the man. Yes, it was fruity and vibrating with wit, but never to show off; never to upstage his son with new wife, but told with such a connection to the longing, the whimsy and sheer vitality of the poem that, again, it will stay with me until my dying day.
I am so pleased and proud to have known him. In another strange quirk of fate, I am living in the village where Freddie and Jenny brought up their family; Charlbury, in Oxford, where of course, he is something of a legend! I am partly here because of visiting their beautiful house many years ago and kind of falling in love with the place. And as to the photo, well, I took it! I was lucky enough to be in a short film directed by Rupert Jones, Triphony, with great mates, Debra Penny and Paul Tonkinson, soon after leaving college. I used to wield a lovely Pentax K1000 and managed to capture Freddie at work. I have kept it in a box for all these years. It might be the best photo I have ever taken. I think what with what has happened that Freddie will stay in the frame in my house at least for as long as he wants.
Fare ye well.