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Meaningless Legs

Frank Kermode: John Gielgud

21 June 2001
GielgudA Theatrical Life 1904-2000 
by Jonathan Croall.
Methuen, 579 pp., £20, November 2000, 0 413 74560 0
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John G.: The Authorised Biography of John Gielgud 
by Sheridan Morley.
Hodder, 510 pp., £20, May 2001, 0 340 36803 9
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John GielgudAn Actor’s Life 
by Gyles Brandreth.
Sutton, 196 pp., £6.99, April 2001, 0 7509 2752 6
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... These biographies of John Gielgud by Jonathan Croall and Sheridan Morley are quite hard to tell apart. They are of much the same size, bear handsome pictures of the actor in old age on the front of their dust-jackets, and are, inevitably, affectionate and indulgent towards their subject. As Dirk Bogarde remarked when Croall consulted him about the work in hand, ‘everybody adored him, so the book might make rather flat reading ...
20 December 1979
An Actor and his Time 
by John Gielgud.
Sidgwick, 253 pp., £8.95
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... Sir John Gielgud is 75. To hear him talk or watch him on the stage he seems much younger, whereas his recollections of the lions of the Edwardian theatre ought to put him well past his century. It’s an elastic life because baby Gielgud was so quick off the mark, the famous nose soon round the edge of the pram observing the odd behaviour of his Terry uncles and aunts ...

Brief Encounters

Andrew O’Hagan: Gielgud and Redgrave

5 August 2004
Gielgud's Letters 
edited by Richard Mangan.
Weidenfeld, 564 pp., £20, March 2004, 0 297 82989 0
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Secret Dreams: A Biography of Michael Redgrave 
by Alan Strachan.
Weidenfeld, 484 pp., £25, April 2004, 0 297 60764 2
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... one suspects, very much worse than death in the mind of the ageing Eurosceptic Tory. We know who John Gielgud was – the greatest English speaker of his generation, the lyre of English verse – but his letters tell a story of who he was underneath all that, or perhaps because of being all that. At 23, we find him writing to his mother from Newcastle ...

At the Connaught

Robert Morley

5 May 1983
An Orderly Man 
by Dirk Bogarde.
Chatto, 291 pp., £8.95, March 1983, 0 7011 2659 0
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... terror of the future, filled with anger, spleen and guilt, aware of swiftly approaching death.’ John Gielgud played Daddy and survived – which was more than the picture did. A plot like that would sink a battleship. That’s your opinion. What about the others? The Night Porter was about one of the inmates of Dachau or possibly Belsen. She falls in ...

Falling Stars

Alan Coren

5 November 1981
Richard Burton 
by Paul Ferris.
Weidenfeld, 212 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 297 77966 4
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Peter Sellers 
by Alexander Walker.
Weidenfeld, 240 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 297 77965 6
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... about his hero: these include Claire Bloom, Alexander Cohen, Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, Sir John Gielgud, Hugh Griffiths, Joseph Losey, James Mason, Vincente Minnelli, Mike Nichols, Rachel Roberts, Daphne Rye, Jean Simmons, and three of his wives, Sybil Christopher, Elizabeth Taylor and Susan Hunt. I particularly enjoyed the parenthesis Mr Ferris ...

Fair Play

Alan Bennett: Fair Play: A Sermon

19 June 2014
... of the plot. Just don’t speak to the audience. I have always found this prohibition difficult. John Gielgud, who was in my first play, thought talking to the audience was vulgar. Then he was prevailed upon to try it and thereafter would seldom talk to anybody else. I understand this and even in my most naturalistic plays have contrived and relished ...

On Writing a Memoir

Edward Said: Living by the Clock

29 April 1999
... I ran away.’ I was never able to, and never even considered it. One day my mother announced that John Gielgud was coming to Cairo to perform Hamlet at the Opera House. ‘We must go,’ she said with infectious resolve, and indeed the visit was duly set up, although of course I had no idea who John Gielgud was. I ...

Showman v. Shaman

David Edgar: Peter Brook

12 November 1998
Threads of Time 
by Peter Brook.
Methuen, 241 pp., £17.99, May 1998, 0 413 69620 0
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... contributed to a no-nonsense, suck-it-and-see anti-intellectualism. For socialist playwrights like John Arden and Edward Bond, the consequence, in one case, is external and in the other a form of internal exile. But the most noted instance of the prophet rejecting his own country is the director Peter Brook who, having forged a glittering career in the British ...

He speaks too loud

David Blackbourn: Brecht

2 July 2014
Bertolt Brecht: A Literary Life 
by Stephen Parker.
Bloomsbury, 704 pp., £30, February 2014, 978 1 4081 5562 2
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... Rudolf Schlichter. Works by Georg Grosz hung on the wall; Kurt Tucholsky, Alfred Döblin and John Heartfield were regulars. Brecht and his crowd were fascinated by America, by its new, brutal version of capitalism which was remaking the world, by its technology and its popular culture. The fascination found its way into his verse and his plays. He went ...
5 June 1986
Agate: A Biography 
by James Harding.
Methuen, 238 pp., £12.95, April 1986, 0 413 58090 3
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Subsequent Performances 
by Jonathan Miller.
Faber, 253 pp., £15, April 1986, 0 571 13133 6
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... to give the audience a new idea. It is easiest to make such changes when the playwright is dead. John Osborne and Peter Nichols did not want Miller to alter their plays, but he was more fortunate when he directed Robert Lowell’s version of Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound. Since Miller did not want to set this play in the Caucasus, with an actor tied to a ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 1984

20 December 1984
... Lindsay Anderson lives in a flat in one of the redbrick turn-of-the-century blocks behind John Barnes in Swiss Cottage. With its solid turreted houses, backing on gardens, Can-field, Compayne, Aberdare, Broadhurst, it’s the haunt of refugees, and Jewish old ladies, and perhaps (Lindsay would strike out that ‘perhaps’) the most European bit of ...

Olivier Rex

Ronald Bryden

1 September 1988
Olivier 
by Anthony Holden.
Weidenfeld, 504 pp., £16, May 1988, 0 297 79089 7
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... is the 16th book about Laurence Olivier, and his foreword tells of two more biographers, John Cottrell and Garry O’Connor, too intent on their own deadlines to discuss their common quarry with him. All this activity may puzzle the lay person. Holden’s final pages report Olivier alive, as well as can be expected at 81, residing tranquilly in the ...

Lucky Boy

Kevin Kopelson

3 April 1997
Shine 
directed by Scott Hicks.
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Shine: The Screenplay 
by Jan Sardi.
Bloomsbury, 176 pp., £7.99, January 1997, 0 7475 3173 0
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The Book of David 
by Beverley Eley.
HarperCollins, 285 pp., £8.99, March 1997, 0 207 19105 0
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Love You to Bits and Pieces: Life with David Helfgott 
by Gillian Helfgott, with Alissa Tanskaya.
Penguin, 337 pp., £6.99, January 1997, 0 14 026546 5
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... in order to please his father: Rachmaninov’s Third. When one-armed piano teacher Cecil Parkes (John Gielgud) tells Helfgott that no one’s ever been ‘mad enough’ to attempt it in the Royal College of Music’s annual competition, the student replies: ‘Am I mad enough, Professor? Am I?’ Apparently so, because he has a nervous breakdown as soon ...

Loving Dracula

Michael Wood

25 February 1993
Bram Stoker’s Dracula 
directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
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Suckers: Bleeding London Dry 
by Anne Billson.
Pan, 315 pp., £4.99, January 1993, 0 330 32806 9
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... acquired a patina of critical respectability, rather as if Sid James, with time, had turned into John Gielgud. It’s worth saying that whatever the excesses and incoherencies of Coppola’s Dracula, it is the work of an inventive and subtle movie imagination, which the Hammer films were not. Of course, we could disavow Gary Oldman if he weren’t so ...

All about Me

Kevin Kopelson: Don Bachardy

8 April 2015
Hollywood 
by Don Bachardy.
Glitterati, 368 pp., £45, October 2014, 978 0 9913419 2 4
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... Rita Hayworth, Natalie Wood, Marlene Dietrich (drawn while posing, clearly), Simon Callow, John Gielgud and Ian McKellen. (My husband, David, incidentally, is related to Dietrich – on his mother’s side.) The screenwriters don’t include Dorothy Parker, although I’m fairly certain that Bachardy once did her portrait in black and ...

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