Friday, 23 October 2015


At the end of the excellent book, 'Beyond Coincidence' by Brian King and Martin Plimmer, the authors, having throughout asked the question, 'Is there more to coincidence than mere chance?' and examined many theories, including Jung's seminal 'Synchronicity' - which suggests there is, conclude that amazing coincidences are just that - coincidences. Your chances of getting all six numbers in the Lottery are exactly 1 in 13,983,816. A hell of a coincidence, but it happens to people all the time.

Over the last two months I've had a series of coincidences that others might think suggests a hidden meaning. I don't think so, but there is definitely something in the air...

Coincidences happen to everyone all the time, but a few years before this latest sequence of strangely connected happenings I did have one that blew me away. In 2009 I played the Michael Caine part in 'Educating Rita' at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury. I hadn't been on stage before that for eight years, the previous production being 'Night Must Fall' by Emlyn Williams at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. The day that you move from the rehearsal room to the stage is a special one, as it's the first time you get to walk around the set you're going to be inhabiting for the next six weeks. The walls were covered in the Professor's books - hundreds of them that had been gleaned by the art director from charity shops, friends and god knows where. There was a ladder to reach the upper shelves, and my character had to use it during the show, so I climbed it to get the feel of the steps and at random reached out and pulled a book from the top shelf. It was 'Night Must Fall' by Emlyn Williams. Spooky huh?

So, cut to the last few months: Coincidences 1-9.

1. In August I was asked to do something I'd never done before - interview someone. His name is King Errisson, he's a drummer and was playing the O2 with Neil Diamond. He became famous as a result of a scene in 'Thunderball' when Bond is in a club in Jamaica and the Voodoo drumming behind him covers the sound of his gun as he shoots the bad guy. The interview was about the origins of the Blues, Leadbelly and the rest, and was filmed in the Rosewood Hotel in Holborn.
A few days later I was recording The Archers in Birmingham, and my radio wife Ruth - aka Felicity Finch - who is not only an actress but a radio journalist too, told me about a fascinating person she had just been interviewing - 'you won't have heard of him, he's called King Errisson' !!

2. In the summer I had my first leading part in a full-length movie. Called 'Us and Them' it's about class war. I'm the rich banker and my home gets invaded by class warrior Danny, played brilliantly by the lovely Jack Roth, son of Tim. The very next job I get is playing Frederick Forsyth in a BBC film about a man called Reg Keys, played by - Tim Roth.

3. In the same film, the part of Martin Bell is played by David Yelland. Three days after taking a picture of David in his classic Martin Bell white linen suit, I walk into the green room of the Henley Literary Festival and see a man wearing a white linen suit - it's Martin Bell. So now I've got pictures of them both!

4. Back to filming 'Reg' in Liverpool and I'm in makeup listening to The Archers on the headphones. I don't listen regularly but it was 'the death of Heather' where my character's mother-in-law dies of a heart attack in a motorway service station, and I wanted to hear how it had come out. As 'Heather' died, into the makeup van walks Margaret Jackman who was a last minute casting for the seminal part of 'Voter 2'. She was also the voice of 'Heather', and still very much alive.

5. Two weeks ago I had another first - jobbing actors like me usually end up having experience of every type of medium that requires a performer. One that I had never done before was role play, where actors get hired to play characters in scenarios to train a company's staff. In this case I spent a day with my old chum Albert Welling, both being Ukrainian oligarchs in litigation for billions of dollars, training the new intake of lawyers at a prestigious firm in the City called Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. To give my oligarch the due gravitas I dressed appropriately, wore a massive bracelet of polished stones that had belonged to my father, had my hair cut in short oligarch style and borrowed a classy leather document case from my son Will that I given him years before as a birthday present. He lives about 20 minutes away so I'd driven over to fetch it. When I opened it up to insert the relevant papers, I noticed that it was entirely empty save for one thing, a heavy and expensive looking blue biro, with an inscription on the side - 'Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer' - the company I would be working for the next day!

6. Last week I was driving from Birmingham to London, listening to Radio 4, and on came an episode of The Food Programme which was all about Bitter - the taste. It was explaining how modern taste has gradually gone more and more towards sweet things and away from bitter tastes, which was worrying because basically bitter is good for you and sweet is bad. When I got home, Judy had heard it too, so we talked about it, what bitter taste is, and how it's different from sour. As we were eating a delicious Judy-cooked meal, we tried to identify the bitter and sweeter flavours therein. Later, as I was going to bed, having finished the book that I was reading, I wandered into my son Jasper's room (he's away teaching in Tokyo) and randomly picked up a silly loo-read type book called 'Do Elephants Forget'. The dust cover was folded into the book, marking the place Jasper had got up to. I opened the book at that spot. The chapter heading was, 'Bitter - a Dying Taste?' - all about the taste of bitter things, and how it was dying out.

7. The next day helping Judy do the get-in for her millinery stand at 'Handmade at Kew' - as we drove in, the guy directing the traffic was ex-Pirate of Penzance (1981) Simon Howe.

8. In July, I attended the funeral of my cousin, Wilhelm von Ilsemann. After WW1 the German Kaiser fled to Holland and sought refuge with a fellow Knight of the Teutonic Order, one Godard Bentinck, a distant cousin who lived in a lovely castle called Amerongen. The Kaiser said he would stay 'just for a week', but actually remained there for two years and virtually bankrupted my cousin who had to pay for the whole of the bloody Kaiser's retinue and staff as well. To compound the insult, Bentinck's daughter fell in love with the Kaiser's adjutant, one Sigurd von Ilsemann, and cousin Wilhelm was the result. He and his lovely wife Ise (daughter of Karl Heinrich von Stulpnagel, hung up on a meat hook by Hitler for being part of one of the bomb plots) were very kind and loving to me when I was sent to them to learn German when I was 18. So I made a point of going over for the funeral that, even though no-one now lives there, was held at Wilhelm's grandfather's castle, Amerongen. When I got back, Judy asked me if I would help the chap who shares her studio, an opera designer called Jean-Marc Puissant, to go through a poem he'd been asked to read at a wedding in Holland, because he was terribly nervous about public speaking. 'How funny', I said, 'I've just got back from Holland, where is the wedding?' 'Oh', said Jean-Marc, 'it's in a beautiful castle called Amerongen.'

9. It was Judy's birthday last week. She'd asked for a loose ladies shirt/smock/dress type thing. Basically shopping torture for a man because I'm guessing at size, colour, style - everything. Anyway I go to our local department store and ask a friendly assistant for help. We go through loads of different tops, in different colours, different styles, different sizes, until I plump for something that I think is her kind of thing, with the assurance that it could always be exchanged. Come Judy's birthday and I'm really hoping she'll like it. She does - so much so that, the week before, she had bought herself THE EXACT SAME DRESS, from the same shop, in the same size. Husband-type brownie points or what?!

So, Karl Jung, if it was all meant, and there is something in the air, and it's causality, then bugger the one in 13,983,816 and can I please win the lottery tomorrow, as work's a bit quiet at the moment, and I've got to buy the missus another dress.