Martin Jarvis on the characters to avoid, and the top five festivals you should not miss
June 27, TheTimes
An author confided to me recently that, however much we tell ourselves that the Lit Fest is all about culture, it’s equally about sales. Well, certainly a signed book is a sold book.
Hay-on-Wye is a biggie. My first appearance there was damp. As in rain. And, to some extent, squib. I arrived at a sodden country hotel at dead of night having been driven from London after a performance at the Donmar.
The front door would be left unlocked, I had been assured, my room key on a table inside. I tried the door. It didn’t move. Nothing. What to do? The driver splashed up the steps with my overnight bag, lifted the iron knocker and slammed it down.
We listened. Walter de la Mare would have appreciated the dilemma.
Suddenly the door swung outwards, and a tousled Terry Jones (Python and medievalist) stood blinking on the threshold. Courteously, but with voice of steel, he said: “It opens the other way.”
I grabbed my bag, groped past him, located the key and slunk soundlessly to bed.
My “event” next morning took place in a sort of tented sauna. I refrained from any jocular reference to the venue as a “big top”; I had been warned that organisers are sensitive. It’s a marquee.
I read from Acting Strangely. The rain beat down. I told a true story about playing George VI in an American mini-series and my approach to his speech difficulties. I mentioned “Monty” and Churchill. They also had impediments. I did impressions.
The audience shifted uncomfortably. I heard whispers of “non-PC”. Or was that hissing? Oddly, though, when I moved on to Just William and a full-blooded characterisation of Violet Elizabeth (“I’ll thcweam an’ I’ll thcweam ’til I’m thick), they rocked with laughter. Fictional lisps OK at Hay.