Saturday 10 February 2024

Britain says "Farewell" to its much-loved actor of theatre, film and television, Michael Jayston

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Michael, who has died at the age of eighty-eight was born in the autumn of 1935, four years before the outbreak of the Second World War, in the City of Nottingham in the East Midlands, the only child of Myfanwy and Vincent. At the age of five he went to the small Catholic junior school, St Joseph's and then, at the age of eleven gained a place at Becket Roman Catholic Grammar School for Boys in West Bridgeford in Nottingham, which had been founded by two Augustinian priests in 1929. Its motto was : 'Labore est orare'/ 'To work is to pray'. Here he was known as "Jimmy" after the 'James' as his middle name. It was also here that he had the distinction of being caned on 130 separate occasions and also went into the school record books for scoring 60 of the school's under-13 football team's 120 goals in a season. 

When he reflected on his childhood he said it had been : "Peculiar in some ways because I never knew my father because he died when I was one year old, in an accident on a rugby pitch. He got kicked in the chest and died of pneumonia. So I never knew him unfortunately". 

"During the War, Nottingham didn't have that many bombing raids. We used to go under the stairs and I was slapped round the ear twice" (Michael was five at the time) because they'd got the radio and this voice came on and there was something about his voice that fascinated me. It was Winston Churchill of course and I became a great fan of his and he wasn't a saint, and I realised why they were listening because you could hear the bombs going off and Messerschmitts flying over the house".(link)  (link) He said he could tell the difference between a Messerschmitt and a Dornier just by listening to the engine noise.

After the War came to an end, trips to the theatre, perhaps the Nottingham the Theatre Royal or one of the five other theatres in the City. They gave him his first love of the stage and he said : "When I was about twelve years of age I wanted to be a cricketer in summer a footballer in the winter and an actor and comedian in my spare time, oh, and a writer". He loved the idea of making people laugh and enjoyed the comic turns of Max Wall (link) and Max Miller, but confessed he was too young to understand their 'double entendres'.(link)

Michael lived with his mother until 1950, when tragedy struck when he was fifteen and his mother died and as a result he went to live with his grandmother and uncle in a large house in Nottingham. He said his uncle : "Never got married because he'd fallen in love with somebody who jilted him and he never got married. He decided he didn't like women". Meanwhile, at school, he said : "I had a marvelous English teacher called John Shearton who used to make us do Shakespeare" In particular he membered 'Julius Caesar' : "Which was an ideal play for school because it's simple. It's got some marvelous dialogue init and we had to learn all the speeches, which was great for getting into exams and things like that". 

At school Michael said"By the time I was seventeen I decided Catholicism wasn't for me or any kind of organised religion"He left school with one 'A' level in Philosophy at the age of seventeen in 1952 and it was around this time that he recalled seeing the comic Harry Secombe at the Nottingham theatre, who sang 'Nessun Dorma' and said that each word translated into English meant "None shall kip".(link)

The following year he was enrolled in the Army for his two years National Service.  It was here that he became involved in amateur theatre and directed a production of 'The Happiest Days of Your Life' which, written by John Dighton, was shown at the cinema in 1950.(link) It depicted the complications that ensue when because of a bureaucratic error a girls' school was made to share premises with a boys' school.

When Michael was demobbed two years later he became a trainee accountant with the Coal Board. At the same time he said : "I got into an amateur theatre company when I was about twenty-one, called the 'Co-operative Art Centre' It was a marvelous company. Ken Loach was a contemporary of mine and was a marvelous actor and he was about nineteen at the time and he wasn't left-wing at all in those days". Michael himself said : "I nearly joined the Communist Party because they were all very left-wing teachers, We used to sing 'The Red Flag' and 'Cwm Rhondda' and 'Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer'".

Now, before he took his accountancy final exams, he left his job at the Coal Board and briefly worked in the Nottingham Fish Market where the bad language he learned was a revelation to him. At the age of twenty-three in 1958, he won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where he now had the distinction of being five years older than everyone else on his course, but doubtless let his maturity play for him amongst his fellow students. 

He now got his first taste of professional acting in reparatory  theatre and said : "In the summer holidays we did ten weeks in Bangor in Northern Ireland. I played Danny in 'Night Must Fall' and loads of farces and comedies". After his graduation in 1961 he made his debut at the Salisbury Playhouse where he played Corporal Green in 'The Amorous Prawn', before joining the Bristol Old Vic for two seasons in 1963. It was here that he was paid £14 a week when he joined and was up to £18/19 when he left. 

In 1965 his next important professional move was to start a five year tenure with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he started on less money than he was paid in Bristol, but was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ian Holm, Eric Porter and Peggy Ashcroft. He started at the Aldwych Theatre with 'Henry V' directed by Trevor Nunn with Ian Holm as the King. 

In 1967, at the age of thirty-two, he made a trip to Broadway to play in Harold Pinter's 'The Homecoming', directed by Peter Hall, in which he replaced Michael Bryant as Teddy, the brother who returns to the US and leaves his wife in London to “take care of” his father and siblings. (link)

In 1968 he made his first step into film when he played  Demetrius in Shakespeare's play 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', directed by Peter Hall. Disappointingly, it was generally poorly received by critics, with  Penelope Houston, reviewing the film for The Spectator, writing : 'Mr Hall's lovers caper in their mini-skirts and flowered Beatle blouses around a stately home so sparsely furnished that you feel the removal men are either assembling or dismantling. Make-up seems to present unlikely difficulties: Peaseblossom, Mustard Seed and their confreres appear startlingly haggard, as though late nights ministering to Titania were taking their toll'. (link) In a conversation with fellow actor, David Warner many years later, the two of them reflected that, of the film cast, they were the only two who had not received an honor.

In 1969 ITV beckoned and Michael joined the cast of the 'The Power Game' for thirteen episodes as the character Lincoln Dowling. It was dominated by the character and actions of John Wilder a captain of industry and on the board of a merchant bank, played by the formidable Patrick Wymark and was a massive ratings success with the viewers.(link) A mark of his rising success can be seen in the fact that Roy Dotrice and Alan Howard had unsuccessfully auditioned for his part. It is interesting to note that both Michael and Patrick had a Catholic upbringing, had been unruly pupils at school and were mature students at drama school.

In the following year Michael's star on television was in ascendancy when he starred in BBC TV's Wednesday Play as 'Mad Jack', the true story of Second Lieutenant Siegried Sassoon, who, on convalescence leave during the First World War he began a strident protest about the progress of the War. In the process he courted controversy in the face of objections from his superior officers and the advice of his friends. Henry Raynor, The Times's Television Critic, found his performance : 'Attractive for gentleness and self-mockery". It was this and Michael giving measured readings of Sassoon's often haunting poetry - in conjunction with Tom Clarke's sensitive script, that so impressed the judges of 1971's International Television Festival in Monte Carlo, who awarded the play their major prize. (link) (link)

It was also in 1970 that Michael starred as Charles Dickens in the 'The Hero of My Life' for Thames Television. (link) In addition, he played Beethoven in a BBC TV series of biographies (link) However, it was playing the character of Henry Ireton, Oliver Cromwell's son-in-law that he came to international recognition in Colombia's £9 million film starring Richard Harris as Oliver Cromwell and Alec Guinness as King Charles.(link)

Finally, in 1971, at the age of thirty-six, Michael occupied centre stage in 'Nicholas and Alexandra', playing Tsar Nicholas II of Russia during his deposition in the 1917 Revolution. Michael said of his role :  "I based it on King Hussein of Jordan as that kind of character who didn't want to be in that situation. I didn't think he wanted to be Tsar, but had inherited all the barbarism of his predecessors. He went along with it because of the whole family background of the ruthlessness of the Russian regime at that time. He was a sort of country gentleman in some ways. He loved his family. He was weak leader. He could have organised something better if his son hadn't had hemophilia. Who knows ? A lot of decisions were made because the son wasn't going to live that long". (link)

He also acknowledged that the film, professionally, did him no good and said : "Nobody made their name from that film at all. I think I could have had success later on if I hadn't been playing such a weak man. I had to play and redubbed bits after because it made the part even weaker". In 1973 he thought that his next film, 'Bequest to the Nation' in which Peter Finch played Admiral Nelson and he played Captain Hardy would improve his standing but it was not a success at the box office. (link)

However, in the same year and back on television, he played Mr Rochester in the five-part BBC television drama serial. Michael would have been pleased that, although considered as not without fault by the critics, it was considered by many to be the best adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s romantic classic, true to the original story, with dialogue taken directly from the novel and with convincing chemistry between Michael and Sorcha Cusack.(link) (link) 

He now went to work for the National Theatre, then under the auspices of Laurence Olivier, and would appear with him in a 1973 TV version of 'The Merchant of Venice', playing Gratiano opposite Olivier’s Shylock. (link) On a lighter note, in the same year he featured in one tale in the film, 'Tales That Witness Madness' in which he admitted to feeling terrified about doing the bedroom scene with Joan Collins, “until the bedclothes fell away to reveal her wearing something that said ‘Do you come here often?’” (link) 

He continued to ride the crest of the TV wave in 1975 when he played the title role in BBC 13 episode drama 'Quiller', working for a British secret organisation known simply as 'The Bureau' and in which he and Rosalind, played by Sinéad Cusack, were dispatched on various missions across the globe to retrieve missing documentation; prevent secrets from falling into the hands of the enemy; safely repatriate defecting agents and eliminate those whom Her Majesty's Government wished to disappear. (link) 1975 was the same year in which he played Edmund in 'King Lear' in BBC TV's 'Play of the Month'. (link)

Surprisingly, of himself, Michael said : “Few people realise that I’m a natural clown with an irrepressible sense of the ridiculous. I love comedy but for some reason I always seem to be cast as the tortured hero”. He left evidence of this throughout his career : He once pretended to be the theatre director Trevor Nunn and offered his services to Bolton Wanderers Football Club as a masseur; wrote suggestive love letters to Dame Thora Hird in the guise of a randy retired colonel;  received a long reply after he wrote to London Zoo posing as a pensioner who owned a parrot that he claimed had once had a vocabulary of 1,500 words but had developed a 'seizure of the tongue'; sent an 'official letter' from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Speaker of the House of Commons, offering to perform Henry V to MPs after which the Speaker duly contacted the RSC, which was forced to put on a hastily-assembled show in Westminster as a result.

In 1978, with Malcolm McDowell he played in a BBC TV adaptation of Dornford Yates’ 'She Fell Among Thieves' by Tom Sharpe.(link) However, it was perhaps in 1979 that he  stepped into his greatest television role as Peter Guillam, in John Le Carré’s 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'. He was totally credible as the poker-faced, hard-bitten but loyal MI6 operative who George Smiley, played by Alec Guinness, relied on to help him uncover a double agent at the heart of British intelligence. At the time of its release in the United States in 1980, Washington Post, television critic Tom Shales called the series : "Intricate and fascinating," and described its episodes as : "Six scintillating and delectable hours".(link)

In the 1980s it was clear that the nature of Michael's contribution to film and television was beginning to change and he was also vying with Robert Powell and Ray Brooks for the title of 'King of the Advert Voiceover'. Few television commercial breaks seemed complete without Michael promoting anything from teabags to cleaning products, all with his signature Shakespearean diction.(link)

1981 he narrated the film 'From a Far Country', the biography of Pope John Paul II which started in 1926 when the boy Karol Wojtyla was celebrating Christmas with his father in Poland and followed the other important stations of the life of the Pope, during and after the Second World War up to his final visit to Poland in 1979 to say "good bye". (link)

In the 1980s he turned in stylish and well-received leading performances in Noël Coward’s 'Private Lives', at the Duchess, opposite Maria Aitken in 1980. The following year, in a West End revival of 'The Sound of Music' he played Captain von Trapp with Petula Clark and reviewers predicted that women would be “swooning in the aisles” after his more than passable rendition of Edelweiss.

In 1984 he played in one episode, 'The best Chess Player in the World', of Roald Dahl's ITV series Tales of the Unexpected'. His character 'GB' lived his life according to logic and he told the story of how he became the best in the world.(link)

In 1986 Michael was viewed by millions when he came to their tv screens in the popular, long running 'Doctor Who' series, playing Valeyard, an evil version of the Doctor, in 'The Trial of a Time Lord', comprising the whole of Season 23. In this the High Council of the Time Lords appointed the Valeyard as prosecutor at the Sixth Doctor's trial, hoping to have him executed and thereby removing the sole witness to their near destruction of life on Earth. (link) Interviewed in 2023 Michael said that at the time : "I keep saying to Doctor Who supporters :"I'm not touting for work, but I am one of the Doctors. I am the evil side of the Colin Baker character. I am one of the Doctors and I'm very proud of that".

On television, he was a favourite side-kick of David Jason in 13 episodes of David Nobbs’s 'A Bit of a Do' in 1989, as the solicitor, Neville Badger, in a series of social functions and parties across West Yorkshire. (link)  Also in four episodes of 'The Darling Buds of May' in 1992 as Ernest Bristow, the brewery owner. 

He appeared again with Jason in the 1996 episode of 'Only Fools and Horses' in which Del Boy and Rodney become millionaires and which reached a television audience of nearly 25 million.(link) In 2009 he played in another collaboration with David Jason in the television movie 'Albert’s Memorial' , a touching tale of old war-time buddies making sure one of them is buried on the German soil where first they met. (link)

When it came to his political beliefs in his twilight years, he had continued to adhere to socialism because, as he said : "I thought humanitarianism was part of socialism" but "I've got very disillusioned. A disillusioned socialist because socialism doesn't exit any more, I don't think". 

In 2007, playing a Catholic cleric alongside David Suchet in Roger Crane’s 'The Last Confession' at the Haymarket Theatre, a play about financial and political infighting at the Vatican, he wasn't afraid to admit that he would have preferred something more slapstick and said :  

“It sounds naive, but basically I love to entertain people. I love to make them laugh. I love to make them cry. And thirdly I like to make them think, but most of all just to entertain”.

Michael sings 'Edelweiss' (link)


Caroline : 'He was one of my favourite actors.  I had forgotten that  he played Tsar Nicholas II, I used to watch it and now those memories have come flooding back.  Its a lovely tribute, thank you for sharing'.

Michael Jayston Site : 'This was a wonderful overview of Michael Jayston’s life and career'.

Paul Deaux : 'Thank you for the link. Excellent piece of writing on your part. I saw him in Nicholas and Alexandria in my junior year of college in 1971. Any time I think of the Tsar, his face is what I see'.

Badger : 'Thank you so much; it was a fascinating insight & taught me a good few things'.

Gina Headden : 'Thanks for this. I knew some of it but by no means all. Michael Jayston was so kind to me the few times we communicated/met, and he was the best Rochester I’ve seen on TV (or film) yet. I also saw him on stage when he toured as Martin Dysart in Equus. He was excellent in that'.

Supplier Strategies : 'Thank you. A very thorough account of Mr Jayston's life'.

Jack Alexander Nisbett : 'That's a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing and thank you for writing such a wonderful piece'.

Graham Barnfield : 'Thanks. A good read'.

Karen Elizabeth Hallman : 'Thank you so much for this, John - just Excellent - he will always be a favorite of mine...and not just for "Eyre"'.

Dr Jan Gorski : 'Lovely, John...Michael was a bit special!'

Arianna : 'Wonderful tribute, thank you!  “It  sounds naive, but basically I love to entertain people. I love to make  them laugh. I love to make them cry. And thirdly I like to make them  think, but most of all just to entertain”'. 

Lawrence Monk : 'That's a wonderful article, thank you'.

Sunday 4 February 2024

Britain says "Goodbye" to its Photographic Genius, Brian Griffin

Brian, who has died at the age of seventy-five was called 'The most  unpredictable and influential British portrait photographer of the last decades' by the British Journal of Photography in 2005, and 'One of Britain’s most influential photographers' by the World Photography Organization in 2015. 
* * * * * * * 

He was born, just after the end of the Second World War, into a working class family of factory workers on a sunny Spring day in 1948 in the bomb damaged industrial Midlands city of Birmingham. At the age of eleven he passed his 11+ exam and didn't go to a grammar school for boys, but attended Halesowen Technical School, created in the 1940s to teach 'technical' subjects such as mechanics and engineering and prepare students to work in related trades. 

In 1964 left school at the age of sixteen and he began his apprenticeship as a draughtsman in a metal engineering factory making conveyors. His parents were against him working there, so he played with the idea of doing something more exciting, like many teenagers at the time, of becoming a fighter pilot, a speedway rider, or something more creative like a painter. In fact he was encouraged by the foreman to join the local photographic society. (link)

Many years later, when Brian was fêted as one of Britain's greatest photographers he paid homage to the Black Country where he had spent his youth : "The Black Country was black and white. I didn't see any colour in the Black Country when I was a boy. I didn't see any colour at all. It was all black and white - an expressionist movie really, living there. All the hot steel; all the rolling mills; all the sound. I loved the music there - the music from all the machines; all the forges and the wonderful light from the hot steel. It marries itself so well to black and white photography that would, it seemed to be like, a black and white world. The Black Country made me what I am. It gave me all those inspirations, those motivations in regards to all my life in photography ".(link)

He raised his horizon when he finished his apprenticeship at the age of twenty-one in 1969. He recalled seeing the rats running along side the canal and realised that was pretty much what life had in store for him – a lifetime of routine and work that he’d seen his parents endure. So he made the step which would change the course of his life when, as he said :  “I put some pictures in a Boots photo album and tried to get a place at an art college. I got into Manchester Polytechnic. I was 21 and, to be honest, I wasn’t that interested in photography. It was a form of escape”. It was here that he learnt the crisp technical skills that have made his photographic images of precision and clarity which became his professional hall mark in the years that followed.

When he graduated in 1972 he found it incredibly difficult to get started as a photographer and said : "People just didn’t want to give jobs to a young lad and there weren’t many photography jobs to come by in the first place. In the late sixties photography wasn’t a terribly fashionable thing to do, it wasn’t something anyone desired to do”.(link)

Surprisingly, when Brian later spoke about the influences on his work he said : "Looking at the history of cinema, especially German and French cinema, it just fed my imagination and also the surrealist painters at that time. I've always been very close to painting. I've not been close to photography. I've always led a a slightly detached life as a photographer, from photographers. I've always been closer to artists, I like to feel. I feel I've reached the point where I sort of jump into photography to get my idea across. It's not something which is second nature to me. I'm more interested in other art forms much more than I am in my own art form".(link)

Brian recalled in 2010, when he was a successful sixty-two year old : "As a photographer you've got to work 24/7 every year of your life and never give up because at times it gets so bad, so horrible and unbelievably difficult and that's why some one my age, since I'm a senior person in British photography now, never reach my age in photography. They go off and make furniture or babies or whatever they do, estate agents, because you've got to stick at it. And it's just unbelievably difficult, but the rewards are immense". (link)

His first big break came when he went to work as a photographer on a business publication called 'Management Today' where he said his shot of a ballroom dancer got him the job. It was he came under the influence of an Art Director called Roland Schenck. Brian recalled says that Schenck would send him back time and again to take pictures or shoot portraits until he returned with something fresh, stylish and distinctive. He shot 'Rush Hour. London Bridge' for the magazine in 1974.(link)

Brian later recalled : "I'd grown up in the Black Country. It's all black and white, heavy shadows and I started with the inspiration they gave me - when to use bright light etc. Through the back of the cab, the metropolis shot was the shot that I found when I left college, was the shot that I found I could become a photographer. I was over the moon when I'd taken that picture. I was about to go down on my knees on London Bridge, pray to God : "Thank you Dear Lord". Maybe I can make it in photography".(link)

When London became the centre of a business boom, Brian became a highly sought after photographer for corporate clients, shooting major projects for businesses as he said : "Accountancy Age, Computing, Marketing, all those kinds of magazines”.

Brian said : "I was a creative person, I felt, I was far more capable than just clicking the shutter. I’d grown up in my late teens engineering, so I was quite good at maths and all that stuff. I found the analogue side of photography quite easy, so that suited me. Secondly, I wanted photography to be more than just capturing something. You could create your own environment, your own set. I’ve always been desperate to make photography more than just being a photographer. We were the dirty raincoat brigade in the 60s. It was really looked at as pretty low-brow". 

Brian said : "I was aware that I had a very different way of looking at things and that my own style was ‘not of the time’. I shot on black & white Ilford film and colour and, if you look at my images from that time, I do think there’s a remarkable stillness to them". (Traffic Island. Wandsworth)

“I started to do advertising, editorial and music when I got my first studio, which was in Rotherhithe Street, London, in 1980. 
I was technically quite adept because I’d studied engineering, so during the analogue days I was right ‘on it’ mathematically with exposures and all sorts of stuff. I could really get on top of things, hone my technical virtuosity and I made a great success in the ’80s through this studio. You need a studio to get really deep into photography and the analogue days helped with this because you could build multiple exposures and exciting things”.

After Margaret Thatcher came to power as Prime Minister in 1979, to capture the heroes and victims of what became known as Thatcherism and Globalization, Brian created a new photographic style, which became known as 'Capitalist Realism' and parodied the earlier 'Socialist Realism'. He undertook a major project in the City of London in Broadgate.(link)

He recalled that he : "Did all this photography of the workers building this massive site near Liverpool Street Station and it became a famous piece of work, primarily because most people went interested in photographing workers, businessmen at the time and it became extremely well-known. it formed the body of work in a book called 'Work'. 'Work' was voted in 1991, 'The Best Photographic Book in the World', which was extraordinary, at the 'Barcelona Primavera Fotografica' . It was also exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery for a few months". 

* Liam. Steel erector
* Carpenter 
* Train carrying tunnel    workers under London 
* Big Bang.(link)
* Felix Hyde. Foreman
* Alasdair Cathcart. Contract Manager
* Augvidas Baradinsksa. General labourer

Brian said : "Its a very difficult thing photographing people, particularly people who have not been photographed very much. A photographer who is going to hang around for two to three hours and really go at it for two or three hours at you and really try to develop something up. It's new to these people and I have to control them to a certain extent in order to control them and in order to the situation". 

He said he had to be : "Extremely, extremely observant watching all their mannerisms, the way they react between each other. Watching how they interact between each other. Watching how they relate together, how they feel together and I source that attitude from one experience or two and always get public transport. I use public transport all the time. I watch people do the most basic things in life. So I'm fascinated when I have a group of people in front of me, observing the minutiae about them and I apply all that minutiae into the group shot".
The other important strand in his career centred on his work for the music industry. He recalled that : 
“Post-punk bands tended to dress quite smartly and were quite fashion-conscious. I thought they looked just like the businessman I was photographing, so I wondered if I could get a job shooting music". He discovered that Elvis Costello was signed to the indie label Stiff Records, based in Notting Hill, London, and so visited them. Brian said : “I got my first cover through going to see Dave Robinson at Stiff Records. It wasn’t because I loved music or wanted to photograph bands. I just wanted to expand my repertoire and source of income. But, like all the best choices I’ve ever made in life, it was the most basic decision. I liked music, so I just made the basic decision to go to a record company. I looked at Elvis Costello and he wore a suit and tie and that, and I thought, ‘well I could do a good picture of him, he looks interesting with those horn rim glasses’. He looked just like an everyday person, which he was. It was a basic, obvious choice".(link)

It was a choice which subsequently led him to photo shoots with Siouxsie Sioux, Kate Bush, Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Toyah Willcox, R.E.M., Billy Idol, Iggy Pop, Ringo Starr, Queen and Peter Gabriel.(link)  In addition, his work appeared on many album covers, notably that of Depeche Mode's 'A Broken Frame' in 1982 cited as one of the best color photographs ever shot.(link) It appeared on the cover of Life's 1990 edition of 'World's Best Photographs 1980–1990' and helped earn him the title of 'Photographer of the decade' by The Guardian in 1989.

In 2013, of his profession Brian said : 

"If you're passionate enough and are willing to sustain the efforts it takes, it can be an incredible thing. But you've got to be a little obsessed and you need a strong disposition”.