Dr. Brighton and Mr. Harding by Stephen Wyatt

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Gilbert Harding Tribute on BBC Radio 4 Extra

BBC Radio 4 Extra, 11 January 2014
Gilbert Harding (1907-1960) was one of the earliest British media superstars.  Through regular appearances on Round Britain Quiz, Twenty Questions, What's My Line, as well as countless other programmes, he was both recognizable and unpredictable, his gruff manner earning him the soubriquet of "The Rudest Man in Britain."
Yet Harding never enjoyed his success.  He was full of self-loathing for what he perceived as a wasted life devoted to superficialities.  When he appeared on the television interview programme Face to Face, he revealed a hitherto undiscovered depth of character, as he told interviewer John Freeman of the experience of watching someone die.  At this point Harding's voice began to break and his eyes watered.
Stephen Wyatt's play looked behind Harding's public to discover the man underneath.  In this production Harding (Roger Allam) frequently protested of his contempt for television, radio, as well as the members of the public who frequently accosted him in the street.  He would much prefer to be left alone, it seemed.  Yet the paradox of Harding's character was that he seldom escaped public attention - on one notorious occasion he was invited to speak at a dinner in Bognor Regis, and ended up insulting most of the assembled guests.  
Wyatt's play explored another paradox in Harding's character - although desiring to live alone, except for his long-suffering secretary Roger (Keith Drinkel), he yearned for company, especially that of young men.  In one sequence, he encountered Philip (Carl Prekopp), who claimed he wanted to interview Harding, but eventually offered something more.  Harding almost instantly recoiled, almost as if the thought of physical contact was repugnant.  As the action progressed, we realized that the whole sequence involving Philip was a figment of Harding's imagination, summing up the contradictions within his character - at once lonely yet frightened of physical and emotional engagement, celibate yet yearning for close human contact.
The only solace Harding could find was to willingly fall into the embrace of Dr. Brighton - which in Wyatt's play was not a human being at all, but referred to the south coast town.  His only source of escape was to leave his house altogether and walk on the seafront, in the vain hope that the air would "do him good."
While Wyatt suggested that some of Harding's problems could be attributed to a domineering mother, it seemed that what Harding was pathologically unable to connect with other people.  Hence his self-loathing and contempt for everyone around him.  In Allam's performance, he emerged as a rather pitiable figure, whose celebrity was nothing more than a deliberately constructed smokescreen, deflecting attention away from his psychological difficulties.
The director of this melancholy piece (first broadcast in 2005) was Martin Jenkins.