Memories of a Cad by Roy Smiles. Prod.
Liz Anstee. Perf. Martin Jarvis,
BBC Radio 4, 30 December 2014. Available
till 29 January 2015
Smiles has written a series of biodramas, all focusing on well-loved figures of
British comedy. Ying Tong looked
at The Goons, Pythonesque
considered the career of Graham Chapman, while Dear Arthur, Love John looked at
the personal and professional
relationship of Dad’s Army stars Arthur
Lowe and John le Mesurier.
Memories of a Cad relived a moment
in 1984 when Richard Briers (Alistair McGowan) went on holiday to Majorca and
encountered the ageing Terry-Thomas (Martin Jarvis). Aged 73, Terry-Thomas had
not worked for four
years owing to Parkinson’s Disease; he spent most of his time at home,
supported by his loyal second wife Belinda (Laura Shavin). The disease not only
affected his movements,
but his memory as well; he could remember little of his past career. Briers
gently helped him to recall some of
the highlights, including his stint at Smithfield Market, his spell of
entertaining the troops during World War II, and his American film career,
including a leading role in It’s a Mad
Mad Mad Mad World (1963) with Spencer Tracy (Lewis Macleod).
as a series of flashbacks, Memories of a
Cad concentrated on Terry-Thomas’s deliberate assumption of the role of an
upper-class bounder. Born into mediocrity
in Finchley, north London, his father was a butcher and his mother a homemaker,
but they did manage to scrape together sufficient funds to send their son to
Ardingly public school in Sussex. Thomas
was never a hard worker, but he assiduously cultivated his new role, showing
the kind of youthful arrogance that might have seemed breathtaking, had it not
been for his charm. Thomas was an
ambitious person, but he never managed to offend anyone.
the action progressed, so the story became more familiar; following a stint at
the London Palladium with the legendary Sid Field, Thomas carved out a
broadcasting career in television and radio, before the Boulting Brothers cast
him in a series of landmark black-and-white comedies, including Private’s Progress
(1956), and I’m All Right Jack (1959).
He subsequently moved to America, where he
became Hollywood’s idea of the perfect British gentleman. Diagnosed with
Parkinson’s in 1971, his
career gradually declined, as he became less and less able to work.
of this story has been told by Thomas himself in an episode of Desert Island
Discs presented by Roy Plomley, an extract of which is also available on the
BBC IPlayer (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p009nf2l). Hence much of the interest in Smiles’s
stemmed from the ways in which Jarvis and McGowan essayed the parts of two
well-known comedy legends. Jarvis was
particularly good as the old Terry-Thomas, with a wheezing voice and false
bonhomie that belied his precarious medical state. However, when he portrayed
Thomas, he sounded too much like Bertie Wooster (a role he has made his own on
radio over many years with his solo performances of Wodehouse’s work). McGowan’s
Briers appeared more convincing,
not least for his attempts to maintain a breezy fašade, even though he was
clearly shocked by Thomas’s mental and physical deterioration.
play ended with a revelation, showing that the two actors were more closely
related than we might first have assumed.
Thomas had encouraged Briers to become an actor when he was a teenager;
now it was Briers’s opportunity to return the favour. A poignant piece,
evoking the memories of two
now sadly-departed comic actors.