March 26, 2009


I never met the late Natasha Richardson, nor her uncle Corin Redgrave.

But, in a strange way, I do feel I know him. For we had, many years ago in a different life (for me anyway), a relationship. And in case libel/divorce lawyers are watching, let me clarify: a telephonic relationship.

My first lecturing post involved sharing an office - and landline in that primeval pre-mobil era - with another lecturer who happened to chair the local cell oops, branch, of the lecturers’ union (it has since merged and changed names). J (I’ll be diplomatic - all those years of Perry Mason-style U.S. legal training kicking in again) was a blusteringly bolshie bully, extremely militant, always calling for strike action or work to rule. You may be wondering where Corin fits into this. Me, too, at the beginning when I took the first call. All that I was aware of was that he was an actor, albeit a highly politicised one.

Well, Corin used to used to phone J. often, very often. For what reasons, the rest of us could only guess at (the conversations themselves took place in hurried, whispered corners) but Corin’s own Trotskyite activism was no secret, especially his involvement with the Workers' Revolutionary Party in the Seventies along with his sister Vanessa (Natasha’s mother). So we naturally concluded that J, too, was also heavily involved in the WRP.

And as for Corin, as the most powerful member of the Trotskyite Workers Revolutionary Party within the actors union, Equity, he helped create political cells throughout the acting profession. Central to this was the nature of the WRP: it was less a conventional political movement than a fully-fledged cult, which monopolised the time, energy and financial resources of its members.

So what’s my take now - many years later - on that period when I was telephonic go-between-in-chief between Corin and J? What is my lasting impression of Corin? I have to admit I was surprised. When he first called and gave his name, I was expecting arrogance, stagey luvviedom, the whole prima donna/diva package (or should that be primo donno/ divus?).

But there was none of that. On the contrary, I always encountered infinite courtesy, infinite self-control and infinite patience. (Doubtlessly, to no little degree a result of his dealings with J.)

Finally, to bring the story up to date, I was pleased to read about his remarkable return from a heart attack to tread the boards last week at the Jermyn Street Theatre in Trumbo, about the Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted for his Communist allegiances.

In an interview, Corin said it wasn't so much Trumbo's Communist politics, as his maverick, non-conformist personality that most appealed. And in answer to the question wasn't he himself blacklisted for his Marxist tendencies?, he replied: "I never was, thank heavens, persecuted like Trumbo. I was deprived of work, possibly, but not to any extent that I would wish to make a history of. There was a period when I didn't work for the RSC – perhaps because they thought there would be political trouble."

I can’t help wondering if the "period" in question coincided with that when I was fielding the most calls and J. was at his most militant (and if so, what did they get up to?). A period so suddenly recalled last week by the simultaneous news of Natasha's tragic death and Corin's welcome return to the stage.

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