The many and various ways I pass the time now has a new addition. Usually it involves drinking coffee whilst sitting at a computer keeping in touch with chums, or sipping wine sitting on our tiny terrace catching the sun, and wondering what else I can do to avoid any cleaning or tidying or putting away of stuff and things that aren't even MINE. And now I am going to type this blog. Provided that doesn't become a chore as well, in which case...

Friday, 29 March 2013

They Have Got Me Bang To Rights...

This, from the BBC obituary for Richard Griffiths who died today after complications arising from heart surgery, had me wondering who the hell had been reading our diaries (and those of most of our friends and contemporaries), skimming through our personal journals from the 1990s, to find the perfect definition of a Withnail afficianado;

But it was in Withnail and I, starring Richard E Grant and Paul McGann as two out-of-work actors, that Griffiths appeared in the role that many will forever associate him with.  Shot on a shoestring budget and with little plot to speak of, it was largely ignored when first released in 1987 but is now regarded as a British classic.  Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs in 2006 Griffiths said it was the "auto-destructive, hedonistic indulgence and disregard for authority" in Withnail "that struck an absolute, chiming note" with fans of the film.  Griffiths recalled how they often called out to him when they recognised him in the streets: "They know the lines, the dialogue, it's all a bit scary.
Fandom is scary.  Apart from adoring Stevie Wonder and JS Bach and Kiri ti Kanawa, I try to avoid feeling like a fan if I can.  It unsettles a person, being a fan.  It isn't quite balanced.  A bit too close to adulation for my taste.

Coincidentally, I taught Richard Griffith's teenaged niece when I was on my first Teaching Practice in an Oxfordshire secondary school.  Her father, Richard's brother, had died very suddenly, of a cataclysmic heart attack when only in his forties, whilst out jogging on a family holiday in Florida.  It had hit the local and national papers because of the connection with Richard, who was getting more and more well known, and not far off the National Treasure status he enjoyed later, so I don't feel any qualms about typing this; it's already in the public realm, it isn't a confidential matter. 

Richard's brother, this girl's late father, had been an RSM in the RAF when he died.  A couple of years later, when I met her, the girl wasn't the happiest of poppets, more than a little anti-authority herself, all quite understandably, frequently surly and bolshie, quite a bit of a Withnail, in fact. She was nearly always in the middle of any turbulence in that particular GCSE group, and well on the way to an after-school detention for an accumulation of infringements of class discipline.  And she had leadership qualities.  I was a bit concerned about just where they might lead...

But one day we eventually turned a corner, she and I. 

We were acting out scenes from Chips with Everything, in her English Literature class.
With no mention of her back story I gave her the role of the RSM. 

She was fantastic; authoritative, dynamic, bloody LOUD, larger than life, and there wasn't a single snigger in the class.  Jaws dropped in awe.  She drew on her personal experiences fearlessly. And from that day, I had her onside.  I'd past her test.  I was OK.  Fair.  Acceptable.  For a teacher.

Wow! A new addition for a possible acting dynasty, should she choose to be, I thought at the time, but I left to go back to college in Oxford to finish studying for my PGCE a couple of weeks later and so don't know what became of her.

RIP Richard Griffiths.  I think your niece will be sad again today, now her dad's brother is no more.


  1. Haven't heard of Withnail - perhaps it didn't come down here. I remember him in Pie in the Sky. He was only young.

  2. Yes, Susan, he was relatively young, but his brother was in his early forties when he died, so Richard managed almost a quarter of a century more than he did. They were a very striking family, all tall and "big with it" the niece not so much as she was stll only a teenager, so slim..

    Withnail & I was a hit with the generation who were young in the 1980s, and the film is exceedingly naughty and irreverent. Wouldn't suit everyone's taste. It has become a comic cult film with rebellious types, as it deals with the last flowering of excessive drama student behaviour before buckling down and getting a job in rep. Which Withnail (played by Richard E Grant) sadly looks as though he shall always fail to do. His drink problems and self-delusion are both just too entrenched.

    Pie in The Sky was partly filmed in the Old High St in the town where we lived until last year, as another coincidence All the exterior shots of the restaurant and its environs were done there.

  3. I'm another who never saw Withnail and I as we not only didn't have TV back then but weren't cinema-goers either. :-). But I do know what you mean. Certain films or programmes strike a real chord and become much more significant that expected.

    I love the story about Richard Griffiths' niece. It's a real achievement to have got through to a difficult teenager like that and I do hope things turned out well for her.