I met myself in the pub, where I’d gone to celebrate landing the part of handsome middle-aged surgeon Daniel Kane, heartthrob doctor in the brand new TV drama series Doctor Doctor, which everyone was saying was tipped for massive success.
Being an actor has its ups and downs, and most of us have more downs than ups, but my pals, fellow struggling actors Stephen and Gerry, were genuinely pleased at my success. The Thespian’s Rest, where we were all getting slowly hammered, had been an actor’s pub since the days of Shakespeare, indeed it is was situated fairly close to the site of the old theatre used by the great man, rebuilt a few years ago as the wonderful Globe.
“Remember us when you’re rich and famous,” Stephen said, downing his pint.
“Yeah, and, Dominic, if anyone deserves it you do,” Gerry added, stifling a belch. “Just like us you’ve been going to auditions for years and only picking up tiny scraps of work. Mark my words, when Doctor Doctor takes off, it’ll be another Casualty, or Holby City. Running for years and years, the regulars on top dollar. You’ll be made for life, mate, it’s just like getting a permanent gig in Corrie or Emmerdale. Maybe for a change you’ll even find a girlfriend who doesn’t try to use you or take advantage of your good nature.”
“And to think, this time last month I didn’t know where the rent was coming from,” I admitted.
Every inch of the walls of The Thespian’s Rest was covered with old billboards of theatrical shows, shots of film sets, headshots of famous actors, you name it. We were sitting in the corner, in front of a big spread of the ‘Carry On’ crowd of actors on a film set. Sid James was doing his guffaw, Kenneth Williams was looking shocked with his mouth wide open, while ‘I’ was just behind the pair of them, leaning in as if about to speak to Sid.
Reggie, the landlord, is a living breathing authority on actors, so we called him across to see the shocking similarity between myself and the mystery man.
“That’s Rex Allenby,” Reggie told us. “And yes, I agree, the similarity between the two of you is absolutely amazing. ‘Reliable Rex’ they used to call him, because he was such a nice guy, always did his best, never messed around never let anyone down. A real gentleman by all accounts.”
“I’ve never heard of him,” Gerry commented.
“No one has,” Reggie agreed. “He never made it big, but he had the reputation of being rock-solid reliable, and everyone liked him, so he got all kinds of tiny parts that more famous actors didn’t want. You’ll see him in lots of the old films of the late sixties and seventies, as a butler, a policeman, a drinker in a pub, usually for no longer than a few seconds, and not even speaking. Who’d have an actor’s life, eh?”
“So, James?” Stephen asked me when Reggie had gone. “I know your mum died when you were six and you were brought up in a children’s home. And you never knew your father. Maybe now you do!”
“Exactly,” I told him, my excitement building. “I know is that she was living in Liverpool when I was born, and she was a dancer. All I have to do is try and find out if they could have known each other in the year before I was born. If they knew each other at all, coupled with how similar our faces are, then I’ve cracked it. ”
Alfie knew that Rex Allenby had died recently, but prior to that he’d been living in an actors’ nursing home in Sheffield, one of those places set up by the actors’ charitable organisation the Water Rats, for helping elderly thespians who are down on their luck. He gave me the address.
I tried to doze on the train journey up north , but all my dreams were taken up with this astonishing possibility that my father, whom I’d given up any idea of tracing years ago, might be this character Rex Allenby: seemingly an unsuccessful actor, who everyone liked, but who had apparently died in penury. I even wondered at the coincidence of the timing, as if my father, who’d never known me in life, had somehow helped me out in my career from the afterlife? Crazy of course but it does makes you think.
“Rex?” said Joan Barleycorn, the charming lady who ran the home. “What a delightful old man he was. He never mentioned that he had a son, but my goodness you look the image of him when he was young.”
She was utterly thrilled at this bit of excitement, and together we used her membership of ancestry.com to search the census returns for various addresses in Liverpool, for 1981, the year before I was born. And we struck gold: my mother, Alice Barnett (dancer, 21) was lodging at the same address as Rex Allenby (actor, 45), so the mystery was apparently solved.
“Well, Dominic,” she went on, “Although it may seem as if Rex abandoned your mother and you, we don’t know all the facts, do we? Maybe your mum never told him she was pregnant?”
“That’s possible. I’ve been told she was an alcoholic and drug addict and she did have mental issues. She might well have just never told him at all.” I frowned to myself. “On the other hand, maybe he was a bastard who let her down.”
“No, I don’t believe that,” Joan said firmly. “Not Rex. He never let anyone down in his life.”
“Do you know where’s he’s buried?” I asked her.
An hour later I was standing in the draughty miserable cemetery, looking at a weed-covered tomb that was marked only be a number. The cemetery warden had told me it had been a pauper’s grave.
When I was eighteen I had found out that my mum’s ashes had been scattered in a London crematorium, so all I could do for her was buy a brick with her name and dates on it, to go in their wall of remembrance. At least my dad had a grave, and once I could spare the money I could get him a decent headstone, and pop down here every now and again to keep it clear of weeds.
After my sojourn to Liverpool I came home to get a good rest and to make sure I’d memorised my lines, so as to be fresh to travel up to Birmingham, where rehearsals for Doctor Doctor were due to start at 9 am, on Monday. I was excited that at last my luck had changed. And then I had another thought: had my dead father also had plumb roles dangled in front of him, which came to nothing in the end? They say that all actors are chasing a dream. I clung on to the ridiculous notion that my dead father had somehow made my own dream come true. After all, I get offered the role of a lifetime and simultaneously find out the identity of my father? It had to be more than just some crazy coincidence. If, as Joan surmised, he had never known he had a son when he was alive, perhaps this was his way of compensating me for never having supported me in the past? Paying a kind of debt of honour seemed to be in character for the kind of man I’d been hearing about – the man who would never let anyone down.
Then, when I was relaxing and contemplating my good luck, as always happens in life, what happened on Sunday morning?
Someone bloody well rained on my parade!
“Dominic, I’m in real trouble,” spluttered Kate, an ex-girlfriend who had dropped out of drama school to start a business to do with selling theatre and concert tickets. I’m good at working with computers, and some years ago I’d helped to set up all her systems, which streamlined her highly complex transactions, all over the world.
“My computer systems have gone down – some kind of hacker attack – and if it isn’t fixed fast I’ll be ruined, the business will be finished forever,” she stammered to me, crying as she spoke. “There’s only you that understands our complicated networks. Please can you come and help me out? I don’t care what it costs!”
“Oh Kate, it’s not a question of money,” I told her, swearing to myself at the cruelty of the timing. “At any other time I would but . . .”
She was desperate for my help, but I knew that there was no way I could do it. The problems she’d described sounded like hardware issues, so there was no way I could do anything remotely, I had to physically be there. And just getting up to Edinburgh would take the day, and doing the work would take all night at least. And, come what may, I had to be in Birmingham at 9am tomorrow morning, or I’d lose the job I’d been waiting all my life for.
It just wasn’t possible. I liked Kate, indeed at one time I’d been in love with her, and at any other time I’d have dropped everything and done it. I really wanted to help her. But I was in an impossible situation. What else could I have done but let her down?
~ ~ ~
And now, looking back on things two years later, I reflected that I had finally made it, and insecurity was a thing of the past. My Rolls Royce was parked in the cemetery car park, and I’d been able to commission a really grand marble headstone for my dad. I’d even located a picture of him in his heyday, and had it printed onto a tile that I had stuck onto the shiny marble surface, so future generations could see what a fine, handsome actor he had been.
My mobile rang and I answered it.
“Dominic? Have you read the article that journo did about you? It’s quite something.”
“Not yet, love. I’ll take a look now.”
I smiled to myself as I took out my folded newspaper and read it:
“Dominic Green, of Digital Solutions Ltd, has been named entrepreneur of the year for the second year running for his services to the IT industry. The ex-actor who famously turned down the leading role in the TV Drama series Doctor Doctor (which in the event never reached the screen) began his business after his friend, now his wife, Kate Longworth spread the word that he had saved her company from ruin by his prompt skills. Asked what he thought mattered most in life, he replied, “Loyalty to your friends. My father taught me that you should never ever let anyone down.”
(picture of actor Robert Stack, courtesy of skeeze)