“You can get out of my shop, you’re not welcome here! Go on, sling your hook!”
“But I only want—”
And as often happened nowadays, I had to leave the shop and buy my groceries somewhere else.
My life as an actor wasn’t always plain sailing, but since I’d taken on the role of Leonard Bottom in the popular TV soap opera, Home and Loving, things had become pretty much intolerable, because now I was known to all and sundry as Loathsome Lenny, instead of my easy-going self: nice guy Edward Nobb, jobbing actor. The viewers were aware that Lenny Bottom was a rapist and a murderer, who had attacked and killed several popular members of the cast and was currently making his lovely wife’s life a misery, and she was tipped to be his next victim. Naturally, the script dictated that most of the cast members considered Lenny to be a fine upstanding bloke, and only the viewers knew the depths of depravity that his double life plumbed.
Of course, most people weren’t stupid: when they thought rationally knew that I was just an actor portraying a monster. However, for some reason there was always the underlying suspicion that only someone who was a ghastly person, or appeared to be a ghastly person, would be picked to play the part of such a monstrous Jekell-and-Hyde type killer.
When I looked in the mirror I thought I looked innocent enough, after all I had a pleasant round sort of pudding face with a nice smile. Less hair than I’d have liked, my eyes were rather close together, and I had a lot of frown lines, but surely I didn’t look evil did I?
In the early years of playing evil Lenny it had all been too much for my wife Sandra, and she had left me. “I can’t stand looking at you, and knowing what that character has done,” she explained to me.
“But for goodness sake, it’s ridiculous! I’m just an actor playing a part.”
“Ah but why did they give you the part?” she said, staring at me critically. “Mum always said there was something nasty about you. Shifty eyes. Mean mouth. Cruel expressions. And frankly, you play the part of a murderer so convincingly I can believe that you’re capable of almost anything.”
Finally there came the news that every actor dreads: I had heard from the script writers that LennyBottom was going to fall to his death from the fifth floor of a block of flats.
After I’d been ‘killed’ an offer had come in from Hollywood for me to play in a horror movie: the part of a week-old corpse who came to life. And a small production company in Birmingham offered me the role of a seedy child molester who shoots himself, but I didn’t fancy either of those. It seemed that I had become typecast forever as loathsome person, so if I was ever to get any normal acting roles that I had to do something about radically changing my image.
And luck was with me. Clarence Shuffletwitch, my agent, phoned me in excitement, telling me that they wanted me to be a contestant in the game show I’m a celebrity Get me out of Here. I couldn’t wait to go to the jungle of Australia, where I’d share high jinks and the notoriously horrible ‘bushtucker trials’ with lots of other celebrities, and hopefully kick-start my career, by being seen for the nice guy I was.
So I went out to Australia, met hosts Ant and Dec and the other contestants. I played up to my ‘bad boy’ image for fun, but found that the other constants accepted my abrasive manner at face value and took a dislike to me, as did the voting public. I had a fight with the handsome boyband member who kept having a go at me, and then I was chosen for all the horrible bushtucker trials, ate some revolting insects and nearly drowned in avalanche of flesh-eating ants, and was the first one who was voted to leave the jungle. Loathsome Lenny, the eternal pariah, left the jungle with no one to welcome him home.
But Clarence had some very good news when I got back to England. The producers of Who do you think you are? the programme where famous people have their ancestors traced, wanted to feature me for one of their programmes, and I was over the moon. I was assured that having some cuddly ancestors was a surefire way of resurrecting an actor’s career. The production team however, warned me that whatever they found out had to go out live in the show and that once I started there was no going back.
Since my mother had always said that her people were ‘very humble folk’, and there was some talk of dull librarians and asthmatic drain inspectors, I decided to ask the programme researchers to look into my father’s family, who were altogether more interesting. I remembered my father telling me that my great grandfather had been a doctor in a large hospital, so that was a hopeful start. Maybe he had been a pioneer of some kind of medical treatment? He must have had a bit of money, because his wife, my great grandmother, was reputed to have once owned a large hotel in Portsmouth.
The day came for me to make the recording in their studio on live TV, and to react to all the information they had dug up in real time.
“We traced the records for Reginald Hopgobble, Edward’s great grandfather,” the researcher announced on air. “It seems that he wasn’t a doctor at all. He was actually a patient at a large hospital, St Peters, which at that time was a hospital for the criminally insane, what they’d then call a lunatic asylum.”
“Really?” I muttered, sitting cross the table from him in the studio.
“Reginald Hopgobble was being held because he was incurably insane, with weird habits and inclinations, including acts of sadism and cruelty to animals and people. He was reputed to be ugly and repugnant in every way, with no redeeming features.”
I gulped on camera, feeling an onset of shame.
“As for Edward’s grandmother, Grace, according to the records at the same time that her husband was charged and sentenced for his crimes, she left him and bought a boarding house in Portsmouth. However this was closed down a year later, when it was discovered it was being run for the sole purposes of prostitution. She was sentenced to hard labour, and in the judge’s words: “You are a foul and unwholesome woman, who sold her body in her youth and has perverted many young woman since.”
I wondered what had happened to Frederick, his son and my grandfather.
“The records show that Fredrick, Edward’s grandfather and Reginald’s son, was in and out of prison for most of his life and was finally hanged for murder.”
I was relieved they had not mentioned my father, whom I knew had been involved in some very unsavoury criminal activities, and had disappeared when I was ten years old.
However, all that happened five years ago now and I, glad to say that my fortunes have turned around completely. I decided to emigrate to Australia, and my uncle who lived there had agreed to sponsor me. I managed to get a work permit and did any old job I could find, and then had the luck to audition for, and get, a small part in a TV soap called Living and Loving.
So I had finally done it. I had broken free of my despicable British image, and from being evil rapist and killer Lenny Bottom, I had become handyman Bob Greybeard, the middle-aged guy who was always around to unblock someone’s sink, or repair their fence, and was happy to listen to their troubles while he worked, and who would always dispense fatherly advice. Handyman Bob was a lovable character, and I had finally got the life I wanted.
However, I felt a twinge of discomfort when yesterday morning the producer invited me into his office. He was excited about something, and told me to sit down.
“Great news, Ed,” he began. “The script writers reckon Handyman Bob Greybeard is becoming boring and bit of wet windbag, and frankly we were wondering whether to terminate your contract next year. But I had a much better idea. After looking at your shifty eyes and mean mouth for a long time, I’ve thought of a great way to sharpen up your character.” He stared at me, assessing my features. “What do you reckon to portraying Bob as a bit of a perv? We’d like him to become a dirty old man, a Peeping Tom, spying on couples making love and then blackmailing the subjects, threatening to expose a cheating wife unless she sleeps with him? There’s something about you that makes us think you can portray a really nasty bastard.” He laughed as he leaned back in the chair and beamed. “We thought we could start out with him being a pervert and blackmailer, and then work your way up to killing someone and getting away with it? Exciting idea, yeah? What do you reckon?”