For some time now, Stewart Hickman has been gripped by the absurd belief that he bears an uncanny resemblance to Harold Pinter. I hadn't realised quite how far matters had gone until Sally told me over lunch in Cafe Flo last week that he'd not only begun to dress like the distinguished dramatist, but was attempting to further the resemblance by speaking in short, laconic sentences, as well as professing an interest in the revolutionary politics of South America that sat uneasily alongside his usual, more parochial concern with the inadequacies of the Connex service between London and Sevenoaks.
My own interest in the matter, which I rather kept to myself during Sally's lengthy diatribe against Stewart's overweening presumption, stemmed from a quite extraordinary experience during my recent two-week vacation in the lower Alpilles, Provence.
I had popped into the charming, old-world village of Mausanne to stock up on supplies of Badoit and mosquito repellent, and was strolling leisurely towards the local branch of Huit a Huit when I suddenly found myself transfixed by an image that occupied the left half of a large poster in Bar Central's window.
I can only say that the shock was equivalent to the one I experienced at the age of seven when I was taken by my father into a fairground booth in Sutton Park, North Yorkshire, that promised, for an admission fee of one shilling, the chance to see "the largest ass in the world". I found myself entering a cubicle containing nothing but a full-length mirror.
What held my eye in Mausanne was a photograph rather than a reflection, but the frisson of recognition was identical - so much so that, for a second, it occurred to me that the poster was advertising one of the occasional talks I give to international corporate audiences on leadership, motivation and the challenge of change.
Only when I had clumsily translated some of the text's references to the vacuity of contemporary existence did I realise that what was being advertised was not my talk on the excitement of the way ahead, but a series of lectures on the rather more pessimistic view of the future maintained by Samuel Beckett.
There's a sort of poetic justice to this development. I have been forced to spend lengthy portions of my life with people whose self-image was furthered by their generally agreed resemblance to some celebrity or other. I have, for example, enjoyed intimate and relatively extended relationships with Leslie Caron, Veronica Lake, Susan Maugham and the short, dark one from Charlie's Angels. But my happy acknowledgement of their alter egos was never reciprocated satisfactorily.
Rather like Alexei Sayle, who discovered at school that his chances with women were hardly enhanced by his close resemblance to Bertolt Brecht ("a fucking East German playwright"), I was forced to make do with an actor called Sterling Hayden, who had the unfortunate stylistic device of always giving a slight yawn before he uttered any of his lines. (The critic Paul Dehn once observed that when one heard what he had to say, one could fully appreciate the reason for this anticipatory display of tedium.)
I'm not planning any major changes in my life as a result of the flattering discovery in France, but I may have to think long and hard about my present partner. I just have an uneasy sense that the likelihood of other people readily crediting my resemblance to Samuel Beckett could be marginally undermined by my regular public appearances alongside the public defender Joyce Davenport from Hill Street Blues.