Show Hide image

Private passions - review

Antonia Quirke is charmed by Celia Imrie’s jubilant innocence


Private Passions
BBC Radio 3

A sweet edition of Private Passions (10 June, 12pm) sounded so much of a conversation one almost longed for the Desert Island Discs habit of playing just a two-minute burst of each chosen piece as opposed to the whole programme-hogging thing. The guest, Celia Imrie (fresh from her unforgettable narration over a Radio 2 Jubilee documentary that called to mind, helplessly, the image of her clutching the desk in Acorn Antiques, taking a mysterious phone-call from the Far East), was immediately frank and relaxed. How nice it must be, mused the presenter, Michael Berkley, to be in a new production of Noises Off and happily going about the stage every night with chums doing a bit of improv. “Hmm. Not really,” corrected Celia (but without disdain) “it’s very specifically written. If we add things, all hell breaks loose.”

The actress confessed, just before requesting to hear Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto, to having once suspected that being a pianist meant “if you knew the scales you could just sit down and play everything. But my goodness, you can’t”. This is very Imrie: a brazen, childlike innocence that contradicts her maniacal stare. She told what sounded like a true story about herself – that as a young girl, watching Hollywood movies, she wondered if the director had played the theme music to a scene through loudspeakers while the star was rescuing the horse or being hurled on to a bed (“because it would be so much of a help” in getting into the part.) I have often wondered the same sort of thing when actors are on the telephone. Who is on the other end? Robert De Niro? The intern, chewing gum and reading the lines? I once asked an actor and he said, after a pointed pause, “There is no telephone. The wires aren’t plugged in”, making me hide behind my hair in embarrassment (“but it would be so much of a help in getting into the part!” I should have replied. But one only thinks of these things in the ambulance afterwards.)

Berkley then told Imrie a long story about having once been forced to sing for Tito Gobbi. “God,” stammered Imrie, horrified. “Who made you do that? Your mother?” The usually reticent Michael – who had already said too much possibly, and even hinted at his age, demurred and played “Diamonds are Forever”.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 June 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s most dangerous leader