TCW Defending Freedom has once again heard from the ‘Jabbing Actor’, Erasmus Demosthenes Hepplewhite, who tells us about his most recent audition for a BBC news item.
I took a call from my agent Irene, shortly after I had delivered several boxes of Super Hot Spicy Curry to a hotel in Acton; the customers were some fellows the RAF had inadvertently flown back from Afghanistan. She explained that an actor was needed to demonstrate the impact that Long Covid was having on the lives of the poor souls who were afflicted by this debilitating illness. Irene told me that despite my failure to gain roles in the previous Covid news bulletins they believed I had the right mien and mix of skills to, as they say, ‘nail the part’.
I must record that it came as no surprise to me. I recall the time when dear Alan Bennett came to Rada to hold auditions for roles as pupils in The History Boys. I was delighted when, in his dry Yorkshire drawl, he told me, ‘Your performance brought to mind mother’s cups of tea and the custard tarts we had on Wednesdays, except when Auntie Hilda came round, when we’d have vanilla slices,’ which I took to mean that I had conjured up the authentic naive northern earnestness required of the character. Sadly the play was cancelled following a mysterious outbreak of dengue fever at the theatre.
Furthermore, I distinctly remember the bouts of ME I suffered after Emma managed to spill her cat litter all over my Munchkins costume prior to a revival of Oz at the Kings Lynn Corn Exchange.
I was required to attend BBC’s Wood Lane studios the following day.
The make-up department did a sterling job in turning my ever-youthful glow into that of a wan, world-weary wastrel.
The set comprised a drab suburban living room with flock wallpaper, and I was seated in a faded Draylon armchair with a blanket around my shoulders clutching a mug of tea.
After several rehearsals and despite the growing irritation of my interviewer, the lovely Naga Munchetty, I felt ready for my performance.
It consisted of two acts.
In the first, Ms Munchetty asked, ‘Would it be accurate to describe your Long Covid as a debilitating condition that has left you with headaches, loss of appetite and regular coughs?’
Before answering I summoned my inner Bill Nighy. I rolled my eyes and stroked my chin, as if trying to comprehend the complexities that lurked in the depths of the question. Eventually, I emitted the hoarse cough that I had perfected to the alarm of fellow Tube passengers on the way to the studio. Then, after a lengthy pause, I slowly lifted the mug to my lips, took a faltering sip, finally nodding gently to reply in a croaky voice, ‘Yes’.
In Act Two, the fragrant interviewer asked, ‘And do you think that your condition will have a devastating impact on your life and relationships?’
In answering this I brought to mind Alec Guinness’s portrayal of the doddery Duke of Chalfont in Kind Hearts and Coronets, coupled with a soupçon of a Joe Biden press conference.
I slowly turned my head towards Naga, a look of terror and bewilderment enveloping my visage. I stared at her as a small child might observe a zombie. Once more a lengthy pause heralded the answer and the word, ‘Yes’, escaped slowly and mournfully from my quivering lips.
As Tristram, the director, shouted the immortal words, ‘That’s a wrap’, I could sense the relief, the emotions and the satisfaction that my performance had evinced and I detected the hint of tears in the eyes of even the most hard-hearted members of the crew.
I had hoped that Ms Munchetty would accept my offer to tell her about my career highlights in the canteen at Wood Lane, but she gracefully explained that she had a pressing speaking engagement in the City and had to make haste.
I was later told that the news item was to be played in the early autumn before the government announced its latest series of lockdowns.
As the great man said, ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.’ It seems that the rising waters have finally arrived to propel Erasmus Demosthenes Hepplewhite to join the pantheon of Covid-19 warriors that includes such esteemed individuals as Ferguson, Whitty, Gates, Hancock and Michie. Thanks to our efforts, the most deadly pandemic since the Black Death will soon appear as nothing more than a footnote in history.