Gielgud Award ceremony transcript:
Kenneth Branagh receives the Golden Quill
January 16 2000
Editor: Catherine Kerrigan / Photos: Gielgud Award site
*Tim Spall reads congratulatory messages from Barry Sonnenfeld, Robin Williams, Francis Barber, Robert DeNiro, and Billy Crystal
**Helena Bonham Carter reads messages from Woody Allen, John Maybury, Ralph Fiennes,
Oliver Parker, and Brian Blessed
*Jacobi, Dench and McEwan read messages from Ian McKellan, Joan Collins, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, Richard Attenborough, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Adrian Noble, Kevin Kline,
Julie Christie, Sidney Lumet, and John Cleese
I take it we all approve of Philip Pickett and the musicians of the Globe. What a wonderful way to open tonight's program. Thank you so much, Phil.
Well, I'm John Andrews, President of the Shakespeare Guild, and I'd like to welcome all of you to the fifth annual presentation of the Sir John Gielgud Award for Excellence in the Dramatic Arts.
We're greatly indebted to the
Honorable Society of the Middle Temple for making this Great
Hall available for a salute to the Man of the Millennium. And
we're grateful to Philip Pickett and the musicians of the Globe
for the wonderful Elizabethan melodies with which we've opened
We know about that performance through a diary that was kept by a member of the Society of Middle Temple, a man named John Manningham. And a copy of that diary, a facsimile of it I should say, is on display in one of the halls out here where the reception will take place following the, the program here in the Great Hall itself. And I welcome you to take a look at it. I think you'll find it fascinating.
Now it's to John Manningham, among others, that we owe one of the, one of the best anecdotes about Shakespeare. According to Manningham, there was an occasion when, when Shakespeare overheard the leading actor in the company of which they were both part, making an assignation with a member of the audience who told him that her husband was going to be away for a few hours and that she would not object to a little bit of his companionship. Well having overheard this conversation, according to Manningham, Shakespeare arranged to get there first and, as Manningham puts it, was "at his game" ere Richard Burbage arrived. And what happened was that when a message came to the door from a servant, telling the lady that Richard the Third had arrived, Shakespeare sent back a reply that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third.
We don't know whether that story is true, but if isn't it really ought to be.
Through the, through the courtesy of Colin Davidson, we have I think a great feast not only of entertainment, but of buffet reception awaiting us tonight. And it's a great pleasure to acknowledge all of the help that he and his fine staff have provided.
Now as we prepare to go into the festivities, I want to pass along a couple of greetings. One of them is from the 1998 recipient of the Gielgud Award, Ms. Zoe Caldwell, who was unable to be here and sent her regrets and her congratulations along with her husband, producer Robert Whitehead, to tonight's honoree. Another congratulatory message comes from Sir Christopher Mayer and his wife. Sir Christopher, as you probably know, is Britain's ambassador to the United States. And he was in town until very recently. He was hoping to be here tonight but he had an engagement tomorrow that required him to be away.
Fortunately his counterpart is with us tonight. The Honorable Philip Lader and his wife Linda, who, among other things, are noted for a Renaissance activity of their own. They founded the famous Renaissance Weekends and this is the very favorite retreat, usually between Christmas and New Year's, of the Clintons.
Philip Lader (US Ambassador to the UK):
What an honour it is for all of us to be celebrating Shakespeare and to be amidst this galaxy of individuals whose performances, patronage and scholarship have made William Shakespeare the Man of the Millennium. And yet as I look around, I have to say I am particularly honoured to be with one individual, because as I suspect you would agree, the devotion, the life-long devotion of John Andrews to Shakespeare has enriched all of our lives, wouldn't you agree?
Here we find ourselves in the centre of British legal scholarship and I am not about to suggest that I know anything about Shakespeare with who is in the audience. So I'll share just one bit of legal history that may be relevant. You see, America had a difficult problem some years ago when Prohibition was established constitutionally. The issue is: what would you do with people who had alcohol in their possession. So Congress, much like Parliament, in its infinite wisdom, passed what was called the Vollstedt Act. The Vollstedt Act simply said that it was unlawful to possess alcohol and to consume it but you could keep and consume the alcohol you had in your possession when the constitutional amendment was passed. Which led Will Rogers, that eminent legal scholar, to say that all of America was now divided into two great camps: those who have a little still, and those who still have a little.
There are no two camps when it comes to Shakespeare, and I think all of us would agree in this hall tonight especially that Shakespeare has more than a little still to go. There are two individuals who most miss being here tonight. The President and Mrs Clinton, as you know, would love to have the occasion to share in the performance, to share in the celebration. It was in 1997 when at the White House they hosted an occasion very much like this but I'm reminded of another occasion at the White House, that the Americans here may remember, when President Kennedy hosted all the living, Nobel, American Nobel Laureates at that time, in the 1960s. President Kennedy said to this assemblage of Nobel Prize winners that there is in this room more intelligence than at any time in the history of the White House, with the possible exception of nights when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. With all the scholarship and performance credentials here tonight, I would have to say that there is more talent, more intelligence assembled here in London than probably any time except those occasions when William Shakespeare dined alone.
And so here we are in Middle Temple and in addition to the reasons John indicated, this symbolises the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. More signers of the Declaration of Independence were educated at this Inn of Court than at any of the others, and it demonstrates so vividly for us how the security of our two nations, the prosperity, the cultures and the arts are so intertwined. It's no wonder, given the performance of some of the people here tonight and the work they did, that Shakespeare in Love was such a great success, but it's no surprise because Americans are in love with Shakespeare.
And yet I raise a caution for all of us as we celebrate tonight. You remember the Bard's words when he said that fashion wears out more apparel than the man. We've had no greater missionary of the English language than William Shakespeare, and yet with the Internet, with pop music, he may have been the Man of this Millennium, but what about the one to come? I've learned not to take anything for granted in this job, in fact I walked the length of the country and starting in the south-west corner, Land's End in England, and walking to the north-east corner of Scotland, John O'Groats, I had one particularly relevant experience. When I got to Carlisle, at the Scottish border, I had walked about halfway, about 500 miles, this woman came out and said, "Great day for walking." I agreed. She said, "Where did you start?" Well, Shakespeare would say we Americans are not known for our modesty, and as modestly as I could, I said, "Land's End." To which she responded, "That's a good morning's walk."
Shakespeare may be the Man of the Millennium, but I submit to you that because of the energies, the talents, the affections of the people assembled in this grand old hall tonight, it's just a good morning's walk in the life, the legend and the contributions of Shakespeare. We've all been taught that Shakespeare's vocabulary was five times at least that of ordinary Londoners. He invented countless new words, but there are only two words tonight that I think we most profoundly offer up - not simply to the sponsors, not simply to this hall, not simply to John, but especially to Shakespeare himself. A very profound thank you.
Sir Derek Jacobi:
Thank you, thank you very much. I don't have to say anything, I can just go off. It was 23 years ago when I played Hamlet for the first time professionally. I was already getting a bit late (to play it) but I decided to have a go. We opened in the spring of 1977 at the New Theatre in Oxford. I didn't know at the time, but a 16-year-old schoolboy came to one of those performances. He at that time didn't know whether he wanted to be a footballer, a journalist, or maybe an actor. And he said that that production and that performance made him want to be an actor. He said later that it had inspired him. I think really he sat there saying, "If that's the best professionals can do...."
A couple years later I had a letter - I was still playing Hamlet in a different production at the Old Vic - I had a letter from a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art asking if he could come along and talk to me about life, and art, and in particular Hamlet. I said yes. This very personable young man walked in - bursting with self-confidence - and out came a notepad and we talked. We talked a great deal, we got on very well. We talked a lot about Hamlet. He left saying that sooner rather than later he would be playing Hamlet himself.
We then fast forward - I think about 18 months or so - and the name Kenneth Branagh hit the public hard in a play called Another Country. And suddenly I realized - because his face and his name were in the newspapers - that this was the boy that had come to see me. I met him in passing at Stratford-on-Avon but I didn't really get to know him.
We now go to another dressing room, this time at the Haymarket Theatre. Kenneth came around after the play afterwards and after the obligatory 'Dahling you were wonderful' he said could he take me out to dinner. "Well, yes, I would love to go to dinner with you." During the course of which he said, "I'm going to play Hamlet - remember how I said I was going to play Hamlet? I'm gonna play Hamlet - and he said "I think it only right in the whirligig of time, bringing in its revenges, that you should direct it." Now I had never directed. I was stunned, I was amazed, surprised and excited. I said, "Yeah okay I'll direct you!"
The following months I fell in love, in the nicest possible way. It's an affection that has since only grown over the years. It is an affection mixed with admiration, sometimes with awe, and sometimes with a little jealousy and envy at the prodigious range of his talent and his achievement. I delight in his wit and his humour. And I appreciate his wonderful, streetwise self-mocking self-awareness. It's an attitude that enables him to survive the many brickbats that are thrown by meaner, less daring, and less achieving spirits. Kenneth is a mover and a shaker, that can seem a little alarming and rather dangerous to mere spectators. Also he achieved his fame and his success at a very young age and in certain quarters that is not looked upon favorably. We who know him of course think otherwise. Tonight he will receive this award - it's one of many he has received, will receive no doubt in his glittering career, but I think tonight's award is the rightest, most fittable, given, as it is, in the name of so globally respected and loved an actor as Sir John Gielgud. I wish Ken John's longevity, not the least because I shall be needing the work.
There is much more to say about him and no doubt many other people tonight will say it. To me he will always be the boy with the notepad in the dressing room.
"When to the sessions of
sweet silent thought
Wonderful, Derek, lovely. Lovely thing to have to follow, ahem. Didn't understand the last bit. My name's Ben Elton, by the way, for the Americans present. I can't figure out why I'm here paying tribute to Ken, quite frankly, because the bloke owes me. He should be here, I should be down there...bathing in it. No, I'll explain - you probably all remember Ken's magnificent film of Much Ado About Nothing. Well I was in it - you probably won't remember that, but I was the bloke standing just behind Michael Keaton, hovering over his shoulder. And he wasn't that easy to understand that close up either.
It's not a bitchy profession at all actually. [Bumps microphone] Microphones, there were days when we used to have to project, hey Derek, don't you think? Ken cast me as Verges and it wasn't a secret, he didn't make it a secret, I wasn't his first choice. It was 2 Americans he asked but he thought they'd look better on the poster. Rowan Atkinson turned it down and finally he got to me. And he simultaneously created and destroyed my acting career with that because it was the first and last part I ever got. The phone's not rung since, that was 8 years ago. It's absolutely true - 8 years and I haven't been offered another role since Ken murdered my acting career. But this evening - sorry, I shouldn't go on - this evening's not about the debt that Ken owes me. It's about the debt that Shakespeare owes Ken. Because, you know, Shakespeare's reputation is not as solid as we might like to think. You know, here the great and the good, the cultured, the very lovely - we all think he's great, Shakespeare, but the truth is - whisper it not loud - throw a brick pretty much anywhere in the English-speaking world and you'll hit someone who thinks that Shakespeare is a boring old git.
Now, this is my theme and I would like to crave your indulgence while I read from the work of considerably less a writer. I'd like to quote from the BlackAdder which Richard Curtis and I wrote and we wrote a special which is on at the Dome at the moment - don't feel that you've got to go and see it - and in the final edit this bit I'm gonna do got cut so this by nature will be a world premiere. And I'm only taking the liberty of quoting mine and Richard's work because it is very relevant to tonight in that BlackAdder goes back in time with Baldrick and finds himself in the Elizabethan times back then and he meets Shakespeare and having got his autograph and given him a large kick in his amusingly huge Elizabethan bloomers, he holds forth thus - and you have to imagine Rowan Atkinson doing this, not in his Mr. Bean voice for the Americans, in his BlackAdder voice, makes it easier to understand - so this is the BlackAdder addressing Shakespeare, having kicked him in the bloomers:
"That's for every schoolboy and schoolgirl for the next 400 years you baldy be-bloomered bastard! Do you have any idea the amount of suffering you're going to cause? The hours sitting on school benches trying to find ONE JOKE in As You Like It. The end-of-term plays wearing tights and wigs saying, "Prithee nobleman here come the Earls of Wessex-Essex-Sussex-Warwick-York-Swindon-Newport Pagnell and every other bloody county in the United Kingdom" - as if one can tell the buggers apart! The years trying to stay awake at Stratford, your backside throbbing like a Frenchman's knob, while you try to believe that 2 lovers would be completely unable to recognize each other simply because they are wearing tiny, tiny masks and they've not noticed the 6 people hiding behind the potplant listening to their conversation while all the while some vast, half-drunk, bearded bastard mincer breaks the world's slow-talking record during an hour-and-a-half soliloquy, at the end of which you're none the wiser and it isn't even the interval yet. All I can say is thanks for nothing mate, the only way you ever got to shag Gwyneth Paltrow was by boring the pants off her."
BlackAdder departs with one last bit of advice, telling Shakespeare not to even bother writing Cymbeline because "nobody, not even an arse like Ken Branagh, would even bother with that one!"
Now I'm only reading you that, and I think it's rather indulgent - and thank you for your kind reception - to remind us all of how some people really do view Shakespeare. Some people think he's dull, but we know it's not true.
Shakespeare is, deservedly, the man of millennium and of course the greatest, most intriguing, the wittiest and most passionate writer that ever lived, or certainly ever wrote in the English language. But you wouldn't necessarily know it by the way sometimes he's been treated over the years.
Shakespeare does owe Ken a debt. Ken, in my opinion, has a unique ability to make Shakespeare what he is. What Shakespeare is, a modern writer. Not just in his ideas but in his language - his language remains modern. The first time I saw a Branagh Shakespeare, absolutely I went back to the text afterward because I was convinced that Ken had been playing fast and loose, that he'd been cheating and taking liberties. He hadn't. [Ken had used] word-for-word the text but he made it modern. Making Shakespeare as the Germans say 'unser Shakespeare': "our contemporary".
Ken really brings Shakespeare alive. I know Shakespeare a little, but Ken has enhanced my knowledge beyond what I could imagine and indeed my life - he brings him alive more than anyone I can think of in recent years. He's introduced our greatest cultural jewel to wary and very reluctant new audiences and left them delighted, and I cannot think of anybody more deserving of this award. So thank you for that Ken, and I should now, to my great pleasure, invite to the stage Samantha Bond.
I'm thrilled to be here at this gorgeous occasion to celebrate a very gorgeous man. Ken and I first met 15 years ago when I played Juliet opposite himself in his first Shakespeare - the first one he directed - which we did at the Lyric Studio in Hammersmith. For those of you who missed our performance I would just like to paraphrase what that esteemed theatrical critic Nicholas de Jongh said: 'Bond and Branagh may not be the best Romeo and Juliet, but they're certainly the quickest."
"Gallop apace, you fiery-footed
There are some people in this business that you just can't help being proud of, like the achievements of Ken Branagh. And some of them brought about in the most impossible conditions, and some of them he even paid for out of his own pocket. Yet all of them leave you breathless. And Ken being the bloke he's always been - I can't help it, but whenever I think of him my chest goes right out to there and I think to myself, "I'm in the same business as him."
I've just got some things to read from people that have worked with Ken, and very famous people they are and dignified and eminent. This is from Barry Sonnenfeld, I think he's a film director, isn't he. This is what Barry says:
"Kenneth is funny, smart, talented, totally secure and absolutely self-effacing. I had the absolute pleasure of working with him on Wild Wild West. He was supportive and patient, and totally intimidated me. In pre-production I showed him an illustration of a costume I did for his character, which included the drawing of an idea for his facial hair.
"Kenneth said, 'I like this. I can grow this and look like this. And I know what you're thinking - you're thinking, "You can't look like this, because this is a drawing of a good-looking skinny guy. And you're a fat fuck. Listen, you fat fuck, don't pretend you can look like this because you're a fat fuck!" But I promise you I'll lose weight.'
"He knew his lines, he talked fast, and he made me feel comfortable and relaxed. And his performance is really good. I can't wait to work with him on another project that won't make enough money and no one will like. He's the best, I love him dearly." And that's Barry Sonnenfeld.
We've got a really long letter from Robin Williams here, and it starts "To be, ....uh, line? A warm hand on your quill, Robin."
Francis - Frankie Barber - "Dear Ken, I wish I could say that I'm sending this message from Hollywood but in fact I'm sitting in freezing cold weather near the Elephant and Castle practicing an extremely dodgy cockney accent. Had I been there tonight I would have forced you to suffer my willow cabin speech once more, without the pause that Harold Evans said was a crucifiable offense. And I have just the line that you so favored which pursed my lips while the-----lip gloss-----So instead I send all my love and long may you continue to be an inspiration, a phenomenon, and a dirty little bugger, and a truly lovely friend. P.S. available the 17th of March. Lots of love, Frankie.
Robert DeNiro: "Dear Ken, Of course congratulations on receiving the Gielgud Award tonight. You know, Ken, (goes into DeNiro impersonation) you may have been honored a few years earlier had you let me play Beatrice. Not that Emma wasn't competent. But we had fun with Frankenstein, didn't we. Congratulations again, Ken. You deserve this award, and Shakespeare deserves you. Love, Bob"
This is from Billy Crystal: "Dear Ken, Or is it Sir Kenneth. What can I say about a man who has been to Shakespeare's work what Viagra has been to me. I now suggest that you cut to Dame Judi Dench laughing, and another angle of Derek Jacobi slightly amused. The first time I saw you was in Henry V, which I thought was a sequel. I thought you were not only a great actor, but an amazing director. Plus I understand you also do the catering. Which is perhaps the most impressive credit of all. So when you called me, and asked me to play the gravedigger in Hamlet, I couldn't have been more terrified. The three days we spent together are some of my fondest remembrances of the movie business. Anyone who can make a kid from The Bronx sound like he could be in one-a dem Shakespeare-type plays has got to be some kind of fucking genius. Cut to Dame Judi Dench groaning, and another angle of Sir Derek laughing.
Bravo Ken, and I'll wear the tights again whenever you need me." Billy Crystal
[audience applause, encouraged by Richard Briers!] Ah, the best sound in the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, I used to be, some of you older people may remember, a very well-known and very much loved comedy actor. About eleven years ago I... met Ken. He, through his sheer brilliance, determination and desperation, turned me into a highly respected classical actor. My, uh, my income dropped sixty-five percent. But my family respects me.
Now, uh, I, [Richard laughs], no, no, uh, I, it's gone now. I was, uh, trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art about a quarter of a century before Kenneth Branagh arrived. It was a very, very high standard in my time. But, we, uh, we had, uh, wonderful teachers in those days. And, uh, one of our, one of our great loves was a man called Clifford Turner. Clifford Turner was a great voice teacher and a great authority on Shakespeare. And he and I used to, because I was very young, very intense, and we used to talk a lot about "the Bard." And, uh, I said to him one day, "Clifford, you know" or rather "Sir," we called people "Sir" in those days. I said, "Sir, you know, I, I, what, what amazes me is, what puzzles me is, did Shakespeare really know at any time what a genius he was? And did he, did he really believe his work would survive?" And Clifford said, uh, and his wonderful laugh, "huh, huh, huh, huh," a voice teacher, he said, uh, he said, "Silly boy, read Sonnet Fifty-Five." And this is Sonnet Fifty-Five and it taught me a lot about Bill. Shakespeare wrote about his work:
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Helena Bonham Carter:
I've got some messages, from some people who can't be here. Well actually, I can be here, as you probably can see. So I suppose I should say something, too. But, having known Ken *quite well* I can safely say that he is one of the more extraordinary people of this world. But I won't go on about it. Because he's quite embarrassable, and in fact, so am I. But I have some messages. The first one is from that little, unknown, American director Woody Allen: "Congratulations to Kenneth on his deserved award. He's one of my best pupils."
A fellow director John Maybury writes: "Dear Ken, I can sincerely say I'm really jealous of your spectacular career. As an actor, writer, director, autobiographer, etc, etc, etc. So please, for God's sake take a very long holiday and give some of us lesser mortals a go at it for a few years. Much love and total admiration, John."
From Ralph Fiennes, fellow actor, rival possibly?: "Bravo, for all you have done to make Shakespeare continually exciting, accessible, and contemporary."
And from Ollie Parker, who directed Ken in OTHELLO, well he's written a poem.
"ODE TO KEN - and a Great Deal is
Today a man who's worth his weight
Finally, a message from Brian Blessed. God knows where he is, probably up some mountain somewhere. "Congratulations, Ken. I'm deeply frustrated not to be there, what a great honour. He who is servant to rest, hey, Ken? Never had The Bard had a finer servant than you. How thrilled and happy you must be at your wonderful work. What I love about you most is your profound generosity to everyone associated with your work. You inspire us all. Have a terrific time, Ken. Lots of love to Mum and Dad, and your family. Tell Derek not to stammer. The Germanicus tells me that he is a great Roman. Tell Judi Dench that I will always have a soft spot for her and still fancy her from her Z Cars episode. Give Mike Williams a big hug from me, and love to everyone there including Touche Turtle. Well done Ken, young man, and don't let Dickie Briers tease you about your Popeye forearms."
Well, that's out. OK. Will you please welcome a man who needs no introduction. Star of The Godfather, Serpico, and only last summer, Boeing, Boeing at the Hackney, Mr. Al Pacino. (in enters John Sessions doing an Al Pacino impersonation)
[As Al Pacino] Thank you all. How are you doing? This is a great honour for Kelly Brunagh to have me here. But I know that he will repay me any way I choose. Endlessly and at whatever time. Recently I gave Kelly a break by interviewing him in my brilliant perceptive documentary "Cooking with Richard". I remember how overawed he was by my charisma, also by my height. Anyway, in honour of his Welsh-Puerto Rican brilliance I shall perform "To Be or Not to Be" by William Shakespeare of Stratford, Oxford, England. It seems fit to wipe away some of the cobwebs because the ropey old maypole speech from that great but unwashed bald man, don't hold up so good no more. So I've given 'em a makeover. While still serving the iambic pentathalon. So Kelly, with love and respect from me...to me. To Be or Not to be, my way.
'Should I hang in here, or should
I just check out.
The words if the great Alfredo Pacino was here. Along with Ken, one of my favorite actors. He would also honour Ken because both are passionate about Shakespeare, as you know, and I hoped you've seen the documentary that Pacino made and Ken features in, as indeed he should. Very good. Very well done. Nine out of ten, darling. Anyway, the fact of having enjoyed the privilege of Ken's side-splitting, hilarious, generous, inspirational friendship for over twenty years since myself and other very close dear friends like Mark Hadfield, and Gerry Horan, Tamar Thomas were all at RADA together - this makes me prouder and more grateful than I can say. Ken, my dearest, brilliant, courageous pal, here's to at least another fifty years of friendship. And now will you please welcome the distinguished broadcaster from Radio 3, Mr Sean Rafferty.
Thanks very much Mr Sessions, not a bad accent at all (comment on John Session's introduction using and Irish accent). Absolutely stick in the mud weaker as we say in that part of the world (for applause). I'm here for Ken and I are from that Northern part of the world that are sadly best known for recalcitrance and strife, but we also have an intense love of verbal sword crossing and language, language rich from the English of course who came, and the Lowland Scotch, who came at the time of Shakespeare, and allied to the, the rich romantic intensity of Irish. So that's where Ken comes from, what else could he do but go into the er laden world of the theatre, and his roots very firmly in the ground, kept there very much so by his family, his glorious family, including his late lamented grandmother who would take no nonsense. I remember going to see her with Ken once and she was having her hair done and she was under the dryer. And there was no way, not for Ken, not for every photographer in the world would she come out, "that's common sense" (speaking as if he were the venerable lady).
During the troubles many artists came to Northern Ireland and it was part of the life blood that kept many of us going. Few made the commitment that Ken and Renaissance did in the early days, and I mean its it's er, there are so many shades of history in this marvellous building, but after all, if drama and art doesn't raise a chord and speak to other audiences then it has failed. It needs to be available in all acoustics and in all situations. Ken drew in very many people, maybe some came because of the charisma, er, underlined by the, the great sort of Silver Screen. But to hold the attention and to affect people's hearts in a strife-torn situation is another language altogether and who knows what affect that has. In Northern Ireland Ken's links with the community continue very very strongly. From the very earliest days when he came with Look Back in Anger, and the first showings of the films and raised the money for well for NICVA, Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, which is an umbrella group for a lot of smaller community groups, and I mean they are part of the drip feed and the intensity of positive action that have given us our fragile, tentative, but much longed for peace. So art and politics shiningly allied. And support for new talent um, Renaissance scholarships for the Ulster Youth Theatre, which has been fantastic for drama in Northern Ireland and the recipients. Susan Lynch was the first in 1990 and who's gone on to great things. Ciaran McMenamin was the last, and he was David Copperfield of course in the BBC television series at Christmas. So without this very very tangible link, with the roots, which we appreciate very much indeed, I shall never forget, um, seeing Renaissance Shakespeare plays in Belfast and thinking I wish I'd seen these earlier. Their lucidity and their impact was extraordinary. And in a place where maybe we were rather short on that sort of impact, it was doubly welcome. So this award is very very richly deserved Ken, and I wish you many many more years inspiring people in the theatre, and er thank you for keeping your feet on the ground, and your connections with Northern Ireland intact. Thank you.
And now its my very great pleasure - an Ulster fry by the way for those of you who are not culturally connected with the Province, is a plate of every animal you have ever heard of, every bread you've possibly ever met on the shelf, a few pototoes, all fried up and put on your plate
(cuts off, comes in at) svelte. As svelte as a bin-liner full of yoghurt, ah thank you. Being asked to talk about Kenneth Branagh is like being asked to speak about a very talented actor-director, very like. It's, it's so like it, it hurts. Ah, some men are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness faxed through to them. With Ken it's all three and more. It seems in a world compounded in almost equal parts of cynicism, envy, resentment, moral cowardice and artistic lethargy, people like Kenneth Branagh come along as uh, a glass of Evian in a desert. A cooling unguent on a weeping, festering paramount, oozing sore or like a good deed in a naughty world, as the man said. The Branster however is not, as we know, a man. He is what insurance people call, after natural catastrophes, an act of God. He is a force of nature and this award the Golden Quibb, no ah, Quill, recognizes - I'm so sorry in a not very sorry way at all - recognizes his particular achievement, of course, in the field of Shakespeare.
In the run up to the millennium, we have all read of Shakespeare as one newspaper rather elegantly, I thought, put it "Top People's Dramatist". Second perhaps only in cultural significance to the mighty Robin Williams himself, uh Robbie Williams, I'm sorry, but talking about Shakespeare is almost always impossibility. As Harold Bloom, I don't know if you read his book last year, said of Shakespeare- he is perhaps the only individual who has ever taken the measure of man. Yet, it is an eternal impossibility to take the measure of Shakespeare. Talking about him stops us enjoying him.
Kenneth's extraordinary achievement seems to me, which is so much about his character, is his absolute fearlessness when engaging in Shakespeare by doing him. He gets in there. There is no bloody-minded redefinition for the sake of it. There is no mimsy sentimentality and there is no awful bardolatry. He does Shakespeare. And anyone who does to Shakespeare any kind of service is doing a service to humanity.
But Ken's most unlikely quality for those who know him is that he is funny. When I say he is funny, he is funnier than probably anyone I have ever met and most people who know him say he is the funniest person they know. But he is not considered a comedian. I think in this he is very like Shakespeare. Now Shakespeare is not always particularly funny, but Shakespeare is comic. Shakespeare's greatest works may well be considered to be Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, but I don't think there is any doubt in anybody's mind about Shakespeare that his spirit is that of a comedian.
I don't mean by that necessarily that it's funny but that it connects to humanity. Shakespeare has a comic spirit. Tragedians fail because they see themselves as tragic and Ken has never done that about himself and I think that is why he has such a unique instinct for Shakespeare. He is also the only person who has made me vomit with laughter. It is quite easy to urinate with laugher. It is very difficult to vomit with laughter. He did it however in Cannes by doing a twenty-four minute impression of a French rap artist. I actually vomited. I don't mind saying it. I vomited with laughter. If later on you catch him on his own you might ask him to try and repeat it. I think that would be smart. But do watch these ancient walls.
The British press with their customary grace, insight, delicacy and spirit have not always given Kenneth the credit we know he deserves. They insist on second guessing his motives. Is he trying to be Olivier? Is he trying to be Orson Welles? It is one of his more remarkable gifts that he never seems to let that get to him.
I remember when Hugh Laurie and I were working on a film Ken directed - Peter's Friends - and Hugh and I (as we were) sitting in a corner trying to imagine the kind of reviews that say a Time Out reviewer would give this film. And we were working ourselves up into a frenzy of self-hatred and horror at what we'd imagine that they would say. This incestuous wank. This, this awful ghastly Oxbridge yick. You know we were getting so upset about what we imagined. This is before we'd even turned over the camera for a single frame. We were already imagining how ghastly they were an uh, Ken had overheard us and he just said "Dahling!" he said, I won't try to do the impression of him. He said, "people who read and listen to reviewers in Time Out constitute point nought nought one percent of the population. If you're worried about what reviewers are thinking, you're allowing them to dictate to you. If you really have contempt for them have some memory that nobody else cares about what reviewers think. And if you are the only person who does, then what does that say about you?" And I thought about that for a bit and I thought he's absolutely right. It is nonsense. It is very easy in our profession to get terribly upset and to allow ourselves to be dictated to by others and one of the bains of being British as we know, is a sort of self consciousness of feeling that if I do this what will people think I am trying to do? How will they interpret what I am doing? How will I interpret what they interpret I 'm doing. We drive ourselves in an appalling self-sodomitic kind of revolution. Like the dog running around in circles so fast that it injures itself twice. Ken is not like that. I don't know how he manages to avoid that. Perhaps because he wasn't born on the mainland. But simple and obvious as it sounds, he is not paralyzed by self consciousness and that allows him to be free as an artist and it gives him a terrible and splendid clarity about what he does and that is a remarkable and wonderfully valuable thing.
He is a good man. He's given more work to British actors and technicians and craftsmen than anyone else I can think of alive today and he deserves this so much on behalf of us all and on behalf of those we haven't spoken of. Because it is very easy to forget that there are millions of people out there who really adore his work and they are not professionals. They are not even academics with Shakespeare necessarily. They are just the people of the world who go to the cinema, who go to the theatre and they value him extremely highly and so do we. And we are very proud to be here this evening. Ken, we all salute you. Thank you for everything you have done. Congratulations!
I feel as though I'm at the high court. You're all guilty! Anyway, and so am I of being chuffed to know Ken. People have said some really nice things, but, er and especially Stephen when he talks about his humour. He's one of the funniest men I've ever met and his friendship means, means so much to me. He, you know I just wouldn't be I owe so much of my success to him and, there was a time recently in my life when I was extremely ill, and he was actually in Japan if I remember the story, and he was in Japan promoting Hamlet, and he'd been doing this endless promo for this picture, and um, when got back he phoned up and asked Lesley (Doyle's wife) how I was doing, I'd just been going through chemotherapy for leukaemia, and um Lesley said "Well, I think he's thinking of jumping of Blackfriar's Bridge at the moment". So, he was around instantly, he ran into the house, grabbed my wrists and went, "Oh, no blood, thank God. You're alright". And I remember when he came into the hospital. He walked straight in and said (impersonating Branagh, by putting on a luvvie thespian voice thick with sarcasm) "Darhling, you'll never work again of course. People have such very short memories. I'll try and prop up your career. Don't worry, I'll keep up your pay". He's a great man, a fantastic man Anyway, tonight I'd like to play a piece which, which accompanies his phenomenal rendition of the St Crispin's Day speech in Henry V, it's a monumental achievement, and he took a great risk himself, he's a man of many many risks as you know, he's so brave and, and he took a great risk in asking me. I badgered him actually, I nagged him and nagged him, and plagued him all through the tour (Renaissance Theatre Company) I wanted to do this film so much, and he gave me a real opportunity. So anyway, I don't know why I said yes to this, but I'll have a go...
Doyle plays a beautiful rendition on piano of the music he wrote to accompany the St Crispin's Day speech in Henry V. [audience applause]
I spoke to John Gielgud last night and, of course, he sends his love to all his friends here, and most especially Kenneth Branagh.
The English weather has been savage, but he is going to be 96 in a few weeks. Nevertheless, he's in good spirits. And Bob Hoskins just told me that he's sacked his agent. I'm going to Wales tomorrow, and I'm going to call in on John on the way and report on tonight's events.
I first met John Gielgud when I was at RADA with Dickie Briers, and I got a job in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, playing one of his sons. It was a remake, a very bad remake, of the old movie in which John was recreating the part that Charles Laughton had been so fine in. You never see any of us because it was made in Cinemascope, and we all dressed the edges of the screen. While lying dead centre, suffering dreadfully but looking remarkably healthy and beautifully lit, was Jennifer Jones. And my memory of the film is that Jennifer Jones never left the centre of the screen. And I was thinking about that this afternoon when I saw the really radiant, extraordinary Love's Labour's Lost.
And I think that one of the things that Branagh and Gielgud have in common is their love of other actors. Their kindness to actors. And I think that above and beyond the brilliance of the film, and Branagh's own performance, what comes zonking through is his extraordinary generosity as a player, and as a director. And it's quite, I think other actors will find that subtext, very moving. I certainly did. And it is a lovely, lovely film.
I was terribly in awe of Gielgud. I was very young, and I'd been told that he was the greatest actor in the world. (But he never came to Cardiff.) But he was. Then he invited us, some of us, to the commissary at the old MGM studios up in Boreham Wood, for lunch. And Maxine Orly said, "What are you doing after this film, John?" He said, "Oh, I'm terribly out of work." And I said, "My god. Is that what it's going to be like?" And Maxine said, "Yes. Yes, it is. Just get over it."
And coming through the tables was Yul Brynner, because they were making Anastasia on the next sound stage. Maxine said, "O god, he is the most sexiest man in the world." "Oh, yes, I rather agree", said John. Virginia McKenna said, "Do you know him, John?" He said, "No. I don't properly." Maxine said, "Well, now's your chance." And she stuck out her foot under her crinoline, and tripped Yul Brynner who fell with his face in John's crotch. And John said, "How terribly nice to meet you. Do you know Maxine Orly?" So after that, things got a little easier.
A few years later he played my father again when I played Prince Hal, in a film of Orson Welles, and he played King Henry IV. And Kenneth Branagh was such a superb Henry V, removing all other comparisons, that perhaps in honor of such a remarkable Henry V, and in homage to the greatest actor of the last century, perhaps you'll let me say these lines.
How many thousands of my poorest
2 Henry IV - III i 4-31 [audience applause]
I called John and said, "How are you?" And he said, "Oh, I'm terribly out of work." Now tomorrow I can't take him a job but I can tell him how this evening has gone. And he will want to know that I read this tribute to Kenneth Branagh that he sent to me in America, and I only got it yesterday, luckily. (Reads Gielgud's letter)
"I first played the part of Hamlet in 1930, and again in 1934 when I was to direct it. So I became very familiar with the play as a result of seven productions. I was not surprised at all to learn that Kenneth Branagh was setting out to do just what I had done.
"I know how pleasant it is to work with him having taken some other small parts in some other of his Shakespearean films. And I'm not surprised that he managed to marshal so many other splendid players and to attack so boldly. He is a man of prodigious talent. I do congratulate him on his success.
Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, Geraldine McEwan:
Derek Jacobi: We three are here because when Ken formed the Renaissance Theatre company, it was so typical of him that instead of going to the young lions of the time to direct the plays, which were As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet, he went for the older director, the older actor, and specifically (pause as audiences laughs at Judi Dench's reaction to his classification of her as "older") - I've never been on stage with her before - uhm, specifically to pass on our experiences, our thoughts, our feelings about Shakespeare to a younger generation. I think it was very typical and we all had a wonderful time. It's lovely for us all to be here tonight, but we are here to read more messages from people who cannot.
Judi Dench: (unfurling a scroll-like list of messages) Here is the number of the English dead.
From Ian McKellen: When I first saw Kenneth Branagh on stage in Another Country he looked about 13. His acting was hugely impressive but I thought it might just be a fluke. He wouldn't be the first young actor to triumph in a tailor-made part. My generation cling to memories of their own apprentice years in repertory theatre where we painfully learnt the craft. I, for one, was loathe to accept that some actors don't need a period of apprenticeship and self-discovery, yet Kenneth seemed to spring from the cradle, or at least from drama school, fully-formed, his prodigious technique and imagination already synchronised and ready for anything. At Stratford, his passionate and humorous Henry V was characteristically confident, but above all else, was a young prince - by this time he looked about 15. During his glorious years with Renaissance, youth was again on his side. Young audiences identified with his stage Hamlet, Benedict and glorious Touchstone, and older ones marvelled at his energy and daring. He was a reminder that Richard Burbage, too, was young when he created these parts 400 years ago. Much as I had admired his performance as Henry in Adrian Noble's bold production, I admit I thought it somewhat impudent of him to challenge Olivier's achievement as Henry V on film, so when Simon Rattle told me, before its release, that the hardboiled members of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra had been close to tears when they recorded the music for his film, I was a little skeptical. When I saw the finished movie and heard the Te Deum soar above the muddied victors, I sobbed with the rest of the audience. He had asked to me to play Pistol and I still regret that I missed my chance to be part of it. I know many of the actors who have worked for him, and all of them without exception are in thrall to his talent, charm and willpower and to the respect he shows them on and off the set. This effortless combination is what most clearly connects him with Laurence Olivier. Tonight it is with some relief that I realise Ken is approaching forty. Three major Shakespeare performances on film in the can and more surely to come. We are all in his debt. In the firmament no longer a comet but a constant star, I gaze upwards in wonder and send him my congratulations on his latest honour.
Geraldine McEwan: Joan Collins says: "Dear Ken, I hope you have the most wonderful evening full of magic and fun. I hope the food's better than that disgusting sausage you made me eat on In the Bleak Midwinter. You are the butchest director I've ever worked with. Have a great time. Much love, Joan.
Derek Jacobi: Kenneth, congratulations, and as loyal fans and friends, thank you for helping to keep Shakespeare before us. With love and appreciation, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise.
Judi Dench: Richard Attenborough: Film makers from four corners of the globe have been endlessly fascinated by the cinematic potential of Shakespeare. Their rank have been swelled in recent years by a truly exceptional screen talent who is also the finest Shakesperian actor of his generation. He is, of course, Kenneth Branagh, and he is unique. No one has transferred so much of the Bard to film with such originality or indeed rendered his works more joyously accessible. We will await his Love's Labour's Lost with the greatest possible anticipation, and, if he can bring his future plans to fruition, look forward to future Shakespearean feasts in years to come. I shall long remember his remarkable Hamlet at Stratford in 1992. Although movies provide a wonderful canvas for this distinguished auteur, both I and countless others hope he will never desert the theatre. Long may he grace both stage and screen. There surely cannot be a more worthy recipient of today's award. All hail, my liege and many, many congratulations. With enduring admiration and affection, Dickie A.
Geraldine McEwan: The big attraction to me to take on The Gingerbread Man was the opportunity to work with Ken. It turned out to be a great experience. He's a triple treat: great actor, great director and a great guy. Congratulations Ken. Love, Robert Altman.
Derek Jacobi: To Kenneth Branagh,
as he receives this well-deserved award. Since I was very young
I've always felt that it was vitally important to put Shakespeare
on film. It makes his extraordinary body of work accessible to
people who would never have been able to read his plays, or have
the opportunity to see them performed in the theatre. In the
great tradition of Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles, Kenneth
Branagh has, in the past ten years, with his refreshing and energetic
new vision, made Shakespeare accessible to and exciting for millions
of people. For that reason he is
Judi Dench: May I add my voice to the many who are sure to be congratulating Ken on achieving the Golden Quill Award, another feather in his cap. Adrian Noble, Royal Shakespeare Company.
Geraldine McEwan: Kevin Kline: Other than myself, I can't think of anyone more deserving of this award. Congratulations, Kevin.
Derek Jacobi: Dear Kenneth, this award was made for you. I'm delighted that you and your unique work are being recognised in this way. Not only did Shakespeare live for your audiences, you made them a delight for your cast and crews. I have never had such fun on a film as I did on Hamlet. May flights of angels speed thee to thy next production and know your love's labours will never be lost. Love, Julie Christie.
Judi Dench: It's hard to know for which job Kenneth is being honoured: as an actor, as a director, as a producer - why not all three? I was leaving the theatre after seeing Henry V. Coming up the aisle behind me was a young man of maybe 15, with someone who seemed to be his father. The young man said "I'm glad I came, I understood it, every word, I really understood it". That may not seem much in England, but for Americans that's extraordinary. That's what Kenneth does, he helps you understand, and feel. The work is pure, simple, going right to the heart of the matter, and how fitting that he should be getting the award named for dear John, certainly one of the great actors of our century and the actor who helped me understand every word. Kenneth, I'm thrilled for you, and thanks from us all, Sidney Lumet.
Geraldine McEwan: John Cleese: It's not generally known that Ken and I were both in Peter Brook's famous production of Othello, at Stratford in 1951. Ken was playing the Duke of Parma-Worcester and I was giving my second handkerchief sign. Cut to opening night: Sarah Bernhard, who was playing Desdemona, sets fire to her legs - sorry, her leg. Her understudy gets severely singed putting out the blaze. Ten minutes to curtain up - panic stations. When up speaks Ken: "Larry, he said, I know the part". In nine minutes we had him dragged up so convincingly that we decided against an announcement. So incredible was Ken's impersonation that not only did the entire audience believe for four hours that they were watching Sarah, but Howard Peel, who was playing Cassio, did four scenes with Ken without noticing the difference either. It was the most remarkable understudy performance I've ever seen, and I'm delighted to contribute this anecdote for Ken's award tonight, especially as I've always wondered what happened to him afterwards.
Dame Judi Dench:
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not, I'm not going to go on for a very long time, I'm going to say something quite short but I think you ought to know. That from the moment I met Ken Branagh I was in deep trouble.
It's gone on for a long time now it was about 15 years ago actually. We were cast in Ghosts and I was playing his mother. Rather unsuitable actually, it was, um, but still And Elijah Moshin in the studio Elijah Moshinsky I'm afraid, asked us both to leave because of bad behavior. I have to say that it wasn't entirely due to Ken it was mostly due to Michael Gambon but there's, that's another story.
Then a bit later he rang me up one day, very excited, and he said I want to talk to you, can I come and meet you for lunch? And I thought [Judi gasps] "He's going to ask me to play a really wonderful part, this is gong to be really it. This is going to be it." So we met and um, as, as, as Derek has said before uh, gradually he got round to saying will you direct uh, Much Ado About Nothing. Chooses the play for you. Um and, um, so I was completely stunned to be asked to direct, something I had never done in my life before. So anyway, after a while of thinking, days, weeks, or whatever, I said yes, I would do it. And I had a very, very nice time doing it, a bit bossy. But I was very, I had a very nice time doing it indeed. Um, uh, I, I do remember that, that between the verses of the song when Ken was hiding in the, in the little um, he, four little trees I gave him to hide in the middle of, um, he, there would be one verse of the song, and he'd think it was over, and so when they started the sec, sec, second one you'd hear him say "Oh God" or "Oh Jesus" or "Oh Christ" and I gave him, I said I didn't want to hear any of that again. I don't want to hear any of that again. But of course it was there, it was there. He wanted to do it so he did it. Um, and then I, they went on tour to Brighton and I went down to see it and took a lot of notes. And when I went round afterwards he'd left the theater in his costume because he didn't want any uh, notes from me.
And then we cut a bit on and I was doing The Gift of the Gorgon at the Barbican theater and he was doing his Hamlet, which started at six thirty. I had a two-hour drive from home and when I got there there was never a parking place for me because everybody had gone in to see Ken in Hamlet.
So I was completely left, so you see it's, it's, well it's, um, it's a chapter of disaster really.
However, I have to say that he's among a handful of people that if he were to say will you come and play this part and I didn't even know what the play was I would without reading it say yes, I'll come. Uh, Ken, everybody's said all the things uh, that we feel about you tonight. Um, I can't think of a better or a more deserving person to get the Golden Quill and especially in Sir John, beloved Sir John's name. And it is for, as you've heard, your sense of humor and your constancy, and your, the fact that you never read the papers, and for your stoicism, and for the fact that you have, um, never forgotten anybody's name on anything you've ever done, any set or anything, um, down to the person who comes and, I don't know, what?, does something just to the set. You know everybody's name and everybody's introduced to everybody. I think you are a remarkable person. And I feel very, very proud that it's my turn to pass the Golden Quill to you.
And I just have to add one thing, I got this in New York last summer. It is immensely heavy, in fact one person can't hold it. I had to ship mine back across the Atlantic [audience laughter] at enormous expense whereas you have just got to put it in the boot of your car and take it a couple of miles down the road. So will you please come up here and I'll give it to you.
[Great applause and cheering, Ken walks onto stage, hugs Judi, Judi shows him the Quill which he leaves on its small table, Ken approaches the podium with applause and cheering continuing]
[As applause continues, Ken blows a soft raspberry to loosen his lips... pblllllllllllh.... then he chuckles at continued applause, makes motions with his hands for quiet - audience laughter - and says loudly]
Thank you, thank you very much.
[Applause dies down after this subtle request for quiet, Ken continues, smiling]
Thank you very much indeed. [audience laughter] Um, as you might imagine this is a bit, uh, I'll try and be, I'll try to be a straight boy here...a little bit on the choke ticket so I'll just, I'll try not to be a bit of a silly. [audience laughter]
Um, as you, as you might imagine it's been something of an uh, of an overwhelming evening and you know to be here in this extraordinary building and to be in this sort of medieval version of "This is Your Life"...[audience laughter] I think, uh, I think - is that Pat Doyle laughing? [audience laughter, Ken laughing] It might be... No, we all know. I think it's a plot to get me to retire, that's what it is. And then, you know, to be surrounded by this amazing group of people... Think of the money, love, [audience laughter] think of the money to pay for this lot, you know.
In fact, I'm reminded of a note... I completely confound what Judi Dench said about it, I did not leave the Theatre Royal Brighton, darling, that night because she took me to one, Sam Bond will remember this, she took us all to one side. But this evening reminds me of what she said. Perhaps I was a blur heading towards the car...but she took me to one side and she said, [imitating Judi] "Kenny, Kenny you've gone very, very West End." [audience laughter, Ken chuckling] That, uh... That's what I feel like tonight, "Kenny, Kenny, you've gone very, very West End."
Uh, I have many dear friends here this evening and they will know that this is, uh, not my natural habitat. In common with many actors I share that bizarrely contradictory quality of being embarrassed by a lot of fuss...Strange, having decided on a career that, as Dickie Briers once said, involves voluntarily pulling on tights, [audience laughter] and prancing around on various platforms shouting, so you'd think we'd love it, but in my case, I think, the awareness of having led a, uh, professional life of such supernatural good fortune, it, it just seems to me extraordinary that... [whispers] You get this as well... um...
BUT, lest you think the mincer doth protest too much, [audience laughter] uh, I want to say, [Ken laughing] I want to say, that, that, in fact I'm, I'm delighted to be here and not only am I uh, deeply honored by, by the Shakespeare Guild to receive an award that bears the name of one of the great actors of the century and to be numbered in, in the company of the distinguished past recipients, I'm particularly glad to have the chance to say a very loud and a very public thank you to the very many who have made uh, a blessed career possible.
So the montage of gratitude, I hope you'll bear with me, includes David Parfitt and Stephen Evans for respectively turning me into a theatre director and a film director, and I mention them, uh, because I think they're here tonight and if you have any complaints, you should blame them... [audience laughter] Um... [audience applause]
Names you may not be familiar with but are very familiar to me, Tamar Thomas and Terry Pritchard,... [audience applause] um... Oh! They have some fans! [Ken chuckles] For for looking after me through bad temper and good, mine not their, not theirs, and for their stunningly convincing impersonations of [with German accent] Rottweilers. [audience laughter]
To a whole number of people like the great Jacobi, Dench and McEwan for saying yes, when it would have been much easier and safer to say no, uh, as no doubt their agents advised them. [audience laughter] To this plethora of magnificent actors and friends, many of whom you've seen tonight. All of whom were prepared to work for what seemed like a bad cup of coffee and a luncheon voucher, and uh, when discussing money did not laugh when I said, "We're offering gold of a different kind." [audience laughter] Uh, [Ken laughs] Oh, man we stretched that one a few times, I can tell you. [audience laughter] um...
To the great mentors, Russell Jackson and of course my old RADA mentor, Hugh Cruttwell, my dear friend - he won't like the word mentor, but of course I shall never forget his first reaction to my teenage Hamlet which went something like this, [imitating Hugh Crutwell] "No, no, no, no, no, no, no...[audience laughter], No, no, NO, no, no, no, no..., No, no, no, you've...[audience laughter] No..., no, no, no, no,...No... The thing is, you've got absolutely NO sense of the man WHATsoever. [audience laughter] No... No, no, no... No, no... Funny, though... funny." [audience laughter] Um, uh, you think I'm making it up (unintelligible)... [audience laughter]
To the great thinkers that have offered moments of solace throughout the years in moments of doubt and despair none more so than Richard Briers. [audience chuckles] I shall never forget the comfort he gave in a dressing room in Tokyo when despite being about to assay the mad monarch and eponymous hero in the Bard's immortal tragedy of King Lear he was still kind enough to offer succour to a younger actor wrangling with doubts and fears and I shall never forget the words of this green room philosopher as he tried to persuade me.. of the need to carry on... [audience laughter, Ken laughing] Standing magnificent in his crimson robe, roll-up in hand, [audience laughter] he summed it up with elegance and simplicity by saying, "Yes, love. [pause] I fuckin' hate acting, too." [audience laughter and applause, Ken laughs] He did, he did say a few other things. [audience laughter] I'm sorry Dickie. I know you won't like me using the "f" word and my apologies to those who take offense.
All of these people know that they would not have a job were it not for the audiences uh that, support their work. And I have been uniquely blessed, uh, in the support of an incredible band of people. Uh, aside from the, the continued patronage of the plays and the films that we've produced over the years, uh, the "Ken-Friends" [yes those quotation marks are clearly audible!], as one group are called, have now raised literally thousands and thousands of pounds for Youth Drama in Northern Ireland and it's a cause very dear to my heart. And I've found their support not only a constant stimulus in difficult times, but, you know, their help for others in this intensely practical way is, is, is extremely moving and humbling and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. [audience applause, smushies go THUD!!!]
I know we're well represented tonight by the world of academia which has also been an enormous, uh, importance to the work that we've done. It's kept our work alive through discussions and criticism, and, and reactions which have been uh, a spur to our own work.
Um... which of course leads me to William Shakespeare, without whose inspiration I would not have a career, and who has performed the ultimate sacrifice of not having agents chasing me for residuals! [audience laughter]
And of course, uh, you know, the... [thumps podium and exhales breath "whoooo", quite choked up] ...friends and family, uh, who have been able to put up with those, um, 3 AM conversations where, you know, you end up crying, no, no, no, no, NO!, enough about ME, what did YOU think of my performance? [audience laughter]
To John Gielgud, who is a shining example of the classical tradition, a model of humility and generosity and a blazing talent whose encouragement to this young actor was beyond the call of duty.
Uh, but I want, and I am coming to the end I promise, I would like actually if I may, just to draw attention to one particular actor who I've discussed on, on, on several occasions with Sir John. Uh, we've both talked about our, our various inspirations and you, you saw tonight, Sir Derek Jacobi, who's the reason I'm here and has a lot to answer for... [audience laughter] And many of my inspirations have been before you this evening. Performers whose work set a standard that, that constantly stimulates one to aspire to their quality.
So, when I was sixteen, and after I'd seen Derek and I knew I wanted to become an actor I inherited a huge set of, uh, uh, "Plays and Players" magazines and it's where I, I started a lifelong interest in the theatre and it's where I, uh, first came across this particular fella.
He was very dashing, very dashing, there were some stills from As You Like It and, uh, he was an incredibly virile Orlando. And I started to see him on television and admire his great comic gifts and his undeniable star quality and I was determined that I should see him live.
So one afternoon I took myself to the Aldwych Theatre and saw a production of King Lear in which he was playing the Fool and I stood for the first time in my life in, in the presence of truly great acting. It was effortless reality and compassion and humanity and wit and pathos and it was all at the service of the play and of his fellow performers and it was a spine-tingling connection to, to great art, it was simple and it was profound. And years later I got to know him, and his wife, and I found a remark that he made to her to be, to be very true. He said that you can never be more on stage, than you are in life and by this time I knew in his case it was true. I knew about his enormous heart, his warmth and his intelligence and I knew for sure that what I'd seen all those years ago had been no accident and I was always too shy to tell him because he's like me, he's easily embarrassed, but I want to tell him tonight, because he's here, that I left that performance of his feeling that if any part of my professional career could approach what he did in that role, that I would die a happy man.
And so if I have any right to be standing here tonight it's, because of the inspiration of people like the great Michael Williams. [Ken applauds, audience applause]
Uh, so I'm going to get off while I'm still in one piece, thank you very much, Michael. The Shakespeare Guild, to the tirelessly enthusiastic, indefatigable and marvelous John Andrews, to my very dear pal who has worked so fantastically hard to put this program together, please, please put your hands together for the marvelous Richard Clifford. [Ken applauds, audience applause]
And to everyone on-stage, backstage, I cannot say, [Ken exhales breath "whooo" , very choked up] ...what it means, um... [Ken thumps podium] and to all of you who honor me for being here this evening, as he would say, "I can no other answer make but thanks and thanks and ever thanks." [audience applause, Ken leaves podium, audience standing ovation!]
[Ken picks up quill, "It is heavy!" "Thanks, thank you very much" "Let's all go have a drink", mimes drinking, "We'll have a drink now" " Thank you very much" leaves stage]
Orchestra plays "There's No Business Like Show Business"
*With special thanks to Maria Isabel Ortiz and many thanks to the Transcription Team of Lucy Amis, Sandra Fritz, Renata Guttman, Sondra Hopkins, Catherine Kerrigan, Teri McCarthy, and Paula Verderame