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29 December 2013

So far as celebrities and stars go it’s been a lethal month. Peter O’Toole the actor died at 81 in London December 14th. I well remember, in the 1960s, going to see the movie, Laurence of Arabia, that made his name as an actor, The film was brilliant, I’m not at all sure how historically accurate it was although it was based on T.E.Laurence’s own book (The Seven Pillars of Wisdom) but as a spectacle it was gripping and I’ve never forgotten it. O’Toole was perfect for the part too, although I believe that in real life Laurence wasn’t nearly as gorgeous, but O’Toole brought not only the spectacle but also the politics of the time alive and understandable. I also loved his version of King Henry II a couple of years later in The Lion in Winter opposite Katherine Hepburn, they played off each other in a way that brought both period and characters alive.

Then there was Joan Fontaine (actually Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, but you’d have had trouble fitting that on a marquee,( and yes, she was related to the designer of the De Havilland planes.) who died only a day later in California at 96. She was beautiful, a fine actor, particularly noted for her work in the 1940s and ’50s. She had roles in many noted movies, including Island in the Sun, Rebecca, Othello, Jane Eyre and other classics. I recall seeing her in the movie, Island in the Sun, and in later episodes of various TV series in the 1980s and ’90s, and thinking that she was a fine actress able to bring alive almost any part and character.

And then there was Ronnie Biggs who died aged 84, also in London, December 18th. A nasty little man whose criminal career began when he was dishonourably discharged from the RAF (at 20) after two years service, when he broke into a shop and was caught. He was one of those responsible not only for a over-publicised train robbery, but also for the bashing of a guard who was never in good health again, dying younger than he should have. (It is notable that the guard received 250 pounds compenation while Biggs and various members of his family received tens of thousands for retellings of his story.) In rather typical British fashion Biggs was lionised because of the amount his crew took, and because although jailed, he escaped and remained at large sucessfully for many years until he surrendered voluntarily. He served a mere eight years before being released on ‘compassionate grounds’ and in my opinion should have remained in jail. He was a lifelong and habitual criminal, and had no compassion for his victim, why should he have been granted any. It isn’t as if remaining to die in jail would have meant that he was tortured, or even given less than good medical care. He was finally released in mid-2009, on the grounds that his death was immanent -This meant that he was expected to die within the next three months, something in which he failed to cooperate. There have always been suggestions that some at least of his ill-health was faked, and that isn’t impossible, since for someone whose death was expected before the close of 2009, it seems odd to me that he lived on for a further four years.

So that was the three deaths I really noticed for December. Two actors, one who had entranced me in a number of his works- one in particular. Another actor who did sterling work and won several awards including the Oscar. And a dirty little crook who never received his true deserts. Interesting, isn’t it? That all three had very long lives, and that they all received at least as much publicity.

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