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w r i t i n g

from For Ian Charleson: A Tribute
Constable & Co, Ltd, London: 1990
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9ER
ISBN 0 09 470250 0

by Alan Bates

I MET IAN when we were both in Simon Gray's "Otherwise Engaged." It was a particularly happy company. Ian played a surly lodger who took everything for granted and was very bolshy to the landlord. He was marvellous in the part and was immediately accepted by everyone. Though he was the youngest in the cast -- still in his early twenties -- and it was his first time in the West End, he wasn't overawed. Nor did he play at being the gauche young man. It was simply that, without being arrogant, he was quite fearless and had a natural ease with everybody. There were no barriers for him. My children were very young at the time and when he came to the house he was lovely with them too. I think that he was family-conscious in a way which is quite rare in a young man. Once he brought his father and mother to my home. And I remember how proud he was of his sister who had just begun to be a musician.
I also remember when we were on tour, in Oxford, Ian spent a couple of days at the Ashmolean Museum drawing things that appealed to him there. And I realized that he had a rare appreciation of life, an appreciation that went beyond his own job.

- natural rapport -

Unfortunately I never worked with Ian again, though we were close to one another at times, meeting through friends. But, without any effort being made on either side, it was a friendship which survived. We had a natural rapport, an ease between us that we could always recapture.
I saw a lot of Ian's work. He brought a tremendous understanding to parts and could convey hidden complexities, not just playing the moment, but playing other moments as well. He was definitely among the top ten actors of his age group. For a long time I thought of him as being lyrical, witty, verging on a character actor, an unusual off-beat romantic. Then, suddenly, in Fool for Love, he came up with a physical performance that was full of energy, and extraordinary power. Ian was on his way, really climbing in people's consciousness. It was a career which would have held. He had forty more years' work ahead of him.
I never heard anybody say they didn't like Ian. Not that he made it his business to go around being agreeable to people. But he was loved. He was funny and sharp and could be quite wicked at times. His intelligence allowed him to see people clearly. And he liked them. He also faced life with great honesty. And showed enormous courage towards the end.

- special spirit -

A haunting memory I have of Ian is when we were trying to save the site of the Rose Theatre and Ian McKellen had organized a street concert at the site. Ian didn't look well. I think he was already receiving treatment for his illness. But he went onto the concert platform and sang 'My Love is Like a Red, Red, Rose'. He could still give himself to a cause like that.
I've heard Ian suddenly burst into song in restaurants. He knew he had a lovely voice and reveled in the pleasure of being able to do something so well. He forgot himself when he sang. He was taking people somewhere else. For me, his voice always symbolized a special spirit he had. I don't know how you define special spirits: you just know them when you meet them. It was an ability to take himself out of this life.
I think it was thanks to Ian's spirit that he always stayed the same. Success didn't turn him into a spoiled, ridiculous man who believed in his own image. He was wise. He saw life as a whole thing -- not as a series of mistakes and accidents. That, I think, must have been the line which gave him an ability to cope with anything, even the appalling illness which killed him.

- It's Quasimodo, baby -

Shortly before Ian died, I wrote and rang a couple of times saying I would love to see him if he could manage it. I was deeply touched when he said I could come, because I knew he was too ill to see many people. We spoke on the phone before I went round. My hair had been dyed blond when I was filming and I'd kept it that way to make my sons laugh. So I said to Ian: 'Don't get a shock when you see me, because I'm blond.' Ian joked about my blondness and then said, with the same humour: 'Don't get a shock when you see me. It's Quasimodo, baby.' The lightness had stayed with him, thank God. It must have helped him in all he had to undergo.
I saw him two days before he died and found the same lovely character. His spirit had not gone. And our relationship was still there. In spite of all the changes -- including the final tragic change -- the man I knew had stayed, from his first West End job to our last meeting. When we talked, we discussed mutual friends and he asked after my sons. Eventually he got tired. As he began to fall asleep he was still muttering little jokes. |||