In the first of an occasional column, veteran theatre and TV critic Peter McGarry reflects on the pleasure and perils of his profession
One of the obvious attractions of being a journalist is that you get to meet famous people.
It sounds nice and it’s certainly a perk. Even a privilege. Usually.
Unfortunately, there are times when privilege can turn sour.
In the showbusiness world, I’ve always held that the bigger the star you’re meeting, the better it goes. This person has learnt the true value of publicity and will respond accordingly as long as you follow the rules of proper interviewing.
For me, there have been a few dire exceptions along a 12-year stretch as a newspaper entertainments editor. Disillusion can then quickly set in.
Nobody was a bigger fan of Barbra Streisand. The incredible range of that singing voice, the huge acting appeal (Funny Girl, Funny Lady, The Way We Were). I was actually quite thrilled at the prospect of meeting her at a London press launch of the film Yentl, which she had written and directed as well as starring in – and probably acting as on-set tea lady the way things had been going.
She was on a flying visit from Hollywood so no individual interviews had been scheduled. Ten of us were allowed half-an- hour with her. It didn’t last that long.
Ms Streisand tramped out on to a small stage in front of us. She didn’t look happy – and she certainly didn’t look willing to make new friends.
‘ Let’s get this over with, can we?’ she snarled.
We were a little taken aback. I thought I’d try to smooth things over. ‘Ms Streisand, it must have been a daunting challenge for you taking on so much responsibility for this film?’
She glared at me ferociously. ‘Oh my God, haven’t you got a press pack? Haven’t you read up on all that stuff?’
I had, actually. Sorry. Only trying to be polite to set the ball rolling.
As I reeled in terror, a couple of others valiantly had a go. They were similarly struck down. In terms of any kind of discussion, or even conversation, we all got precisely nowhere.
An embarrassed publicity officer whispered apologetically in my ear: ‘She had a bit of a late start this morning.’
He paused – and clearly couldn’t think of anything else to say.
They hustled her off as quickly as possible. She didn’t even say goodbye.
I don’t think she ever knew she had lost one of her most devoted fans. Just as well. It might have upset her.
But no more so than dear Maureen Lipman, the one-time Beattie of the old BT ads and nowadays a prolific character actress on stage and television.
I had a very pleasant session when I visited her home in North London to talk
about a new play she and her (now deceased) husband Jack Rosenthal were
planning to try out at Warwick Arts Centre before a West End launch. Mr and Mrs R were most sociable and she even drove me back to the railway station afterwards.
Unfortunately I also had the task of reviewing the play when it opened, and I
found it, to put things gently, awful.
My review was on the streets by midday the next day and at approximately 12.05pm Ms Lipman was on the phone to me. For the first time in my life, I never got a word in. She shouted and screamed in a furious tirade and
whenever I drew a breath to speak, she shouted even louder.
It culminated in a cry of ‘You absolute berk!’ and she hung up. The play did a couple more regional performances before being cancelled by the director. It never made London. I still wonder why.
A year or so later I attended a first-night party for another show, this time in Birmingham. Ms Lipman was a guest on this occasion and our eyes met across crowded room. She immediately looked away.
I still wonder why.
Pictures: Barbara Streisand on the set of Yentl and Maureen Lipman in one of her most famous roles, Beattie in the BT advert.