Mr. Frisby. For Sarah

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 13 October 2020

I put on an old blue anorak, pulled up the hood, tugged on thick socks that were a gift from a Portland contributor when we filmed there, squeezed into my heavy walking boots, took my glasses off, snuck them in the front pocket of me anorak, and set off for a walk.

The rain pushing the branches down on the fir trees, the drops splattering on orange Pine needles. The air was clean and clear. Round past the boulder and down to the giant horse chestnut tree. Handfuls of wet, shiny conkers the colour of polished russet lay in the mud. The wet earth claggy and aromatic. The squirrels delight, bisquey acorns, scattered over the newly ploughed field. An aeroplane flew overhead interrupting the silence.

The rain tip tapped on big, yellowy Sycamore leaves and pit patted on my hood. By the time I got to the top field the rain sounded like a BBC sound artist scrunching crisp packets. Five sheep stood among 37 mole hills. They were little rams. I knew they weren't ewes when I realised the dangly bits weren't udders. We eyeballed each other for a while. I have a friend John whose sister had a farm in Derwent, Derbyshire. She named a cow after me. John had the ability to make sheep piss. He only had to stand and look at them and off they went. These rams, big heads and an indifferent stare, just looked at me munching the grass round the mole hills, not a tinkle in sight.

Round onto the stony road, tiptoeing over the sweet chestnuts, their shells split open like bawdy starfish. Then down to the avenue. The beeches and birches soaking up the rain.

I hugged my tree and Terry Frisby came to mind. He does every time I walk down the avenue. Terry wrote 'There's a Girl in my Soup', a massive hit in the 70's. The film starred Goldie Hawn and Peter Sellers and Terry made his name. The son of a railwayman, Terry went to drama school, had an actors voice, was a staunch Social Democrat, and was even more nit-picky than the old git. I met Frizz - as he was called - in 1971. We made two films together about the history of Pantomime and the History of Sadlers Wells and we made each other laugh.

He asked me to move in with him. I was a young actress just starting out so the offer of a room in a house on Fulham Palace Road was irresistible. He never took rent. He wanted me to stand behind him and encourage him to write. I refused. Now I would have obliged knowing how lonely the writing process can be. Mr. Frisby introduced me to bijou bistros in Chelsea, taught me how to order fancy French food, showed me how to make the perfect omelette which he had learnt how to cook in Canne, took me to the cinema and got me my first proper theatre job at The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square. 'Sense of Detachment' was written by John Osborne. Denise Coffey and Rachel Kempson starred in it and I understudied them both. Frisby and I sat in the front row. We were cast as a middle class couple whose job it was to heckle the actors on stage. We were very nearly fired for corpsing, which is the term for those hysterical giggles actors get that are uncontrollable. We corpsed our way through the run.

Terry was a pro-am golfer. His stories were typical of the tales that golfers tell. Like the time he was playing with Roy Castle in a tournament for charity. Terry hit a shot then retired into the bushes to relieve himself. When he returned to the game he had dribbled onto his beige trousers. So embarrassed was he that he concentrated on taking his next putt. It was a magnificent shot, coming to rest on the rim of the hole. The crowd sighed a collective sigh. Roy Castle, was electrified by Frisby's performance and said under his breath;

"Thank God he didn't shit himself."

When I left his house in Fulham, I went on the road, on Terry's advice, and so started my career. We always kept in contact. I watched his hands wrinkle and his voice deepen. Even as we both grew older we still made each other laugh. And then I decided to have a baby. I have a photograph of me pregnant, walking down the avenue, Terry holding my right hand and my mother holding my left. Every time I get to my tree I stop and think about them. Today felt melancholy, surrounded by brown - the colour of the Earth was comforting and nurturing

He died on April 23rd, aged 87. Fitting it was Shakespeares birthday. Covid meant I couldn't go to the funeral, but his son posted a video of the service over his ecological coffin.

I miss him.

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Comments

1. At October 13, 2020 10:20 PM Lyn Misselbrook wrote:

Bawdy starfish ... sweet!
I think I met him once at an agency in Covent Garden when I assisted an agent; my boy was about 18 months old or so. I recall with some pride I actually negotiated a higher rate for an actor in a radio play. She was impressed.
He was a good guy.

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