Sir John Gielgud is 75. To hear him talk or watch him on the stage he seems much younger, whereas his recollections of the lions of the Edwardian theatre ought to put him well past his century. It's an elastic life because baby Gielgud was so quick off the mark, the famous nose soon round the edge of the pram observing the odd behaviour of his Terry uncles and aunts. He had instantaneous success as a young actor and put his popularity with audiences to good effect, bringing Shakespeare and Chekhov to the West End. As an actor manager between the wars he ran what was virtually a national theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. In the Fifties new directions in the theatre led him to flounder for a while, but in the last ten years he has found his place again. Adjectives like 'spry' and 'vigorous', indicating the subject is past it, are here inappropriate. His powers show no sign of diminishing, nor his enterprise. He has come a long way. As a juvenile his 'ambition was to be frightfully smart and West End, wear beautifully-cut suits lounging on sofas in French-window comedies'. Fifty years later 'I was asked to put suppositories up my bottom under the bedclothes and play a scene in the lavatory which I confess I found somewhat intimate.' Knighthoods nothing: actors should be decorated for gallantry.
LRB 20 December 1979 | PDF Download