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Sunday, September 14, 2003
Denholm Elliot

There is an interesting article about the actor Bill Nighy in the Guardian dated 13 September. Nighy played the shrewd editor in the recent brilliant TV serial thriller 'State of Play'. One particular story Nighy tells his interviewer would seem strange were it not indubitably true:
[Nighy] agrees that Denholm Elliot was the greatest actor in the history of the world, and should have been knighted for the way he wore a camel coat over his shoulders and wondered if you could see your way clear to lending him a fiver. He describes how Elliot would go into a pub in Camden all on his own and sit at a table to drink his drink, then get up and go; how he never actually saw him do this, but that the tale is authentic because he knows a man who witnessed it on a regular basis.
I can confirm this tale because I witnessed it myself once, many years ago. Except that it was in a Camden Town cafe, not a pub. The cafe was very crowded and there was almost nowhere else to sit apart from a spare chair at my table. My companion and I were joined by a scruffy individual. I did a double take. It was, of course, Denholm Elliot. We both studiously ignored him, in part because we sensed that he wanted to be recognised. He had several days' growth of beard and looked pretty repellent. We left before he did. Afterwards, we wondered if he was trying to get into a part or if he had simply fallen on hard times.

We never found out. He subsequently appeared in lots of things so the second guess couldn't have been right. I think our encounter was after 'Nothing but The Best' (1964) so he probably wasn't practising for the part of the down and out gentleman rogue Charlie Prince. My favourite is, I think 'Defence of the Realm' (1985). Didn't Elliot, curiously, play the very good veteran journalist, Vernon Bayliss, murdered by spooks, in that movie?

I do hope that Nighy's observation will lead to Grauniad correspondence that tells us more about this eminent actor's fascinating behaviour.

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