I once met Alec Guinness

In a former incarnation I worked as a TV critic on the short lived London listings magazine Event. It was owned by Virgin and one of Branson's minions sent me to the BBC at White City to review Smiley's People. This was 1982. There was a showing and then a small reception with canapés and wines at which point they wheeled out the star Alec Guinness who with an assistant 'worked the room' - making critics feel good and hopefully thus obliged to write well of the TV series. It was actually very good ,and Guinness was the perfect Smiley.

At one point he was introduced to me and I said I liked the show. I had been an admirer of one of his directors, Robert Hamer, and mentioned him. His face brightened and he said he had been thinking about him that very morning. He did not seem to know that Hamer was something of a poet and asked me to send him some examples. I had vague ideas of publishing his work in a (very) slim volume. Guinness moved on and later, having received the copies of the poems he wrote from his house near Petersfield to thank me.

He said that the poems were very much of their time and he could not in all honesty write in recommendation of them. He suggested the actress Hermione Gingold who had been a great friend of Robert Hamer. I left it at that. Guinness was a distinctly charming man, cultured and slightly charismatic and I had been very glad to meet him.

As a poet Robert Hamer is not to everyone's taste but I append a poem of his anyway.  He was published along with Auden and MacNeice in New Verse and also while at Cambridge in Contemporaries And Their Maker (with contributions also by the spy Donald MacLean). Hamer (1911-1963) was described by the Time Out film guide as 'the greatest miscarriage of talent in the British Cinema.' He had a problem with alcohol. However his films form a marvellous body of work, probably the greatest being the Kent based 'noir' The Long Memory, based on the novel by Howard Clewes. His best known film  is the marvellous Kind Hearts and Coronets in which Guinness plays 8 parts…

Torch Song (1934)

The ring-fence aloofness
Of loved as loving richness,
Not designed for outside yes,
Admits no signal of distress;
Does not with the bankrupt know
How the shut mouth's steady no
Is the trap's refusal also,
Which growth will not overthrow.
The fence between here and here
Still separates mouth from ear
And good will cannot make clear
When hear is overhear.
From being to much said,
From being too much read,
The usual words are dead
And buried in the head.
While I try to draw the power
For an unconditional flower
From the synthetic our
Of a conversational hour
Always the dumb siege is stirred
By the mescal-eater's almost heard
Omnipotent transcendental word
To make why and because absurd
To build rhythms into one
To harness the latent sun
Plan out the work undone
Tell the blood how to run.

One thought on “I once met Alec Guinness

  1. Sasah Sasah

    A pretty good poem, very intense, very original and brave – 'harness the latent sun/
    Plan out the work undone/Tell the blood how to run.' Few can do better.


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