Thursday, February 24, 2005

Exit, Pursued By The Secret Service

Yesterday's thoughts on American gun culture reminded me of something that happened when this middle England muser was a backstage myrmidon at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
The then American Vice-President Rockefeller was coming to see the show one evening. The Secret Service chaps were given what is now called 'Access All Areas'. But they didn't exactly blend into the background. In fact when it came to standing out they made a sore thumb look like the apotheosis of self-effacement. Clean-cut, in sharp suits, and with short hair at a time when that was unfashionable, they prowled around muttering into wires that protruded from their shirt cuffs.

I was leaning against my winch eating an egg mayonnaise sandwich from the cafe over the road. My friend and fellow winchman was kneeling at my feet simulating oral sex. He sometimes did this to pass the time while waiting for curtain up, especially if he'd spent the previous two hours in the pub. I'd almost stopped noticing it although I once moved suddenly and accidentally kneed him in the face.
The young American agent certainly noticed it. He stood transfixed, all his worst suspicions about the English confirmed. He lifted his wrist to his mouth and started speaking. I couldn't hear what he said. 'Faggot alert!' probably.

There was a scene in the show where two characters dressed as mafiosi ran on to the stage and fired machine guns. The Americans asked that this scene be removed because of the risk that the armed bodyguards in Rockefeller's box would fire back.
The management said surely it would be all right if they were pre-warned that fake guns would be fired on stage. But the Americans said instinct might take over. These guys were trained to shoot first and ask questions later. The management stood firm and refused to make nonsense of the plot by cutting scenes. But I'm not sure if they warned the two young actors that they might be about to die for their art.

I suppose you can understand the Americans' sensitivity, given that Abraham Lincoln was shot dead in his box at the theatre. But in that instance his assassin was in the box with him rather than on the stage and with an admirable classical flourish cried "Sic semper tyrannis!" as he did the deed.

I wonder if George W ever goes to the theatre? I'm sure he could be tempted by a dramatisation of his favourite book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Preferably with a caterpillar trained to use a semi-automatic.
Best to lay off the Latin phrases though. One wouldn't want George to die as he'd lived - confused and bewildered by language.


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