I read today that the wonderful actor Tony Britton has died at the age of ninety-five. He truly was a great, in whichever rôle he played, he was that person – the handsome hero, the villain, the decent chap, the young blood, the elder statesman – whatever he was asked to take on, he became that person. I never met him, but my dad did. Here is a true story about how my dad, nick-named Snick, met Tony. I wrote this some time ago, a true story, but I concealed the identities of those involved; now, with all of them passed on, it seems right to share:
Snick was the most generous and kindly man who would open his home to anyone who had need of a meal, a chat, a whisky or two, so when the wife of an in-law asked if he could visit an old gentleman in a care home, an old gentlemen whose family all lived far away and could rarely come to see him, Snick was happy to go and meet him. The old chap’s grandson had been engaged to the in-law’s daughter, which is how there was a connection.
The old man was the father of a very well-known – famous in fact – actor, much respected and admired, and was the grandfather of the actor’s three children, all of whom became household names in varying fields. I shall call the old man Mr Smith, and his son Raymond – nothing like their actual names!
Every week, but on different days, Snick would visit Mr Smith; he was an interesting old man, full of stories and still with great curiosity about the world despite being a little decrepit due to his age. After knowing him for several months, Snick invited him home for Sunday lunch, which Mr Smith very much enjoyed, especially meeting Snick’s family.
One day, when Snick visited, he found Mr Smith had something on his mind; his son Raymond, the famous actor, was visiting and he wanted to take him out for lunch but was hampered by his infirmity and the fact that he didn’t know which restaurant to go to. Snick asked if perhaps Raymond and the old man would like to come to lunch, chez Snick. The old man was delighted and excited, and so it was arranged.
Snick was on his own, his family away from home. He had pondered on the menu but happened to have been given a pheasant; however it was rather small for three people so as he also had some tenderloin of pork, he combined the two, a delicious meal was on the menu!
The visitors arrived and were welcomed.
“Ah, Professor! How kind of you to invite me and my father for lunch, delighted to meet you!” exclaimed Raymond.
Professor? Snick was not a professor – how mysterious, but before he could say anything the old man was telling Raymond what a wonderful friend ‘the Professor’ was, how kind, how generous, and there was no opportunity to say ‘Actually, I’m not a professor‘. After a pre-lunch drink, with conversation flowing easily between the three men, they sat down to lunch. The pork and pheasant dish, accompanied by perfectly cooked vegetables, including broccoli and runner beans, was greatly enjoyed, so much so there was little left for Snick to have as a meal the next day!
As the weather was clement, they took Mr Smith out for a walk round the village in his wheelchair, chatting easily and comfortable. Home for a cup of tea and then, with the old man flagging a little, it was time for them to leave.
After this, Snick continued to visit the care home, occasionally meeting Raymond on visits; he was always greeted as ‘Professor’, although the father and son did call him by his name in conversation. One day Snick received a call from the care home, not unexpected as the old man had been failing in his last few visits, but Mr Smith, at the age of ninety-four, had died peacefully. A few days later the care home rang again with details of the funeral, and Snick decided he would go along to say farewell to his elderly friend.
As Raymond and his children were so well-known, Snick anticipated that there might be a real crowd of onlookers as well as friends and family of Mr Smith. He decided that he would arrive just a little while before the service commenced, and just slip in at the back of the chapel. However when he arrived, he was greeted with cries of ‘the Professor! The Professor is here!‘ and an usher whisked him into the chapel to a reserved seat in the front pews.
After the service the family pressed him to come back to the ‘reception’ which he did, and much as he wanted to explain he was not and never had been a professor, he just let it go, and murmured he was ‘retired’.
Later he pondered on the mystery of it all… In fact his brother had been a professor, but there was no way the in-law who had originally asked him to visit Mr Smith would have confused them, especially as she had never met his brother. In the end, he decided that the in-law had deliberately promoted him… He didn’t mind. he had very much liked Mr Smith and Raymond, and the members of the family he had met… and being ‘the Professor’ had amused him… and it made a better story!
Thank you David Mark from Pixabay for the image.