Recently I have written a few obituaries or tributes to men who have had a large bearing on my life. And so it is this week with the passing of Michael Apted, the director of P’Tang Yang Kipperbang, a TV film that I starred in.
Well, starred in? What I mean is, appeared in. I was a background actor. An extra. I did have a single line of dialogue but it didn’t make the edit. The story of my life ahead – or my show biz life anyway!
Our school happened to be close to the home of the casting director and one day they rocked up and asked the English teacher, Mr Sunters for a list of boys of good character and with artistic potential.
I did not make the list and but unperturbed, I knocked on their door anyway.
He who dares…
They liked my cheek and perhaps my quirky look (I haven’t always been classically handsome). They had me read for the lead. Which I didn’t get and instead I became one of the extras. “Schoolboys” on the credit roll. Two weeks filming over the Easter holidays for £200. I enjoyed it enormously and I think whetted my appetite for telling stories. The film was a hit and is still held in great affection to this day.
From here, Michael Apted went on to great things including directing Gorillas in the Mist and the James Bond film, The World is not Enough… and it was his continued Hollywood success which meant that our paths crossed again a decade or so later…
Show business is all about nepotism and who we know – and having written a screenplay called The Faldovian Club I chanced upon a brilliant idea of having my old friend Michael Apted come on board as director.
I say old friend when in reality Mr Apted almost certainly did not know who I was. That said, we did at least have a connection. I had been one of his extras and given that I had been truly magnificent darling (really held the screen) I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he recalled me instantly.
Full of verve and excitement I sought out the name of Michael’s agents so that I could write to him. The mighty and boldly titled Creative Artists Agency or CAA. I liked the name immediately. I was already a professional stand-up comedian and as such, my letter was from one creative artist to another.
I printed off my masterpiece and duly dispatched it to sunny California with my accompanying letter re-introducing myself.
And my exciting wait began.
I was excited at the prospect of Michael reading my flawless script. A modern-day Ealing comedy. With his English sensitivities, Michael would respond to the material and I would be whisked out to LA to meet with his people. They would find it incredibly refreshing that I didn’t have people of my own.
As you may have guessed already, this is not how things played out, although I did hear back from CAA. Correspondence from his agent and not from Michael. I imagined that Michael wanted to write himself but he was busy at the time, tied up with Sigourney Weaver and a bunch of gorillas.
It was a letter that amused me at the time of receipt and which I understand much better now. I came across it recently during one of our numerous lockdown “let’s get our lives together” clear-outs.
Included was my own letter to Michael that I had written all those years ago. I started to read it but couldn’t finish because it was so ill conceived and badly written. Juvenile and amateur, it made me wince and explains the other contents in the fading and creased A4 envelope…
My script had also been returned to me, but now emblazoned with two stamps in red ink. One stating – RECEIVED and an accompanying date and another with the more ominous word, UNREAD.
Their letter was short curt and legally unambiguous. Something like…
Dear Mr Holland,
Thank you for sending us your script, THE FALDOVIAN CLUB. This letter is to state that it has not been read by Mr Apted, his agent nor anyone associated with this agency. Should CAA ever be involved with any project which has any similarities to anything in your script, then this is by coincidence…
Not then what I had hoped for but a good warning of what lay ahead for me in film. Warnings that I did not heed. I would go on to sell The Faldovian Club and three other screenplays but without ever hearing that seductive word “Action”. But no hard feelings because this experience gave birth to Only in America, without which I wouldn’t have written Eclipsed…
Is this a silver lining or clutching at straws? A glass half full or empty?
Well, this depends on your perspective or outlook on life. I know what mine is and I figure it’s the only way to be.
For other essays like this – Dom’s latest book, Takes on Life – contains 31 comic asides which might make lockdown a tad more bearable. Available via this site in hardback and in paperback at online retailers.