The last time I blogged about Mensa member Peter Stanford was in June four years ago, when he was taking part in the annual Naked Bike Ride in London.
A couple of weeks ago, he was telling me: “Yes. I am moving out of the hostel for the homeless to a Church’s Housing flat soon and do not know how much notice I will have. (Four hour’s notice to get in the hostel.) Library computer running out. If you blog about me, will it affect my chances of getting acting work? Should it therefore be anonymous?”
When we met, we decided it would not.
We met in the Soho Theatre Bar.
“So currently,” I said, “you are living a transient life…”
“I am living in a hostel, yes. I was sleeping rough, living on the pavement, from last Christmas to about April this year.”
“I suppose, as an actor,” I said, “it doesn’t matter where you are.”
“And I have a bicycle,” said Peter. “I haven’t got my youth, but I have my stamina and I can cycle across London and back. Swimming and cycling I can still do.”
Why he is homeless is complicated and he feels too personal to print, as it might affect someone else.
He also told me: “I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story about middle class homelessness.”
“You were,” I said, “almost in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Grimsby.
“Well…” he replied. “I got an email from one of the agencies saying: Would you object to being a urinating vicar in the film called Grimsby? So I told them: Not at all; sign me up. But then I never heard from them again.
“I can,” he continued, “think of other tales to destroy one’s self-image – being invited onto Take Me Out, turning up on set in my normal clothes for the role of a squatter and being told: You’ve been to costume and make-up then?
“On the other hand, I was writing out my theatrical CV the other day and it looks quite impressive. I sang at the London Palladium with Robbie Williams. I sang at the London Coliseum with ELO.”
“With Robbie Williams?” I asked.
“I was ‘a fat popstar’,”he explained. “At the time, Robbie Williams was getting a lot of flak in the press for looking fat, so he wrote a song and all these fat people ran out and sang No-One Likes a Fat Pop Star. And I’ve sung opera in my time.”
“Weren’t you Henry VIII?” I asked.
“Yes. At Hampton Court. But my best story of being a homeless actor was when I was living on the streets. I went to the library to do my emails and was offered the chance to be the new face of Stella Artois beer. I had not told any agents that I was sleeping on the pavement.
“We would be filming in Rumania, they told me, so we will put you up in a five star hotel for a week and then buy you out for eight thousand Euros. Is that acceptable?”
“I told them that it was and thought that I must get the job for the irony alone. Pavement to 5 Star hotel, then back to the pavement (if I know anything about the wait before payment). I was going to be a Victorian doctor in the ads. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.”
“But you almost got it,” I asked, “by going to the library?”
“Oh, every day I go to the library and log on: Wandsworth, Ealing, Kingston, Southwark, Greenwich… Westminster is good because it’s open until 9.00pm. They are all good places to go and sleep. I once fell asleep while I was cycling.”
“Fortunately,” Peter continued, “I didn’t go under a bus. I went to other way and hit a kerb, flew through the air and landed on my knee. It woke me up.”
“So how do you survive financially?”
“When I became homeless, for the first time in my life, I signed on the dole. I had been living off my acting and living with a relative. I was always brought up to be frugal.”
“I think,” I said, “you’re allowed to work up to something like 16 hours a week and still sign on?”
“Something like that.”
“How many acting jobs do you get a month?”
“Two or three. I’ve been auditioning a lot. I was a vicar the other week. When they gave me the address, it was where they had had my uncle’s cremation last year.”
“You seem to be getting typecast as vicars,” I suggested.
“Well, I have a deep voice, so I am either good guys or bad guys. A deep voice means evil or benign. A psychopath or wise old man.”
“There’s no way out of this, is there,” I asked, “unless you get a big role?”
“There is my one-man show about James Robertson Justice,” said Peter.
“Except,” I said, “no-one remembers who he was.”
“Alas,” said Peter.
“You wrote it for yourself,” I prompted.
“I was writing it as a one-man play about James Robertson Justice and someone was interested and, three quarters of the way through, he suddenly asked: Could you make it about Brian Blessed instead? I told him the main reason I couldn’t do that was it was based on James Robertson Justice’s life.”
“Ironically,” I said, “the best person to play the part of James Robertson Justice would be Brian Blessed.”
“That part’s taken,” laughed Peter. “By me.”
“You have already performed it?”
“Written and performed it.”
“You could do it at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested.
“I could do it anywhere. I’ve got a friend for free accommodation in Edinburgh, but I have never been to the Fringe.”
One response to “An actor’s tale: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars””
I know who James Robertson Justice was very well- my Mum was an actress in London and the Home Counties in the ’50s, and I know of many of the thespians from those days from her old copies of Plays & Players, as well as being a fan of older films. Justice used to play a pompous old consultant in the ‘Doctor In The House’ films from the early ’60s. Don’t think that just because many of your blog viewers are younger, they haven’t heard of famous people from before their time!!