The Columnist

Book Review
by Simon Kelner

Barry Took
  Jan Morris
  Simon Kelner
  Ken Crawford
  Simon Kelner
  Ken Crawford
  Caroline Highcock
  Charles Douglas-Home
  Ralph Freeman
  Peter Jamieson
  Jazz for Juniors
  Bearded Lady
  Letter to Agent
  Joanna Lumley
Lady Margaret Oswick
  Katharine Whitehorn
  Melvyn Bragg
  Margaret Forster
  Richard Ingrams
  Gavyn Davies






Lady Margaret Oswick

Dot Peryer - administrator                                             
Natural Theatre Company                                                      
Aug 4 1998


Dear Dot,
            I am afraid I am unable to grant your request for a letter of tribute to Ralph Oswick, as in many ways the man has blighted my life ever since I moved to Bath in 1987.
            Perhaps I can explain.
            When I lived in Notting Hill prior to 1987, I was one of many writers residing in that very fashionable area, and found that it was almost impossible to stand out in the crowd of writers and artists longing for fame and recognition. John Cleese lived round the corner, and Harold Pinter up the hill, and I once saw Barry Norman there, though it turned out he was lost. By moving to Bath, I thought I could make a belated bid for fame, or, failing that, at least get my photograph in the Bath Chronicle.
            I was horror struck to find that the Chronicle had no interest in putting photos of creative artists in the paper unless they were members of the Natural Theatre Company, preferably including Ralph Oswick. Week after week, almost day after day, a picture of the actors from this provincial group would be featured on the front even if it had no connection with the main news story, if Bath can ever be said to have a main news story. By the time I had settled in the Bath area, got married and had a child and located the nearest aromatherapist, I had seen Mr Oswick’s photo in the paper some 270 times, sometimes in his own right, more often dressed up as a ‘comic turn’.
            I once had the pleasure of meeting the Chronicle’s editor, if it can be said to have an editor, and he told me that the Natural Theatre Company was the proudest achievement of the City of Bath.
            “Really?” I said. “Including the rugby team? And the Roman Baths?”
            “Certainly,” he said. “I cannot see our rugby team surviving the change to professionalism. And the Roman Baths, like so many things in Bath, are only half-completed and do not work properly. But the Naturals are a great institution everywhere in the world except London, where they know nothing. Go anywhere. Go to Hamburg. Ask them about ‘alte Ralphi aus Bath.’ ”
It seems hard to believe, but less than a year after this conversation I was indeed in the fair city of Hamburg and had repaired to the Reeperbahn in search of the company of some local young person. What was my surprise when my eye fell upon the local theatre, called I think the St Pauli, and spotted a large sign proclaiming the arrival of the Bath Natural Theatre Co in a production of Scarlatti’s Birthday Party.
            ‘Ach, ja, der alte Ralphi!” was the response when I inquired about the production. They were there for a run of three weeks. A quick calculation told me that if I returned to Bath straightaway I could spend nearly a month in the place without Oswick being around, and I did, but it was only a brief respite.
            Since then my life has been a series of ups and downs. I am glad to say that Mr Oswick is often away on long trips with his ‘street theatre’ company, winning prizes for his work in Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro, due to the unremitting energy, artistry and invention of that comic troupe. That may well be so. What chiefly delights me is that when he is away winning prizes he is not in Bath, even though he has often had his photo in the Bath Chronicle while he is actually in Costa Rica, which does not say much for the news values of the Bath Chronicle, if such they have.
            On the other hand, I have encountered him when I least expected him. For instance, I have been engaged in a series of Radio4 programmes with Edward Enfield called Double Vision, for which we engaged the services of a local dignitary called Lady Margaret Oswick. Not only did she turn out to be the best thing on the programme, which is unforgivable, but she also turned out to have more in common with Mr Ralph Oswick than the mere name would suggest.
            Enough. I think I have come to terms with the man’s success by now. (I may say that I have now had my photograph in the Bath Chronicel, pictured playing boules in Queen Square. It was not what I left Notting Hill to achieve, but never mind – I do not think Mr Oswick has ever achieved this. Go on, ask him! If he says he has, he lies!)
            And now I receive a letter asking me to endorse him for some award or other! Well, I am not a jealous man. If nobody better can be found, I am sure he is the right man for the prize. I am sure he has a circle of friends who will say no ill of him. My only dread is that, if Ralph Oswick does get this prize, they will put a photo of him receiving it on the front page of the Bath Chronicle.
Never mind. I shall probably be back in Notting Hill by then.


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