Saturday 9 October 2021

Sinden and Bosie

On this day we lovers of theat-ah (hem hem) must celebrate the birthday of Donald Sinden, who would have been 98 today. Sinden evolved from being a fairly conventional and versatile leading man into the fruitiest thesp who ever trod the boards. In his anecdotage he was a popular talk-show guest, and he published two volumes of memoirs, as well as editing (who better?) the Everyman Book of Theatrical Anecdotes. In addition to his long and distinguished acting career, he had a minor claim to fame as perhaps the last living link with Lord Alfred Douglas ('Bosie'), and thereby with Oscar Wilde. 
   In 1942 Sinden discovered that the aged Lord Alfred was living not far from him in Hove, so he decided to seek him out, having recently read a biography of Oscar Wilde. Cannily he prepared for his visit by reading some of Douglas's sonnets, which their author (and, to be fair, some others) rated very highly. Arriving at Lord Alfred's address, Sinden was surprised to find a row of very mean, two-up two-down houses. 'With some trepidation,' Sinden writes (in A Touch of the Memoirs), 'but tingling with excitement, I rang the bell. A long pause. The door was opened by a little stooping man, not more than five feet four inches tall, with grey hair, bleary eyes and pouches under them and a bulbous nose. "Please come in," said Lord Alfred.'
  The former Bosie responded charmingly to the young actor who had taken an interest in him,  and, after a pleasant conversation, he invited him back for tea the following week. 'And so began a series of visits during which he would talk about his childhood, his time at Oxford, the actors he had known, his court cases, books and writers, and gradually the subject of Oscar Wilde, whom he always recalled with great affection. Tears sometimes welled in his eyes.'
  But then Sinden, browsing in a Brighton bookshop, came across Lord Alfred's Oscar Wilde and Myself and discovered that it was full of vitriolic abuse of his one-time friend, lover and mentor. This was an eye-opener, but Sinden maintained his friendship with Lord Alfred, who one day took him to Worthing and showed him the house where he and Oscar  were staying when Oscar was writing The Importance of Being Earnest. When Lord Alfred died in 1945, Donald Sinden was one of only two people to attend his funeral. He described him later as 'a very dear, kind man' – a generous assessment. 

1 comment:

  1. Sinden was once asked about the difficulty of playing Lear. 'Well,' he said, 'it's a very long time till the first laugh.'