sjhstrangetales

HAWTREY

 I came here for the boys.  I thought I’d have my pick of handsome young seamen, all looking for a bit of something else on shore leave.  But I also like to think I brighten the lives of the locals in this little fishing town.  I must be like a unicorn in their midst.  A flamboyant creature from another world.  They must be dazzled by my pink shirts and orange trousers.  Probably never seen A Theatrical before.

 Oh God, those damn gulls, like the souls of the damned, constantly circling round us.

 That old cow up the street, the one who always seems to have her hair in curlers, told me I’d had a visitor yesterday.  A couple of men were standing outside my front door, looking for me.  She said she’d told them I was in the Saracens, but they didn’t come and pursue me there.  Buggered off back to London, or wherever it was they came from I expect.  Clearly didn’t try very hard to find me.  If it was Williams, I told him he was welcome here anytime.  I told him ages ago he was to treat it as his second home, but he just gave me one of his supercilious looks, and muttered something under his breath.  I bet it wasn’t complimentary.  It never is with him.

 Let me show you around my home.  It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it suits me just fine.  Williams was looking down his hooter at my furniture once, but it will all come back into mode one day, I swear it.  “It looks like some bed-and-breakfast establishment stuck in a time-warp”, he said.  Those are good solid bedsteads, I’ll have you know.   My Mother was very proud of them.  He sneered at my magazines too.  The dried-up old queer.  He’s so damn buttoned-up all the time.  If only he’d let it all hang out once in a while, and I don’t mean when he’s flashing his bits at women on a film set.   Freud would have had a field day with us lot.

 Mind the cat.  My most cherished companion.  I talk to him all the time.  Sometimes I shout and throw things at him too, but he doesn’t mind it.  He’s well used to me by now.  Animals are less judgemental than humans.  Mother always said that, and it’s true.  I talk to her too sometimes, and she talks to me.  I suspect some would have me put away for that, but that’s their problem.  When I was still doing stage work, her spirit would come and visit me in my dressing-room, and we’d have long conversations about whichever bit of rubbish I was staring in.  A young girl overheard us once, and it quite alarmed her.  Although of course she only heard me, so she must have thought I’d gone off my head.

 Believe it or not, I am happy here.  I know people think I’m some pathetic old drunk, a sad recluse, but I’m as happy as it’s possible to be in this straitjacketed world.  Ah, you’re looking at the bottles in the kitchen.  Yes, sometimes it amazes me I’m still here too, considering I’ve drunk enough over the years to float the QE2.  These days I have no idea what it’s like to be sober.  The boozing became so ingrained that it’s my second skin now.  Two-and-a-half bottles of port a night, at least, followed by a pot of tea.  That’s been my style for years.  Williams always said it made me “a bore”, but I can’t imagine his haughty put-downs are comfortable to be with either.  

 Hattie once said she forced her way into his flat, to see how he lived, and found the living-room almost empty, apart from a few books, gramophone records, and a lectern.  What on earth did he need a lectern for in his living-room?  Does he like to stand there and perform Shakespearean monologues at an invisible audience?  Nothing would surprise me.

 I couldn’t be like him.  I like my clutter.  It’s homely.  Old-fashioned.  I was an Edwardian by birth (just about), from that long-ago world which has vanished into the midst of time.  Born in the early months of World War One.  Perhaps War babies are different to others.  Perhaps we learn too early that life isn’t all it should be.  That life is cruel.  That all too often people disappoint us.  There aren’t many that I’ve met over the years that I can truly respect.  Will Hay, now he was a rare exception.  He was a great man.  Like a second father to me.  Kind, intelligent, and a truly gifted comic actor.   That other lot, on the Carry Ons, were bloody amateurs by comparison.  I was a child star before many of them were even thought of.  

 Sometimes I feel ancient compared to everyone else.  

 

 Those louts are at it again, shouting through my letterbox.  “Carry On Charlie!  Come out, we know you’re in there, you old fairy!”  Bloody swine.  Leave me alone.  I’ll have to order a taxi and ask it to pick up my shopping for me.  Times like this I’m under siege in my own home.  

 Do I miss the Carry Ons?  Well I often miss the money.  It wasn’t much.  Bloody pittance, if you ask me.  I got £5000 for the first one in 1958, and it stayed at that rate until the final one in 1972.  None of us were paid what we were due, and the girls got even less.  Not right, you know.  But it was a regular income, and I suppose it cocooned me.  Show business is a notoriously unreliable profession, and if you can get something that employs you regularly, then it’s not to be sneezed at.  It’s why so many actors go off the rails when they come to the end of a long run.  Suddenly they’re thrown out back into the big ugly old world again, and it can feel a very cold and desolate place.  

 The rest of the team were my surrogate family, for better or worse, but I always felt as though I wasn’t getting the respect I was due.  Sid James got all the kudos.  I was told bluntly that my name could never go above his in the titles, that would be ridiculous apparently.  And when I was told that Hattie would go above me in the Christmas special, well it all got too much.  All I wanted was a Star on my dressing-room door, it’s not much to ask, not when you think what some showbiz diva’s demand, and yet they wouldn’t even run to that.  “No one is bigger than the Carry Ons, Charles”, I was told.  Hmm, well they haven’t done so well since I left have they?  Been a pretty poor show all round really.  I actually felt sorry for Williams in that last one.  Apparently he did it out of some misguided loyalty for the series.  Baring his arse for the biggest pile of rubbish I’d seen since I myself did Zeta One in 1970.

 Now that was a weird one.  A very strange experience all round.  The director hasn’t made another one since, and I can’t say I’m surprised.  It was a total embarrassment.  I starred alongside James Robertson Justice, another sad case.  Ended up sleeping on a friend’s sofa in his last years.  Destitute.  Show business is brutal.  

 I don’t miss the early mornings.  Turning out in all weathers at the crack of dawn, and then having to pretend you’re on a beautiful Summer’s morning, when in reality you’re freezing your bollocks off in a rain-sodden field.   I don’t miss the celebrity circuit at all.  Every so often I see little Babs Windsor on some godforsaken quiz show on TV, and I think, oh dear, have some self-respect.  People must get sick of the sight of her.  She’s ubiquitous.

 

 The last bit of trade I picked up said that if I didn’t pay him the full amount he was due, he’d go and expose me to the papers.  Hah!  Does he really think I give a damn.  I never read the papers anyway, and even if I got shouted at in the street it would make bugger all difference, as I get that anyway.  I haven’t got a reputation to destroy.  And it can’t damage me any more than I damage myself.  I can’t remember anything about my last TV appearance, and I never watched it, but by all accounts it was like a car accident.  I was on some inane chat show, being asked to regurgitate pointless showbiz anecdotes.  I was totally rat-arsed and I couldn’t be bothered.  Didn’t see the point.  Well anyway, that was my contribution to the celebrity circuit.  

 I don’t even open my mail much these days.  I occasionally still get offers of work, but I can’t be bothered to drag my arse into gear to do any of it.  I dried badly the last time I did stage work, in Swindon, of all bloody places.  I couldn’t remember anything beyond my catchphrase, “oh hello!”  I couldn’t understand why I was expected to deliver more than that.  Surely that was all they wanted?  

 Carry On Camping was on again at the weekend.  I wish we got repeat fees for the amount of times that’s been shown.  “Hey, you were the loner in that as well”, said the bit of trade in my living-room.  I always was.  He burst out laughing.  “For fuck’s sake”, he said, nearly choking on his takeaway “look at your sparrer legs in it!  Jeezus!  You could make a wish with those!”

 This one was a Talker.  Once he got going, you couldn’t shut him up.

 “Amazing how the likes of you got away with being queer”, he said “You and Frankie Howerd and Kenny Williams, considering it was illegal for so long.  Like forever”.

 “It wasn’t illegal forever”, I said “It wasn’t illegal in Roman times.  It was all perfectly accepted back then.  Society took a step backwards for hundreds of years”.

 “Why was that then?” he said, speaking with his mouth full.

 “I don’t know!” I said “I’m not the bloody Oracle!  Christianity I suppose, or religion in general”.

 “But the public still love you”, he said “Apart from round here.  Heard some terrible things about you round here.  Taxi-driver was having a good old rant about you earlier”.

 “I’m sure he was”, I said, not wishing to hear any more, although clearly it would take a direct hit from a nuclear warhead to shut this chap up.

 “But why did the public love you in your films when it’s as clear as anything you’re a queer old coot”, he went on.

 “I suppose they see me as aesexual”, I said “Totally non-threatening, so they can cope with me.  The same with Williams I suppose”.

 “You?? Aesexual”, he laughed, spewing rice all over his t-shirt “What a laugh!  If only they knew!  You’re fucking obsessed with sex!!”

 

 I suppose I am.  Isn’t any man?  It’s emotional relationships I can’t cope with, I suppose I’m like Williams like that.  Although I don’t have his hang-ups.  He’s so prissy he won’t even let people use his lavatory.  I’ve heard visitors have to use the public conveniences over the road when they call on him.  No one could accuse me of that.  But yes, I love the sight of a strapping, healthy looking young buck.  That’s why I love the body-builder magazines.  Although it would amuse people inordinately, weedy, bespectacled Charles Hawtrey reading a body-builders mag!  

 I’m a child at heart.  I suppose I’ve never stopped being the boy soprano, the child star.  Even the Carry Ons, crap though they were, managed to bring out that side of me.  My very last Carry On role, Mr Tuttle, in Carry On Abroad, was me to a T.  Playing leap-frog with those sweet girls in their cute mini-skirts.  It’s a shame that all people can remember in that one is me swigging out of a sun-tan lotion bottle, or drinking Champagne in the bath.  They had to work all the drinking into my role you see, otherwise there was no way I could have played it.  

 I can’t imagine being sober.   

 

 I got an urge to visit the pier today.  Normally wild horses wouldn’t get me walking that far.  I only visit the seafront to parade in front of the fishermen, or visit the various hostelries along there, but for some unknown reason, I decided to take a stroll along the pier.  I got right to the end.  There was a splendid gel doing some fishing there.  She was the sort that makes me fully understand why some men are straight.  Firm thighs on her, splendid, athletic physique.  I stopped for a ciggie and to admire the view.  

 Two old dears walked past me, giving me coy smiles.

 “That’s Mr Hawtrey”, one of them whispered.

 Oh why can’t all the general public be like that?  All I ask is a little respect, a little acknowledgement of my star status.  Not all the jeering, and “Carry On Charlie Boy!”  All that crapola.  I bet Sir Laurence Olivier doesn’t get plebs yelling “hey look it’s old Larry boy!” when he’s out and about.  

 

 I couldn’t understand where I was.  I thought I was a child again, and I could hear Mother moving around the kitchen at home.  I had been entertaining one of my friends in the back garden.  All I was vaguely aware of was feeling very tiny, like a small child, with grown-ups walking all around me.  

 “You really overdid it that night, Charlie”, I heard someone talking in my ear “Made a right spectacle of yourself and no mistake.  You conked out on the floor.  One of the locals started pissing on you!”

 Plebs, I thought, nothing but plebs.  My audience.  

 “The only way we can save you Mr Hawtrey, is by amputating your legs”.

 WHAT??

 “No!” I shouted, my smoker’s voice breaking with the strain.

 “But it’s the only chance we have of prolonging your life”, some numbskull doctor was talking at me.

 “You are not taking my legs!” I yelled, as strongly as I could “I am a trouper.  I will die with my boots on, thank you very much!”

 “Can I have your autograph, Mr Hawtrey?” asked some beaming, cheesy-faced nurse.

 I threw a vase at her.

 

 I couldn’t resist revisiting my old house at Middle Street.  As I’ve said before, in spite of what many people may think, I was very happy there.  It was my place.  My refuge from the world.  Had some damn good times there, I can tell you.  When that idiot boy set fire to it, complaining I hadn’t paid him what I owed him, the Press made it all sound so sad and seedy.  Shots of this scrawny, feeble old man, being carried out in a fireman’s blanket, minus his teeth and his toupee (me, not the fireman, God they were gorgeous, beefy boys, it was worth having a fire to be rescued by them).   But it wasn’t like that.  We all find our pleasures in our own different ways.  

 I could survive that alright.  What felled me I suppose was Williams dying, back in the Spring.  There was a lot of talk that it was suicide, that he’d done it on purpose.   I’m not sure.  Williams was a scrupulous professional, and he had commitments the following day.  He would have made sure he turned up for them, even if his head was hanging off.  Not like me.  I gave up giving a toss a long time ago.  I suspect it was accidental.   Although we weren’t bosom chums, I think we understood each other, and the world never seemed right without him in it somehow.  Joanie Sims was like that when Hattie died.  She went in on herself.  Poor cow.  

 Anyway, I returned to Middle Street.  There was a young couple living there now.  Seemed nice enough, but they were being very haphazard with their wine bottles.  Returned from Tuscany, or wherever it was they’d gone for their hols, and just left the Duty Free any old how in the cellar.  I couldn’t have that, so I tidied them up for them, arranged them in neat rows.  I liked the cellar particularly.  Often thought of it as my Playroom.  My old cat returned  with me too.  I wonder if that scared them more than the thought of me rearranging wine bottles!  

 “There’s talk that no one will stay here long”, said Williams “They blame it on you haunting the place.  Can’t say I’m surprised.  Bloody annoying ghost you would be to have around”.

 “Oh be quiet”, I said “I’m pretty certain you would be a damn sight worse!  What do you do over there all day anyhow?”

 “I study”, he said, I could see him pulling himself up rather grandly “I have all the time in the world for that now, and access to all the books I need.  Sid has passed on a message for you.  ‘Get yourself over here, Charlie Boy, it’s a right Carry On’.  Very Sid all over, but he’s right.  You can’t hang around here forever”.

 “Have you seen my blue plaque?” I said, taking him outside and gesturing at it, there, on the wall of my house “‘CHARLES HAWTREY 1914-1988. Film, Theatre, Radio and Television Actor Lived Here’.  Rather splendid isn’t it.  They could have included my full name though.  George Frederick Joffree Hartree”.

 “Yes I’ve got one of those”, he said “All mine says is KENNETH WILLIAMS 1926-1988 Comic Actor lived here.  Comic Actor!  No mention of my stage work, how I had once starred with Ingrid Bergman, or that I was an accomplished diarist.  Really, it can make you sick”.

 “Is it time to move on?” I said, suddenly feeling rather sad.

 “Yes”, he replied “Time you came over.  High time you left their wine bottles alone, you daft old queen!”

 

THE END

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