ROBERT MORLEY BOOK REVIEW
PUNCH, SEPTEMBER 16, 1988
TWO OLD MEN IN DECKCHAIRS
JACK TREVOR STORY, aged 71, leafs through an autumnal tome by Robert Morley, aged 80
The Pleasures of Age
John Curtis/ Hodder & Stoughton, £9.95
The actor who lets slip that he goes to collect his dole money in his Roller has got to be a likeable old beast, and especially when it's Robert Morley who has always represented the hated Establishment. Look Back In Anger was about Robert Morley ‑ all our angry plays were and still are. Starving Richard Burton used to shout his post‑war under‑privileges while at home Gustave and the dogs guarded his diamonds. All fiction. Political activists are angry filmgoers. And no one remains more convincingly The Man Who Game To Dinner and Edward My Son and Hippo Dancing and How The Other Half Loves and Banana Ridge than Robert Morley. Now he's at it again, flogging his saleable eighties.
Hey, I'm seventy‑one, why can't I do it? This publisher of his, Hodder, has rejected every novel I've written in the past ten years, eight of them I think. Now they come up with this glossy top‑hat memoir, this cross‑eyed elan on the importance of being eighty. He keeps the bad news until page 63: "'The pleasure of sex for the aged is not included in this volume''
Surprised? You will be if you expect sex from Mickey Mouse. Being Robert Morley is a kind of illusion; it doesn't have any substance. For a time he was in a double-act with Wilfrid Hyde-White - also unreal. If you find Robert Morley in a movie, your heart sinks. Such high‑class ingredients as naturalism and unpredictability vanish - but are replaced by Robert Morley. So it's a farce? Never mind, it might be good, perhaps he'll forget his lines or fall over or dislike the impersonal pronoun, kick against the pricks for a change. Here in The Pleasures of Age the ageing connoisseur is seen in Moscow wearing the safe school‑cap and looking neutral. The facts as I know them are that his correct writing and correct image appear to be taking the piss out of England; in a more committed country he would be thrown into prison.
Robert Morley's mother-in-law was Gladys Cooper. I've never before known the really rough things about him. Many years ago I put him and Wilfrid in a racing escapade published in Chambers Journal. Then I worked with Hyde‑White and then I lunched with Morley and I detected a certain strain – which of us was the alien?
On the day of my second bankruptcy hearing, 1975‑ish, I had lunch at Punch betweeN Robert Morley and his son Sheridan, cheered through it rather facetiously as you may well imagine, brandy thrust upon me and "Don't forget the time, dear boy!"-- confused? I walked into the broom cupboard instead of leaving; it was coming out to face them all that took the courage, Bobby (read this book) wiggling his fingers at me. You can't help liking him, that's about the worst you can say.
This is a cheery book in praise of your ultimate futures written by a man on death row. At eighty, he has found 153 pages of goodies. Henry Miller at Eighty was a short scream which I finally lost between the floorboards, I think. Frank Harris at 78 (in 1927), watching a maid bend over to pick something up and surely leave the room, was one of the remembered tragedies of this century. There is a photo on my wall, here ‑ Frank Harris with cakes. Cake, in Morley's life, is the main feature.
These pages are decorated with panels of old‑age benefits from poets arid philosophers. Sample:“Do not go gently into that good night" ‑ Dylan Thomas. This betrays an actor's ceaseless effort to prove his brain by association. Most lifeless plays are written or directed by actors who over‑kill with their understanding of cost and time and restriction while playing that lovely Andante again . What makes Robert Morley run, happily, is culture.
And he has an innocence which makes it transparent.
Gambling, however, is not the only way for the aged to experience the pleasure of expectation. Once, having stalled her vehicle in Goudhurst (I think it was Goudhurst), my sister, as she waited for the motor to unflood, said that she had never cared much for that village.
"The trouble," she opined, "is the lack of PLUs."
I had never heard the expression and queried it.
"People like us, dear," she elaborated.
My dear late sister was, I used to think, wrong about most things but we shared a common delight in watching the television programme Antiques Road Show.
Well, antiques is like no sex, isn't it? I wanted to be sarcastic about that hygienic encounter with his own sister in Sussex but it would get edited. Don't leave Robert's nice book around for your grandchildren to find because grandchildren don't like nice books. They're not old enough for top hats.
Copyright © the estate of Jack Trevor Story 2002. Not for reproduction. Copyright in all work by Jack Trevor Story is the property of the author's heirs. Permission for use of this material can be obtained through Jackie Edwards (Story), Peter Story, Lee Story or Michael Moorcock. Reproduction of copyright material whether in text, visual or audio form by unauthorised sources strictly forbidden.