theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
They don’t prepare you for this sort of thing at drama school,’ said actor Phil Rose when he found himself having to deal with an elderly, drunken performer. Rose was running the bar at the CAA (Club for Acts and Actors) on Tuesday at a tribute lunch for the 80-year-old singer and comedienne Joan Turner. As one of the organisers, Patrick Newley was there.
The Joan Turner lunch was a disaster, writes Patrick. At around 1.00pm there was still no sign of her and suddenly her entire family (8 of them) appeared out of nowhere saying that ‘Joan had been delayed and was coming in a taxi’. There were 50 people upstairs all waiting for lunch. So we all agreed to start the lunch — the family and also Joan’s so-called ‘accompanist’ and his wife all on comps. £150 worth. Joan’s daughter looked suitably harassed and kept trying to assure people that her mother would arrive. No one believed her but we all nodded sagely.
By 2.30pm there was still no sign of Joan and we were all on the coffee and biscuits. Suddenly at 3.00pm there was a commotion from the far end of the hall and in lurched JT — blind drunk and seemingly on another planet. Gerald Moon, President of the CAA, attempted to seat her but she got rather lairy and aggressive. We all cheered and clapped. Moon then tried to give a resumé of her glittering career (minus the bankruptcy, alcoholism, sackings, 3 marriages, gambling etc) but JT kept interrupting and insisting she wanted to make a speech.
From a variety of Tesco carrier bags that she had with her, she extracted various bits of paper and began reading a maudlin series of poems (about success) which were largely inaudible. She then cracked some gags, which got no laughs at all. Some berk at the back of the hall shouted out ‘Give us a song, Joan’ and she burst into Send in the Clowns (off-key) but got muddled up with the lyrics and midway through the song changed into What Kind of Fool Am I. Quite.
Moon then tried to wrap up the proceedings and JT said loudly to the audience, ‘Do I have to make any apologies for anything — other than the fact that I’m pissed?’ Pamela Cundell got up and walked out very dramatically and several others followed.
I made my excuses and left but as I came out the front door of the club I saw about 15 anoraks, aged between 50 and 60, all clutching autograph books and faded programmes of JT. They had been waiting there for 3 hours. I said, ‘Are you lot waiting for Joan Turner.’ ‘Oh yes!’ they all gushed. So I went back to the front door and let them all in and pointed to where JT was. She was shouting at Moon somewhere at the back of the club. The anoraks surged forward and my last glimpse of JT was of her being almost buried alive by these mad fiends.
What happened next…
After the disastrous lunch, people started to flee. JT made a beeline for the bar upstairs at around 4.30pm, accompanied by a pair of queens who plied her with large vodkas. After they left she managed to get other people to buy her more — she sat strategically placed near the bar doorway. As the evening wore on, actor Phil Rose, who was running the bar, tells me that she alternated between telling prospective customers ‘I’m going to star at the National Theatre for David Attenborough’ or telling them to ‘Fuck off, you arseholes, I’m a star’. She stayed stuck in her chair until almost midnight, still drinking vodka.
Eventually Phil grabbed hold of her and managed to drag her down the staircase with the help of actor Michael Leader (EastEnders). JT tumbled and fell most of the way, eventually collapsing in the hallway. Leader then did a runner (wise man) and Phil managed to get JT through the front door of the club. She was last seen staggering down Bedford Street at ten past midnight telling passers by to ‘Go fuck yourselves’.
‘They don’t prepare you for this sort of thing at drama school,’ said Phil Rose.
Patrick Newley © 2003
Originally published on R&V 29-10-03
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