The Master of His Fate

A character of Millstone Grit,
a tough insoluble conglomerate,
but also porous enough
to allow water to gush as springs.
Functional, to build and pave
and construct sturdy dry stone walls
to withstand most onslaughts.

Being in school plays liberated him from shyness.
He had a fresh air Derbyshire childhood,
parents who gave security and support
and encouraged an acting career
while warning of a time limit.
He had the frankness of a northern attitude,
basic blunt and succinct.

Black wayward hair melding,
unshaven, into dark beard.
Contrasting with irises
of translucent blue.
A sensual mouth with full lower lip.
A mellow voice with resonant  growl,
sometimes with staccato or brusqueness.

His photogenic good looks
showed a man who did not often
laugh for the camera shot,
but would smile or stare
with a direct penetrating gaze.
There was a challenge and a dare
within that attractive stare.

The late nineteen-fifties and early sixties
saw a surge of young acting talent
ready and able to perform the
contemporary dramas of playwrights,
aiming to break the stifling format
of a grey, dreary, postwar Britain.
A total artistic breakout of new ideas.

He has been defined by excellent
adjectives and well-qualified adverbs.
He had the ability to blend into a crowd
and stand out in a performance.
Stoic resilient and determined,
with all the surprises and nonconformity
of an irregular verb.

You don’t communicate by pelting
ten thousand words at a target.
They just disintegrate like horizontal
raindrops torn from their vertical fall.
But you can carefully carry their meaning
by uniting talent and skill with
a director’s sensitive orchestration.

He said that the vulnerability of acting
stripped away confidence.
But he was self-assured
and dismissed failure with a wrist flick.
His choice of roles was instinctive
with innate decisions,
which spoke from his inner self.

Acting is a mystifying revelation –
insight fused with vision.
Plunging to depths to be reborn.
Reaching hormonal heights of delight.
Assembling personality parts for a whole
and blending the character with the actor.
Finding the connection should be intercourse, not rape.

A slow burn rather than a roar,
with the ability to be daring and imaginative.
True interpretation needs depth.
Beware of the superficiality of the first idea.
Look to the director to conduct skilfully
the different component instruments,
allowing comfort, but stimulating growth.

He had persistent ambition,
always with a dash of optimism
and a catalyst of luck and opportunity;
saving temperamental characteristics
for the many and varied roles.
If you can play the whole emotional range publicly,
where does that then leave you privately?

Does the defiant nonconformist
secretly hope for stability?
Does the extrovert mask introvert and vice versa?
Are you a victim of circumstance between roles,
ambivalent about personal identity,
vacillating between ambiguity and clarity,
leaving disorder and inconsistency?

Above all he valued freedom –
of choice and action.
Confinement in a long-playing role
or relationship was unsettling.
To be who you are, can be a dilemma.
“. . . two people can love each other
and not be able to get on at all.”

He had the affinity and compassion to play Henchard;
the insight and understanding to really know
the fatalistic humanity of that anti-hero,
unable to live up up to expectations
and hope disintegrated by a shattered life;
levelled by equality in death
and eradication in an unmarked grave.

He said that he was not academic,
but he brought to his craft
the diligent research and intelligence
of an informed creative scholar.
This was confirmed by a university
with an honorary D.Litt.
He was also eloquent in opinion.

The constant bon vivant, humorous and entertaining,
with a wealth of witty stories and gossip,
enhanced with comedy and mimicry.
Not languishing while waiting for a role,
but dining with friends during the agent’s call.
He was popular for his supportive generosity
and listening to trouble empathetically.

Privately, a lack of continuity and spent time,
a symptom of the desire for autonomy.
Partnership would promote the struggle
between attachment and independence,
causing chaos and confusion personally.
A fracture between passion and pain
cannot be healed by cake and champagne.

The impossibility of a gregarious loner.
Solitude can always be dealt with
by working on the next character.
The career often acting as salvation.
But the love junkie found in the sonnets
is always looking for the next hormonal high
of falling in love. The person not yet met.

He would have made a fine director,
sensitive inclusive and conducive.
Early in his career he had indicated
the possibility of writing and hoped
to adapt the work of idol, Lawrence;
sharing a closeness with the earth
and aware of the cruelty and fate of nature.

After several decades of success
where he worked continuously,
there are filmed records of some
of his superlative performances.
In later life, the parts were minor
and supporting, but still he saw potential
and pushed himself through his final year.

He enjoyed the liberty which he chose
and distanced himself from regret.
Sometimes a point of purity is found in expression,
although the artist is never entirely satisfied.
There are only rare moments of revelation and inclusion.
He called this elusive state – “incandescence” –
it is somewhere away from self, beyond the conscious.

(Alan Bates, actor 1934 – 2003)