Simon Callow at Edinburgh International Book Festival

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Edinburgh International Book Festival
Simon Callow, Al Senter
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The Morton Fraser Event, billed as "a man whose love of theatre and actors knows no bounds", featured Simon Callow with Al Senter as the Chairman. Callow held the capacity audience absolutely spellbound throughout this session - in fact,  the chairman suddenly realised that he had gone over time and had to bring the event to a close. Most of us would have been delighted if it had simply gone on and on, as the stories were flowing thick and fast.

Simon Callow was introducing his book of memoirs, "My Life in Pieces", which describes his life through the meetings he has had with innumerable stars of stage and screen - John Gielguid, Laurence Olivier, Rudolph Nureyev, Alec Guinness, Charlie Chaplain and then Frankie Howard (with whom he allegedly had an 'orgy').

The book was described as being the "love child of the publisher and myself" and is a book he promised himself he would write ever since his first book, "Being an Actor", which was published in 1984.

Callow described his style as being somewhat economical and this dates from the time when he published a newspaper at school called "The Daily Rhubarb" which had to be printed with a rubber type set which was very difficult to use, hence the brevity of some of the stories.

Callow described how his father left when he was eighteen months old leaving his mother to secure an education for him.

As she was a school secretary he came to know the headmaster well, whom he described as "a card" by the name of Roland Birch - a good name for a headmaster!   Birch stood out as he was a tall, balding man, who always wore shorts and sandals and, interestingly, had fought on Franco's side in the Spanish Civil War.

However, his wife, who always had  "that reassuring smell of Madeira" about her, took a great interest in the education of young Callow and taught him to read.  Having mastered the art of reading, Mrs Birch told him, "you now have a gift with which to unlock the treasures of the universe," How true.

Many stories followed, too many to repeat here, but  he ended with some anecdotes about Paul Scofield, an actor who he felt was unique, the last of "the breed of titans", whose voice Callow imitated as a booming baritone. When asked by Peter Hall to add a few lines to a particular scene, Scofield replied, "not for me baby!" and so someone else had to take this on. But one was left with a wonderful impression of this incident involving Scofield, Peter Hall and Callow - what we would all have given to have been present.

Event: Monday, 22 August, 18:30