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A Perfectly Foolish Young Man I Wanted 12

Article By: Carl Halling

A Perfectly Foolish Young Man I Wanted - Book Four - Seven Chapters from a Sad Sack Loser's Life - Chapter Six(a). Edited 18/11/14.

Submitted:Feb 6, 2013    Reads: 12    Comments: 1    Likes: 1   

Mr Denmark 1979Mr Denmark 1979Mr Denmark 1979Mr Denmark 1979
Photo by RafaelPhoto by RafaelMr Denmark 1979 2.Photo by RafaelMr Denmark 1979 2.
David Cristiansen returned to Leftfield College in the autumn of 1984, and it may be that it was soon after this that his recent past started haunting him for the first time. After all, was it not only a few years previously he'd known legends of sport and the cinema, mythical figures of the theatre, blue bloods and patricians, and they'd been kind, generous of spirit to this nonentity from the outer suburbs. Now he was nearly 30, with a raft of opportunities behind him, and a future which looked less likely than ever to provide him with the fame he still ached for with all his soul.
At first he lived off-campus, thinking it might be fun to coast during his final year as some kind of enigma freshly returned from Paris. But before long, he desperately missed being part of the social hub of the college, even though this was a virtual impossibility for a forgotten student in his fourth year.
His time as one of Leftfield's leading prodigies had long passed, and other, younger whizz kids had come to the fore since his departure for Paris. They included the handsome young blond whom his long-time friend and champion Ariana described as being some kind of new edition of himself, due perhaps to the incredible diversity of his gifts. The first David saw of him, he was playing Gorgibus in Molière's Les Précieuses ridicules, a part Ariana had originally earmarked for David, but he turned it down. The young man would ultimately find superstardom as comedian and character actor, and far more besides, while David persisted in the sweet, safe obscurity where he remains to this day.
He read incessantly throughout the year for the sheer pleasure of doing so. For example, while Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh was a compulsory part of the drama course, there was no need for him to wade through O'Neill, the massive two-part biography of the playwright by Arthur and Barbara Gelb, but that didn't stop him.
He made this descent into the depths of O'Neill's complex psyche at a time when he himself was starting to drink during the day at Leftfield. While his first can of extra strong lager would often be opened at breakfast time, he'd wait until the afternoon to get seriously hammered in the company of close friends. Such as Paul, from Playing with Fire, and Alastair, a science student who shared his passion for the dark romanticism of the Doors and Peter Gabriel.
Paul was still trying to persuade him to join forces with him against an indifferent world, he with his writing and David with his acting, but for reasons best known to himself, he wasn't playing ball. Paul had always sensed something really special in David, which was variously described as energy, intensity, charisma, but for all the praise he received from Paul and others, he didn't seem to have a very high opinion of himself.
It's possible that while he possessed the vast ego of the narcissist who requires constant attention and approval, he somehow also suffered from low self-esteem, which might indicate that he was a sufferer from actual Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Whatever the case, he was going through one of his showily perverse phases, affecting a world weariness he simply didn't have at 30, but which upset and alienated a really good friend. And it wasn't long before Paul was out of his life forever, leaving him to stew in his precious pseudo-cynicism:
"What an appalling attitude," he'd told him, and he was right on the money.
His principal final year tutor was Dr Elizabeth Lang, and subject of study, the works of literary genius André Gide. And so he came to closely examine such Gidian characters as the urbane Ménalque from The Immoralist, who encourages the protagonist Michel to embrace Nietzschian individualism...the feral Lafcadio from The Vatican Cellars, who commits a crime of terrible cruelty simply for the sake of doing so...and the mysterious Comte de Passavent from The Counterfeiters, his only novel according to his own definition of the term.
And in later years, he'd recall actually mentioning a particular instance of Michel's amorality to Dr Lang with what was relish pure and simple. Oh, how much he'd changed!
But far from being a mere Decadent, Gide was the deeply conflicted product of a middle-class Protestant upbringing whose first work, The Notebooks of André Walter, was an anatomisation of Christian self-abnegation based on his troubled love for his devout cousin Madeleine, who went on to be his wife, a theme he would enlarge upon in Straight is the Gate.
And a special favourite of David's by Gide was the novella Isabelle, which appealed to his softer, more romantic side. Written in 1911, it's the tale of a young student, Gerard Lacase, who stays for a time at a Manor house in Normandy inhabited by two ancient aristocratic families in order to look over their library for research purposes. And while there, becomes bewitched by the portrait of a beautiful young woman, only to discover that its model, the eponymous Isabelle, is now a hard, embittered individual entirely distinct from the lovely vision in the miniature.
By the same token, his favourite ever play by O'Neill was another story of hopeless love, A Moon for the Misbegotten, written in 1947.
Its leading character is based on Eugene's tragic yet infinitely romantic elder brother Jamie. And David became fascinated by him; and read all about him in the massive biography by the Gelbs.
Blessed at birth with charm, intellect and beauty, he was one of Father Edward Sorin's most favoured princes while part of the Minim Department of Notre Dame University, Indiana. And so apparently destined for a glittering future as a Catholic gentleman of exquisite breeding and learning. He was also potentially a very fine writer, although he only left a handful of poems and essays behind; and the owner of a beautiful speaking voice which ensured him work as an actor for a time alongside his father James. His greatest legacy, however, is Jamie Tyrone, the brilliant yet troubled charmer who haunts two of his brother's masterpieces with the infinite sorrow of promise unfulfilled.
David left Leftfield for good in the summer of 1985, and discovered soon afterwards that he had achieved a lower second BA degree in French and Drama.
His first employment was as a deliverer of novelty telegrams, a job which brought him into many potentially hazardous situations, but which for him, was worth the risk, as he was getting well paid to show off and party, two of his favourite occupations at the time...but it was an unusual way of life for a man of thirty.
What he really wanted was the immortality provided by fame, and he didn't care whether this came through acting, music or literature, or any other means for that matter. But until his big break came, he was content to feed his addiction to attention through the novelty telegrams industry. He evidently had no deep desire to leave anything behind by way of children, nor for any career other than one liable to project him to international renown. How then did he end up as a PGCE student at Coverton College, Cambridge in the autumn?
The truth is he'd yielded to family pressure to provide himself with the safety net that's doubtless been advocated for centuries as a sensible if less romantic alternative to penury by the concerned parents of struggling artists while being despised - as a rule - by the artists themselves. For was it not the great singer-songwriter Nick Drake who said it was the last thing he wanted when it was suggested to him by his father Rodney?
For David's part, he was so unhappy about having to go to Cambridge that just days before he was due to start there, he arranged to audition for a Jazz Funk band, and was all set to sing The Chinese Way by Level 42 and another tune in that then fashionable genre, but he never made it; because late and desperately drunk, he simply threw in the towel and resigned himself to Cambridge.
From the time he arrived in the beautiful medieval university city of Cambridge, he was made to feel most welcome and wanted, and made some wonderful friends at Coverton itself; such as Donovan Joye, a most gracious poet and actor from the little town of Downham Market in Norfolk, with whom he was almost inseparable for a time. As well as Dale Slater, a singer-songwriter of melancholy genius from Yeovil in south Somerset who eventually went on to record both as a solo artist and group member in the London of the late 1980s and early to mid '90s at a time the neo-psychedelia he embraced was thriving. And stunning redhead Clarissa Catto, a budding professional actress from a vast sprawling area to the west of London whose principal eponymous townof Slough is perhaps most famous for having inspired a ten-stanza poem by much-loved former poet laureate Sir John Betjeman in 1937.
When he made his first appearance at the Cambridge Community College in what may have been Arbury in the northernmost reaches of the city where he was due to begin his period of Teaching Practice the following January, the pupils reacted to him as if he was some kind of visiting movie or Rock star. His TP would have been a breeze. Everything was falling into place for him at Cambridge, and he was offered several golden chances to succeed as an actor within its hallowed confines.
Towards the end of the first term, the then president of the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club had gone out of his way to ask David and Donovan to appear in the sole production he was preparing to mark his year-long tenure. He was a Coverton man, and so clearly wanted to give a couple of his fellow students a break after having seen them perform a couple of Donovan's satirical songs for the club.
This was a privilege almost without measure, given that since its inception Footlights has nurtured the talents of Cecil Beaton, Jonathan Miller, Germaine Greer, David Frost, John Cleese, Peter Cook, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Hugh Lawrie and Sacha Baron Cohen among many others. David could have been added to that list.
As if this opportunity weren't enough to persuade him to stay put, a young undergraduate, renowned for the high quality of the plays he produced personally asked him to feature in one of his productions during the Lent Term. This after seeing him interpret the part of Tom in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie some time before Christmas. Someone then told him that if this young man took an interest in you, you were pretty well made as an actor at Cambridge. What more did he want? For Spielberg himself to be in the audience and discover him?
In his defence, though, he did feel trapped by the course, and was finding it heavy going. In order to pass, you had to spend a full year as a teacher after completion of the basic PGCE. That meant it would be two years before he was free again to call himself an actor and work as such. It just seemed an awfully long time, when in fact it wasn't at all, and two years after quitting Cambridge he was even further away from his dream than when he'd started off.
The truth is he left Coverton for no good reason, and there are certain verses from Maud Muller, by Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier, could be said to be most applicable with respect to his decision to do so, which came to haunt him in later years:
"For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'it might have been'."
Still, within a matter of hours of the start of the Lent Term of 1987, he'd vanished, disappeared into the night in the company of a close friend he'd wheedled into helping him out.
Once he was free, he set about the task of resuming his career, sporadically commuting to London from a semi-rural village 8 miles north of Portsmouth where he was resident at the time; although most days he achieved little. While it was music rather than acting he was interested in at the time, not that it ever really mattered to how he became famous, just so long as he did.
He duly auditioned for a series of bands, such as the Jazz-Funk outfit from what may have been Croydon, and the Rock and Roll revival band from Pompey itself; but none of them took to him. And highlighted hair and dinky twin ear studs could hardly done him any favours, although by around about the beginning of '87 he'd started sporting a two-tone parka worn with tight grey corduroy jeans in an attempt to better blend in with his surroundings. Which is to say in contrast to such nostalgic sartorial items as '50s style gold lamé waistcoat, cuffed drainpipe jeans, and black suede winkle pickers with side buckles, which he'd only latterlyfavoured.
However, he did succeed in impressing the artistic director of a Ladbroke Grove pub theatre who remained a close friend of his well into the 2000s. And with whom he worked soon after returning to London - which he did in the summer of 1987 to a minor flurry of creative activity - first for a play at the aforesaid theatre; and then a film pilot featuring the lavishly gifted American artist Ray Shell.
1987 was also the year he got seriously involved in walk-on work for television and the cinema, although he wasn't entirely new to the game. For example, he briefly features as a Salvation Army bandsman in a scene from The Mirror Crack'd, directed by Guy Hamilton in 1980 from an Agatha Christie novel entitled The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side.
This took place at a typical English village fête set in the 1950s, and was being graced first by Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Sir Charles and his fourth wife the former Oona O'Neill; then by legendary Hollywood icon Elisabeth Taylor.
Also, in Charles Jarrott's miniseries Poor Little Rich Girl, he can be seen gesticulating as legendary crooner Rudy Vallée in a party scene featuring Farrah Fawcett as Barbara Hutton, and Burl Ives as her grandfather F.W Woolworth.
But these were just isolated episodes. For from around 1987, he took the work more seriously, first in the sitcom Life Without George, written by Penny Croft and Val Hudson and featuring Simon Cadell and Carol Royle; and then in the long-running police series The Bill, in which he sporadically appeared as a crime scene photographer for several years.
Soon after he'd finished his work for Life Without George, he started rehearsals at the justly renowned Gate Theatre in London's Notting Hill for the world première of The Audition by Catalonian playwright Rudolf Sirera - with English translation by John London - under the direction of Ariana.
While it's likely to have been originally set in pre-revolutionary France, Ariana updated it to the late 19th Century, possibly the Paris of Huysmans' notorious Against the Grain. And it involves the kidnapping of an actor Gabriel De Beaumont by an unnamed Marquis played by Steven Dykes, who goes on to sadistically toy with his victim before finally murderinghim.
It received some fair reviews...with David being singled out for some praise in the London Times among other periodicals.
But rather than capitalise on this modest success, he decided to start work instead as a teacher at the Tellegen School of English in London's Oxford Street. And he did so at the behest of his closest friend, Huw Owen, the Swansea native who'd served as the model for Robert Fitzroy-Square in their Silverhill band, Z Cars, but who was now working at Tellegen's. Besides which, he'd already undergone a week's training with them and been offered a job.
Thus, he entered into one of the most purely blissful period of his entire life, even while his theatrical career suffered. Although in August 1988 and at Ariana's behest, he served as MC for a week-long benefit for the Gate Theatre called Captain Kirk's Midsummer Log in the persona of one Mr Denmark 1979, a comic monstrosity created for him by Ariana; also providing several impressions.
Among those appearing on the bill were comedienne Jo Brand in her then incarnation of The Sea Monster, satirical impressionist Rory Bremner, Renaissance Man Patrick Marber, initially a stand-up comic, but best known today as an award-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter, and maverick singer-songwriter John Otway.
The Denmark character went down so well at the benefit that David wrote an entire show around him on the premiss that winning a Scandinavian male beauty contest in 1979 had so altered the balance of his mind that he'd since convinced himself he'd been at the forefront of pretty well every major cultural development since the dawn of Pop, only to be cravenly ripped off by Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Punks, Rappers and so on. It premièred to considerable audience enthusiasm - with Gracia McGrath serving as an effervescent MC - on his 33rd birthday at a new variety venue called Club Shout.
And for David, being a Tellegen teacher was the perfect dream job...providing him with a social life on a plate, as well as enough money to finance the hours he spent each evening in the Champion public house on Wells Street, W.1. For once the final classes had ended some time after 7.30, student and teacher alike would meet at the Champion to drink and talk and laugh and do as they wished until closing time. And David himself would usually leave around 10.30 to catch the last train home from Waterloo, although, sometimes he'd miss it and have to catch a later one which might see him stranded deep in the Surrey countryside. At other times, there'd be a party to go to, or the Tellegen Discoat Jacqueline's Night Club in nearby Soho.
Most of the teachers socialised with their own kind, while David preferred the company of the students, although this situation was to become modified by 1990, when his friends were being chosen from among both the teaching and student bodies. But at night, it would be almost impossible to extricate him from his circle of favourites from Italy, Japan, Spain, Brazil, Poland, France...fact which proved irksome to his good friends, Stan and Neddy, at a certain stage in his short-lived career at Tellegen's.
For Stan, a Tellegen teacher and resting actor like David, and Neddy, a young student from the great city of São Paolo in Brazil, were trying to organise rehearsals for a band they were supposed to be getting together. But thanks to David's dilatory attitude, this never happened despite some early promise, as Neddy was a gifted guitarist, and Stan a potentially good front man.
But David continued to discard precious opportunities as if they were so much stinking refuse...little suspecting that he was shoring up the kind of heartbreak that stems from unfulfilled promise, and which caused Jamie Tyrone to quote from Dante Gabriel Rossetti in A Long Day's Journey into Night, while clearly describing himself:
"Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been;
I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell..."
As well as the perpetual party lifestyle, he spent his spare cash on clothes, cassettes, books, and of course, rent. That is, during those brief few months he spent as a tenant in Hanwell, West London at the house of a friend of his father's from the London session world, Dai Thomas.
Dai was a slight, bearded, bespectacled Welsh fiddler of the utmost sweetness of nature who, always nattily dressed, lived life close to the edge but with what seemed to David to be with the absolute minimum of effort and maximum self-possession, which made him very cool in his eyes; and they became good friends.
He also spent several hundreds of pounds being initiated into the art of self-hypnosis by a Harley Street doctor who specialised in hypnotherapy and nutritional medicine. This, in the hope of finding a solution not just to his alcoholism, but the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to which he was increasingly prey in the late 1980s.
Yet, despite the drinking and the OCD, he was not an unhappy man, far from it, was full of joie de vivre, in fact, and subject to elation; but he was also prone to fits of intense depression. And it was hard for him to accept he wouldn't be returning to Tellegen's in 1990. But it was his own fault, because he'd left without warning early in the year...and then decided he wanted to return, despite having refused an offer to do so from the school itself some weeks theretofore.
So, reluctantly delivered from a job he genuinely loved, he revived his acting career thanks once again to the influence of his dear friend Ariana.
She suggested he might like to play Feste for a production of Twelfth Night, to be staged in the summer at the Jacksons Lane theatre in North London. And so after a successful audition for the director, Sandy Stein, he set about re-learning Feste's lines, and arranging the songs according to the original primitive melodies.
Yet, if the play itself was a joy to be involved in, the same can't be said for the train journeys to and from Highgate for rehearsals. For it was during these lengthy trips across the capital that David started feeling the need to inure himself as never before against what he saw as nocturnal London's ever-present aura of menace.
It's likely that years of hard living were finally starting to take their toll on his nervous system. For in addition to alcohol and nicotine, he'd been ingesting industrial strength doses of caffeine for years, initially in tablet form, and then in the shape of the coffee cocktails he liked to swill one after the other before afternoon classes at Tellegen's.
This may go some way towards explaining the sheer paranoia which ultimately caused him to start drinking on the way to rehearsals, and then for the first time in his life as a professional actor, during rehearsals. However, he promised Sandy he'd not touch a drop for the actual performances, and was as good as his word. Although each performance was succeeded by some serious partying on his part...with most of the cast members joining him in the revels.
And his hyperkinetic performance was well-received, with one beautifully spoken Englishwoman even going so far as to tell him he was the finest Feste she'd ever seen...and what a pity she wasn't a passing casting director. But then serendipitous incidents of this kind may have happened to some people...but not apparently to poor David Cristiansen.
Later in 1990, he began another PGCE course, this time at the former West London College of Further Education based in East Twickenham, taking up residence in nearby Isleworth.
He began quite promisingly, fitting in well and making good friends, and as might be expected, excelling in drama and physical education. And he was abstinent by day, while on those rare occasions he did drink, it was just a question of a pint or so with lunch.
He'd mentally determined to complete the course, and yet on the verge of his period of teaching practice, found himself to be desperately behind in his preparation. And so provisionally removed himself in order to decide whether it was worth his staying on or not.
In the event he chose to quit, but rather than return to his parents' home, he stayed on in Isleworth to rekindle his career as a deliverer of novelty telegrams. At the same time, he continued to work as a walk-on artist, something he'd been doing on and off for over a decade. But specialising as a crime scene photographer for a long-running police series with its HQ in Merton, South London.
He also became half of a musical duo formed with a slim young Mancunian with short reddish blond hair and brilliant light green or blue eyes who rejoiced in the name of Maxie Coburg, although his true surname reflected his roots in Northern England. And while working as a singer-songwriter at the time, Max eventually evolved into a bona fide Renaissance Man, and not just as singer and musician, but actor, writer, performer, impressionist, film maker and radical thinker.
They began as buskers in Leicester Square, before settling down for rehearsals in the hope of getting some gigs, their repertoire a mixture of Rock and Roll and Motown classics, as well as a host of originals, mostly written by Max. But with one or two contributions by David.
He wanted to call the band Venus Xtravaganza, but in the end, they settled for Max's choice of The Unknowns, that is if they ever called anything at all. And unknown is what they remained which for poor David was simply business as usual.


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