During Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s ‘emergency coronavirus budget’, there was a moment when it looked like there would be no Life in Laytonia column/blog this week.

As I was writing, ie staring out of the window, I was half-listening to the £30bn plan being unveiled by the Prime Minister In Waiting when something he announced caught my ear.  It prompted me to come up with a great thought – the only thought I’d had all day.

Hearing Mr Sunak’s proposal that the government is going to dish out £1,000 for every employee returning to work after furlough, I suddenly had a spiffing idea:

I would immediately furlough myself until October, take myself back after furlough, and claim the bag (‘bag of sand – grand’) when I returned to work.   Brilliant!!

The downside would be that being furloughed, I would have to stop working.  Stop writing.  No more Life in Laytonia until furlough was over. 

But there was an upside – I could stare out of the window for the next two and a half months without a pang of guilt.  It was a win-win situation.

It was also too good to be true.  The Chancellor will only pay this £1,000 job retention bonus if every furloughed worker brought back, is paid more than £520 per month. 

Well, that tight Ebenezer, George Layton, doesn’t pay me a penny, so that’s that!

It’s a shame, because my being furloughed, getting 80% of a non-existent salary, wouldn’t have cost the government a penny.

‘Furlough’ 

Noun.  Leave of absence, especially that granted to a member of the services or a missionary.

Verb.  Grant leave of absence to.

How many Brits, I wonder, were familiar with the word ‘furlough’ before it became the current word of the moment.  The last and only time that I had ever heard it used was back in the late 50’s and I have never heard it since. Until now. 

Why on earth would I remember a word that I had heard only once, over 60 years ago? 

I’ll tell you why.  Because it came out of the mouth of that wonderful actor, Phil Silvers, in the guise of the incorrigible ‘Sgt Bilko’ in the 50’s ‘Phil Silvers Show’. 

The genius Phil Silvers/Sgt Bilko was as much a hero for me in my teens as Larry David is my hero today.

In this current climate of Black Lives Matter, (how shameful that in the year 2020, there is the need for a movement called Black Lives Matter) Phil Silvers was ahead of his time when it came to portraying racial integration on Prime Time American television.

When the producers told him that it would be an all white cast, he said:  “Fine, then I won’t be doing the show.”  What a man!

Okay.  Now I’m not going on furlough, what shall we talk about?

It would appear that that long streak of politician, Chris Grayling, is expected to be named as the new chairman of the powerful Intelligence and Security Committee.

‘The Intelligence and Security Committee’?  Hmm…if Mr Grayling becomes chairman, a change of name might be in order.  Nothing wrong with ‘Security’ but…

It could be argued that I’m being a touch harsh. We are talking, however, about the man who authorized a multi-million pound ferry contract to a ferry company with no ferries. And his soubriquet ‘Failing Grayling’ doesn’t inspire confidence.

I listened to Michael Gove on the Andrew Marr show.  He speaks with ease, a fluent positivity, seemingly well prepared, answering every question thrown at him with supreme confidence and conviction.

Can someone please explain why I just don’t believe a word he says?

Let’s talk about nicer things. 

On the 11th July my dear friend, the actor David Graham, the voice of ‘Parker’ in ‘Thunderbirds’, ‘Grandpa Pig’ in ‘Peppa Pig’, an original Dalek voice and numerous other roles, celebrated his 95th birthday.

Here we are co-starring in ‘The Bespoke Overcoat’ 10 years ago.  He would have been 85 then!  Look at him, he looks younger than me!!  It was one of the happiest and most rewarding jobs in my career.

Talking of careers, my heart goes out to all those members of the acting profession, the arts generally, and all those people in ancillary jobs, whose lives and careers have been put on hold by this wretched pandemic and subsequent lockdown.  I fear for their future and the future of all the arts.

My heart may go out to them, but I have to confess to having the most selfish thoughts and feelings and it makes me feel guilty.

Every day on Twitter, I come across extraordinary facts from people who inexplicably have them at their fingertips.   Today I read this tweet:  ‘Doctor In The House’ was the first broadcast on this day 51 years ago. #

How catastrophic would it have been for me if, in 1969, the ‘Doctor in the House’ series, which for me was a career changer, both as actor and writer, had been postponed or had never seen the light of day due to some bloody pandemic?

Ten years later, Cameron Mackintosh cast me as ‘Fagin’ in ‘Oliver!’ at what was then, the Albery Theatre.  It was my dream job! 

Every night, I couldn’t wait to tread onto that extraordinary Sean Kenny set, with it’s multi-level scaffolding built on rotating turntables, transporting Dickensian London to St Martin’s Lane.

At the risk of romanticising, the days could not go fast enough until it was time for me to head to the theatre to teach those Lionel Bart-style Dickensian urchins how pick a pocket or two.  To tell the little tykes to be back soon, as long as they came back with lots of silk handkerchiefs.  And at around 9.30 each evening (4.30 on matinees), I was able to breathe more easily, having reviewed the situation without slipping up.

If Covid 19 had happened in 1979 and the West End had come to a grinding halt, could I have coped?  No.  It would have destroyed me. 

Or if the virus had struck in the mid-90’s, when I was playing ‘Fagin’ for the second time at the legendary London Palladium?  Or if it had happened at any time when I had landed an exciting job, frequently following a series of stomach-churning auditions? 

I’m still a working actor – as long as I can be in my own bed most nights, which does limit my options.  My touring days are definitely over – as they are for all actors at the moment. 

I still get a buzz when I’m offered a role on television.  If, when lockdown is hopefully a horrid memory and my agent calls to say I’ve got an audition (or meeting as auditions are now called) I know the juices will flow. 

But thankfully, I’m at an age, where my career is not anymore the be-all and end-all.

Grown-up children and especially grandchildren have given me a refreshing and healthy perspective.  (That said, if Cameron Mackintosh were to approach me to do ‘Fagin’ again, I’d have to think about it – for all of 30 seconds).

This horrible Covid, this treacherous Coronavirus, this effing lockdown has decimated a profession that I have been lucky to be a part of for nearly 60 years. 

Which brings me to those selfish thoughts and feelings of guilt – I cannot help thinking how fortunate I am that it has happened at this late point in my career.  My stomach churns when I think of younger actors and all those who work in theatre, films and television.