When will things get better for the over 70s?

Monday 4th May

This week’s got off to a cracking start – I’ve got an audition! ‘You can’t go’, I hear you say, ‘you’re in lockdown’. I don’t have to go anywhere. 

These days, with smart phones and computers, actors can do ‘self-taping’. Auditions in the comfort of their own homes. And this got me thinking about the extraordinary changes I’ve seen over the years.

I left drama school in 1962 clutching two awards; the Emile Littler Award for most promising actor (£25) and The Denys Blakelock Award for an outstanding performance in a minor role (£5).

I decided to invest my £30 in trying to get a telephone line installed in my then unfashionable Islington hovel. No easy task. Remember those days when there was a waiting list to get a ‘phone line?  

At the telephone exchange I argued, cajoled, charmed and finally succeeded in jumping the queue. I still remember the number: NORth 6264.  

The irony was, that whilst I was there, schmoozing my way to getting connected, I missed out on my first job offer.

A director, who had spotted me at drama school, couldn’t contact me and the part went to another actor. He had clearly got off to a better start in the telephone chase handicap.  

In the 70’s came the pager. An essential means of communication for doctors and more importantly, for actors like myself who had discovered the wonderful and lucrative world of – VOICEOVERS!

When you were rehearsing a play for which you were being paid the Equity minimum, nothing compared with the thrill of a pager silently vibrating in the pocket of your jeans. One voiceover could earn you more than the whole run of the play.  

And then came – THE MOBILE ‘PHONE!  

Early mobile telephones were the size of a brick. I remember picking up my younger daughter from school one day and placing my mobile on the roof of the car whilst I put her in the car seat. The ‘phone was still there when we arrived home! 

So, back to 2020 and ‘self-taping’.

Self-taping is videoing yourself reading some random unconnected lines, emailed by some random disconnected casting director. 

The actor then emails the footage back, in the hope that he/she will be considered for the part.  

What a wonderful innovation, you might say, for locked down old luvvies like myself, to be able to audition whilst not allowed to leave the house.

Don’t believe it! Self-taping has been around for years.  It’s an audition to get an audition! I loathe it.  

However, that’s what I’ll be doing today and my self-taped audition will travel through the ether and I doubt I’ll hear another word.

Why do it then? It’s like the Lottery – you have to be in it, to win it!

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    George (young Al Pacino) Layton in 1962

Tuesday 

Are we getting even more junk mail since lockdown started? Today’s batch has come in a packet containing an ink cartridge that I ordered.

It all goes straight into the recycling bin, but not before a cursory glance at each leaflet in case there’s something I might miss out on. Is it human nature, this insecurity that we might be throwing away a potential bargain? An irresistible offer that’s too good to be true. Or is it just me?

It’s just me.

Today’s consignment appears to be cynical selective marketing, aimed at the over 70-year old that I am.

“10 meals + 2 wines for £19.99! No fridge. No freezer. You can store our meals in your cupboard for 6 months!”

Sounds delicious, I mutter, as the leaflet goes into the bin.

“Take the worry out of funeral costs with our easy payment plan…”

How did the ink cartridge company know that the recipient – me – is in this age bracket? I don’t remember giving any details. 

Into the bin the funeral leaflet goes, but not before I consider the no obligation ballpoint pen and carriage clock offer.

Next, an impressive-looking fleet of mobility scooters. Into the bin.  

Ah, £300 off ‘Rise and Recline armchairs’, a special lockdown offer!

I suppose it’s a good thing that the housebound are receiving information like this, even when it’s unsolicited. 

Hello – what’s this?

“The Incredible, Unique and Totally Natural Performance Enhancer”.

Whoa!  

“100% safe. You can go for hours. Orders your brain to arouse your…!”

Yes, it is a good thing we housebound should stay informed, I’m thinking, as I put the leaflet in my back pocket.  

Only kidding. Maybe…

Wednesday

Everything I’m reading in today’s papers is making me grumpy. Look at this, another ‘do as I say, not as I do’ idiot has had to fall on that rusty old sword. Why? Testosterone!

Except, epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson is not an idiot. He is the leader in his field and we desperately need his expertise. 

There was no sword-falling when government minister Robert Jenrick flouted lockdown rules. Remember when he claimed that his principal home was in Herefordshire, despite his little ones going to school in London and Mrs J. working at Canary Wharf?

And what’s this! ‘Heathrow is going to try out temperature screening technology’.  

‘Is going to try out’… why hasn’t this been going on for weeks? Out of the 18 million plus people that have travelled here from Covid-hit countries, including Spain and Italy, only 273 have been quarantined. It beggars belief!

What’s more, this temperature screening at Heathrow, is for people leaving the UK, flying to places where it’s a requirement. There’s still no screening for people arriving in the UK, they’re just given a leaflet.

We’re an island nation. We could have isolated ourselves from the outset and stopped the virus spreading.

No wonder I’m in a grumpy mood. In fact I’m bloomin’ angry!

Thursday

Towards the end of the 70’s, I wrote several scripts for the popular TV series Robin’s Nest starring Richard O’ Sullivan.

I wrote 13 episodes, appeared in some (I ain’t stupid), and was asked to write the 1980 Christmas Special.

As I was staring out of my study window, counting the tiles on the roof by way of procrastination, (see last week’s Layton on Lockdown), I heard that the Christmas Special was to be transmitted on 27th December.

The 27th December 1980 was a significant date; it was my dad, Freddie Layton’s 70th birthday.

So, having got bored with roof tile counting, I started on a storyline.

I wrote a particularly memorable scene, memorable for my dad, anyway, in which the whole cast – Richard, Tessa Wyatt, Tony Britton and David Kelly (Albert, the one-armed washer-upper) – sang: ‘Happy birthday, dear Freddie’.

Today, May 7th, was my dear friend Richard O’Sullivan’s birthday. Richard and I go way back. In the 60’s, we were in adjacent beds in Emergency Ward 10 and we never stopped laughing the whole time, even when the camera was rolling!  

‘Action!’ became a Pavlovian cue for us to start giggling like schoolgirls.

Normally, we go out for a birthday lunch, my treat (the picture at the top of this article is from our 2019 celebration). Sadly, not this year.

Therefore, mirroring my dad’s 70th, courtesy of Layton on Lockdown and the Telegraph online: ‘Happy birthday, dear Richard’! 


Friday

There’s an air of melancholia in the land of Laytonia.  

It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, the birds are warbling and yet, for myself and Moya, today is the worst day of lockdown so far.

If I had written ‘the worst day for Grandma and Grandad’, you might have guessed why.

Today is our grandson’s 6th birthday.

For grandparents, uncles, aunties, all relatives who long to see their extended families, a missed special day, particularly a child’s birthday, brings home the worst and most heartbreaking aspects of this wretched Covid 19 and the enforced lockdown.

But there is a treat in store for the little man; a birthday call from none other than Peppa Pig’s Grandpa.

Yes, Grandpa Pig himself will be telephoning him, courtesy of my friend and fellow actor, David Graham, who plays him. David is 95 in July and still going strong!

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George Layton with David ‘Grandpa Pig’ Graham, starring in The Bespoke Overcoat in London

Saturday

A friend has emailed me a letter he saw in one of the Sunday papers. It is from a clearly perceptive lady called Margaret Bennett who writes:

“It would help us oldies on lockdown so much to enjoy again the great classic sitcoms…” and she goes on to list a few of her favourites.

I would like to suggest a classic favourite of my own that would help us oldies. 

The BBC comedy Don’t Wait Up, starring the stylish Nigel Havers, and the urbane and sadly missed Tony Britton.

39 episodes, beautifully written and acted. To see them repeated would certainly help this locked down oldie.

Then again, I would say that – I wrote it! (Apologies for the ‘cynical selective marketing’). Or more apt, blatant and vulgar self-promotion.

Sunday

Last night I was watching Winston Churchill broadcasting to the nation in ‘The Darkest Hour’.

This evening it is Prime Minister Johnson’s turn.

As late as Thursday, drip-feeding headlines like ”Coronavirus lockdown to be eased from Monday” indicated that whilst not a sea-change was imminent, perhaps a ripple in the Covid 19 pond was on the horizon.

If the rumours were to be believed about the over-70’s being given more freedom, fit or otherwise, how many would go for it and how many would adhere to the current restrictions for fear of a second spike?

All has changed over the past couple of days. The media-led tempering of the earlier lockdown rumours, is the only easing we are likely to experience.

Boris has spoken.  

Well rehearsed, he played his part well. Looking straight down the barrel of the camera, hair perfectly coiffured for extra statesman-like gravitas, he told us what we had been primed to expect. 

The lockdown status quo remains, apart from a few concessions; garden centres opening, more exercise allowed, people who have to can leave home to work. ‘But try to walk, cycle or go by car, avoid public transport.’  Easily said.

I switch off the TV.  I’ve had enough.

‘Alexa, play…’ I say the first thing that comes into my head. ‘The Eagles.’

I’m depressed. I believe lockdown, in this house anyway, is not going to end until a vaccine is found. A terrifying thought.

I must have been mad to play The Eagles. Nothing heightens the emotions like ‘Hotel California.’

‘Alexa – stop playing.’

I go into the garden. Sod it, I’m going to clear that bloody shed.   

I don’t get far. I am looking at a limp paddling pool. At balls, toys, fishing nets, dumper trucks. All the things that in normal times would be brought out on to the lawn for the grandchildren.

Suddenly, I’m aware that I’m singing.

‘Welcome to the Hotel Coronavirus, such a lovely place, such a lovely place…we are all just prisoners here, of our own device…’

God, I’m going bonkers.