Blessed be his name

Everyone has a favourite uncle. The one who visits now and again to tell the rudest jokes, or deliver the biggest presents.  The one who has an intriguing past that the grown-ups won’t talk about. Eventually, of course, the jokes go too far, or the presents become increasingly bizarre, or the past comes home to roost – possibly during a family funeral.

The UK is unusual in that we, as a country, have just such an uncle. Uncle Brian. A national treasure of stage and screen.

I first became a fan watching his death at the hands of Sian Phillips, playing Augustus in I Claudius. He was fabulous in Flash Gordon, and pretty good as Hastings (the Lord not the Town) when I saw him in the RSC’s astonishing 1984 production of Richard the Third.

Twenty-six years later he is the same large chested, large bearded, large voiced oaf, and Uncle Brian has become a bit of an embarrassment. Whether he is shouting about the head on a pint of beer, or hollering from my radio about insurance, it has all become rather dull and I just want him to shut up and go home.

It’s a shame really ’cause I used to look forward to his visits.

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