I saw Terence Rigby in the National Theatre production of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land at the Lyttelton in 1976 in which he appeared with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. His stage presence was such that he easily held his own and indeed came close to upstaging the two thespian knights. He had a brashness, an assertiveness, a take-it-or-leave-it attitude that was difficult to ignore.
He was an actor of the old school, self-sufficient and travelling light. Although he never married he had relationships with several “cup of tea ladies” whom he would visit and who would provide sustenance of various types. One of them, Juliet Ace, has written a personal memoir of Rigby who died in 2008.
Rigby Shlept Here is not a biography, as such, and does not purport to be although his background and upbringing are covered briefly. This is no linear, chronological passage through the actor’s life, more a series of snippets, memories and anecdotes from those who knew him. The glue that holds it all together is the author, an established radio and TV script-writer, who first met Rigby in 1964 and then didn’t see him again for 23 years.
The title refers to a plaque that Rigby had made and attached to Ms Ace’s dining table, staking his claim to his place at the head of it. This table, in the author’s house in Camden Town, is almost the focal point of the book. It is where they talk after he has dropped in unannounced, demanding a cup of tea, and where many of the insights into his character are revealed.
We are taken through many of the plays in which he appeared, with reminiscences from Sir Peter Hall, Peter Eyre, Michael Gambon et al. Although Hall rated him as “one of the best characters actors we ever had” and Michael Billington stated that he regarded him as “simply one of the best actors in Britain”, Rigby was a solitary figure riddled with insecurities, especially those related to class. He was, at one point, a three-bottles-of-vodka-a-day man, some claim a misogynist and always a loner who would run a mile if a relationship became too demanding. He also had his little eccentricities, like refusing to have, what was in those days a must for all actors, an answering machine. He only relented when Peter Hall bought one for him and went round to install it. There are stories set in the National Theatre, the Buckstone, the Salisbury and other theatrical watering holes, along with insights into famous, landmark productions such as No Man’s Land, The Wild Duck and Wind in the Willows.
The story is presented in a rather jerky style with the passages marked as either “memoirs from Juliet’s table”, “correspondence”, ”phone conversations”, “diary” and so on. I think the story would have flowed a lot better had these sources been woven into a continuous narrative. That is my only reservation really. Oh, and an index would have been nice too.
Juliet Ace’s twenty-odd year relationship with Terence Rigby seems to have been one of the longest he had and was what amounts to a platonic love story, complete with falling-outs and making-ups and, needless to say, a great deal of tolerance and understanding on the part of the author.
Rigby Shlept Here is a must for anyone who is interested in British theatre in the 1960s to the 1990s and in the eccentric characters that were once its lifeblood. Michael Hasted, August 2015
RIGBY SHLEPT HERE: A Memoir of Terence Rigby by Juliet Ace
Published by Country Setting 2015