Jefferson Trilby and the London Stage

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"It was once said, probably by some total loser, that for every successful playwright, there are a hundred waiting in the wings. Personally, I can't see what they would be doing waiting in the wings; they would surely be better employed in trying to write decent work instead of scratching away on some atrocious manuscript that bears little relationship to the Queens English, let alone a play.

It is difficult to look on such individuals with pity rather than the contempt they deserve; however, we must be mindful of their endeavours and try not to weigh further on their minds, which are heavy with poverty, hopelessness and an all-too-slowly-dawning recognition of their shattering paucity of talent.

During my time eddying around the interlocking circles of the London stage scene, I happened upon many such budding playwrights. They came in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and vacuity of skill. Some would wait for me at the doors of the Albery or the Apollo, expecting an autograph; others would accost me at a function and spew forth their misguided visions and mechanical meanderings. Many more I thankfully only heard of through esteemed colleagues and acquaintances.

One of the most persistent and thick-skinned pretenders to the art was an individual named Jefferson Trilby. He was a man of good stature and a glimmering of wit, yet who always seemed to find in everything an ingredient that would turn him from a cause for optimism into a reason to boil one's head.

I first became aware of Trilby when he swanned up to me at the Last Night party of "Hello Mummy", a rousing romp that went down very well with the 36-38 age group. It was a grand occasion at the house of producer Dilly Barnum in 1978. I was ladling out some peppered artichoke hearts from the buffet when a young couple were suddenly at my right hand. Quickly this person introduced himself and his friend Anna and said what great fans of mine they understandably were.

Initially, he seemed very pleasant, but as he unsubtly turned the conversation towards his endeavours in writing, I felt the weariness begin to rise. Anna was delightful, though, and they made a great couple, so I indulged Trilby and, as the evening went on, was pleasantly surprised by his general unrepulsiveness. His ideas seemed fair, and he was well-spoken, but I soon came to find that not all was as it appeared—a trait which I saw follow Trilby thereafter, as I have forementioned.

After the couple had departed and the party was dying, my excellent colleague, Walter Brimstone, confided in me that he had come across this Trilby fellow before. It seemed that Anna was not, in fact, his acquaintance or lover but his sister, and she had been brought along by Jefferson merely so he might achieve an air of respectability. That much was distasteful in itself; what was more troubling was that I was sure I had seen them necking in the kitchen.

Trilby had obviously received little sympathy from London's artistic cohort to date and began to latch on to myself as someone who had shown interest—however mistakenly—in his career aspirations. Not long after the party, I received in the post a manuscript from Trilby; he had evidently extracted my home address in Chelsea from some loathsome stagehand or costumier.

In his covering letter, thanking me pretentiously in advance for my valuable time, Trilby was at pains to point out that this was his sixth attempt at a play and the result of many months' work. It was quite a loquacious letter, ruined only at the last by his signing it "Your Friend, Jefferson Trilby". The nerve of the man.

The play itself was a dark tale of love and betrayal entitled "The Twisted Knife". It was set in the hot summer of '76 and centred around the tempestuous affair of Selina Cawthorpe, a piano-playing redhead. Whilst some of the dialogue was a little forced, things were heading for an acceptable if predictable dénouement when suddenly Selina burst into the Albert Hall during the Last Night Of The Proms and attacked various audience members with an unpowered vacuum cleaner. As hard as I searched, I could not find the seeds for this outburst and concluded that Trilby was inexplicably seeking a grandstanding conclusion to his drama.

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