Simon Brett

Cast in Order of Disappearance


Cinderella Alone

‘Charles, Charles love, it’s your cue.

Charles Paris jerked out of his doze. He looked down for the script on his knees, but The Times crossword with two completed clues stared blankly up at him. He dropped the paper, opened his script, and looked hopefully at the little actress next to him for the page number.

‘Page 27, Line 4,’ the producer snapped with all the exasperation of a large mortgage in Pinner and another nineteen years till his BBC pension.

‘Sorry…’ said Charles, trying to remember the producer’s name. ‘Sorry, love,’ failing to do so.

He read his lines with leaden incomprehension. A twinge of guilt for having done no preparation soon passed when he heard the lines he was reading. Wasn’t anyone writing good radio plays any more? As his scene ground to a halt, he looked across at the spindly raffia-haired youth responsible. The Author sat by the producer in a twisted attitude of intense concentration or bad piles. Every now and then he winced as another nuance of his writing was steamrollered.

The play reached its denouement with all the impact of a wet dishcloth, and there was a ripple of dejected laughter. ‘Well,’ said the producer, ‘now the real work starts. But first let’s send the lovely Sylvia for some tea.’

Charles took the opportunity to go to the Gents and lose lunchtime’s excesses of wine. To his annoyance the Author joined him at the adjacent urinal. Charles resolutely pretended he hadn’t noticed.

‘Um, Charles…’


‘I hope you don’t mind my saying…’

‘No, of course not.’

‘Well, I’d seen the Inspector rather Grand Guignol…’

‘And I thought you read him rather…’


‘Well, Petit Guignol.’

‘Ah,’ said Charles Paris. ‘I’ll try to do something about it.’

Even Arctic nights end, and so, somehow, did the day in the studio. Charles’ performance, however Grand its Guignol, was fixed on tape. It all seemed to matter less as he stood in the BBC Club and the first large Bell’s glowed inside him. It was December 3rd and the short walk from Broadcasting House to the Club had been breathtakingly cold after the recycled warmth of the studio.

Sherlock Forster (known to his intimates as Len) was an undemanding companion. A distinguished radio actor and a great piss-artist, he had been playing the murderer in the play and was now slumped against the bar, caressing a large Riesling, his toupee’d head deep into the Evening Standard. ‘Hoarding outside said “Motorist Shot Dead”. Thought it might have pushed the bloody Arabs out of the headlines,’ he said to no one in particular.

‘Did it?’ asked Charles.

‘No such luck. Main story’s still bloody petrol queues. “Motorist Shot Dead” is way down the column.’

‘Where’d it happen?’

‘Just off the M4 somewhere. Apparently the bloke’d run out of petrol, got out of the car, and some bugger shot him.’

‘Poor sod.’

‘Police are treating it as a case of murder.’

‘Shrewd of them. Anything else in the paper?’

‘Well, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s being driven round in a Morris Minor to save petrol. And a couple of Cabinet ministers turned up at the House in a Mini.’

‘Chauffeur-driven, no doubt.’

The second large Bell’s changed the glow within Charles to a feeling of positive well-being. Forty-seven years old and still attractive to women. The lack of matinee-idol good looks which had kept him from being a star in the Fifties was no longer a disadvantage. He had worn better than a lot of his contemporaries. Hair still grew thick and only lightly silvered at the temples. He looked at Len’s theatrical toupee and felt grateful.

Life, Charles reflected, was not too bad. Even financially, for once. He was still flush from a ghastly television series in which he’d minced around some unlikely Tudor monarch in doublet and hose for a couple of months. And when he’d drunk through that money, or when the tax man caught up with him, something else would happen. He cast a professional eye round the bar. A few standard-issue BBC spinsters; one or two attractive younger secretaries, sentried by men; nothing worth chatting up.

‘Petrol, bloody petrol,’ said Len. ‘There’s nothing else in the paper. Look at this-“Attractive 9-year-old model Patti Winchester isn’t worried. She’s been showing a leg and riding her bicycle for months now”.’

Charles glanced over. ‘Tatty.’

‘Hmm. Footballer Bobby Lithgoe has bought a bicycle too.’


‘And Marius Steen has put the Rolls in the garage.’

‘Steen? What does it say about him?’

‘“Impresario Marius Steen, the man behind such stage successes as One Thing After Another, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bed Wolf? and, of course, his current smash-hit at the King’s Theatre, Sex of One and Half a Dozen of the Other, phoned today at his Berkshire home, said, ‘We’ll leave the Rolls in the garage and use the Datsun.’”’

‘He’s got a good publicity machine. It’s just a straight plug for that bloody Sex of One…’

‘Clocked up a thousand performances last week.’

‘God. How revolting.’

‘Big party on-stage at the King’s on Saturday.’

‘It’ll probably run forever. There’s no justice.’ Charles picked up Len’s empty glass. ‘Another one of those?’

‘Why not?’

Predictably the BBC Club had led to the George, the George to a small pub off Drury Lane, and at about midnight Charles, having lost Len somewhere along the line, found himself leaning against a banister in the Montrose with a pint in his hand.

The Montrose (a small theatrical drinking club off the Haymarket) was full as usual. A lot of rooms on different levels, shoddy like converted bedsitters, overflowing with actors talking and gesturing loudly.

‘… got a Z-Cars coming up. Small part, but nice…’ and he said to William, “You’ve got as much humour as a crutch!” She was furious…’

‘… working towards a modern commedia format…’

‘… ultimately it’s a matter of identity…’

‘Hello, Charles.’ A voice detached itself from the rest and Charles focused on a small blonde girl in front of him. ‘Jacqui.’

Jacqui had a top-floor flat in Archer Street, opposite a casino, whose lights usually flashed yellow all night. But now with the power restrictions, they were dark. Only the blue glow of a solitary street lamp touched their anaemic neon tubes. But there were still the noises of the casino-the hum and slam of taxis, the shouts of drunkards and the chatter of Chinese gamblers in the street below.

Charles looked at Jacqui with pleasure. She was an actress-cum-dancer-cum-most-things he’d met in pantomime at Worthing. He’d been Baron Hardup, Cinderella’s father; and she had been a Villager, White Mouse and Court Lady (for the Finale). They’d had quite a pleasant time in Worthing. It was good to see her again.

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