Friday, February 20, 2009

Neither Mirth nor Woe: Meldrew

Neither Mirth nor Woe: Meldrew

Actor Richard Wilson was in the Radio Times last week, saying how much he detests people coming up to him in the street shouting his I-thought-I-got-rid-of-this-shit-ten-years-ago catchphrase "I don't believe it!" morning, noon and night.

The poor bloke thought he'd left that role behind when Victor Meldrew met his untimely demise back in 2000, but endless repeats mean that the grumpy old bastard is never off our screens.

Top marks to him for trying to beat the type-casting, having accepted the roles of a long-haired sage in Merlin and a long-haired zombie sage in the terrible Demons, but I suspect that as soon as he stepped outside for a pint of milk and twenty Rothmans a mocking "I don't believe it!" would follow him down the street.

He even tried to laugh it off in an episode of Father Ted, but no. He really is quite a misery about it.

And – sorry everybody – I blame myself.

It is early 2002, and the Duck family has gone on holiday to Florida.

We stood, sweating, in a crowded immigration hall at Orlando Airport, all the cattle class mixed in with the toffs from the executive lounge.

And there, nearing the front of the queue, is a familiar figure in a long coat, flat cap, carrying his possessions in a string bag.

It is. It is TV's Victor Meldrew.

Of course, even under the steely-eyed glare of heavily-armed US Immigration officials, you cannot help yourself.

"Iiiiii... DON'T BELIEVE IT!"

The fragrant Mrs Duck elbowed me in the ribs, but it was too late. Others had taken up the call as Meldrew tried – fruitlessly – to pull his cap right down over his face.

"I don't believe it!"


Before long, several hundred people were chanting the words "I DON'T BELIEVE IT" like a football crowd until Meldrew eventually made it to the desk, answered (in the positive) whether he intended to harm the president, and fled, giving all and sundry the most withering glance possible.

A week later, we were in the Penguin House at Orlando Sea World. You step on a moving belt at one end, and are transported – very slowly – along the front of the glassed-in penguin colony and dumped out the other end, where you buy a toy penguin from the gift shop.

About half-way along (for the third time) there is the sound of a disturbance at the entrance.

"I don't BELIEVE it!"

The strained sound of a tired, tired old man saying "Oh God, no!" before the chorus began once more:

"I don't BELIEEEEVE it!"

The following year, he went on a tour of monasteries on the far side of the Himalayas, where he beat three monks to death.

That – people – is how I broke one of our nation's top acting talents.


If only he had chosen some other catchphrase - "Suck my plums" springs to mind. No bugger would have shouted THAT to him in the street.

Greetings Holy Moly readers. I'll shut up now.

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