Monday, November 5, 2012

7. A Reputation to Savour

One of the most amazing things about Tony James and his career so far was that he always managed to maintain his reputation. Even when constantly in demand, he never lowered his standards, and never took the easy money.

While his contemporaries were doing game shows, Tony was in the theatre. While they were boosting their flagging careers by appearing on reality TV, Tony was doing top-end Sunday drama series. Apart from his aforementioned sorties into animal costume based gameshows and mid-nineties variety hell, Tony's selection of work could not be faulted for hitting the Schofield Ratio perfectly, and the public had long respected him for this.

For over thirty years Tony had stuck by his agent and long time friend Michael Woodward, who had always kept him working. Even during the wilderness years Michael was searching day and night to find Tony quality work, not just cheap appearances for cash and publicity.

Tony met Michael during his early years in the theatre. Michael was the stage manager for Down't Mine Again, and the two had bonded over their love of the work of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. Indeed, the two would occasionally be heard uttering lines from their sketches backstage, and they had at one point seriously approached a financial backer with the idea of producing a version of Tarzan with a uni-legged protagonist.

After the show closed, Michael approached Tony with the idea of managing him. Despite having no previous experience, Tony decided to go ahead with the arrangement, as no other managers had expressed any interest in him, despite his positive reviews.

Over the years Michael had been invaluable to Tony. He had learnt quickly and effectively the rules of show-business, despite a few minor mistakes early on.

The worst of these was when Michael accidentally wrote the wrong figure on a contract, resulting in Tony being paid £20 a performance instead of £200. Luckily that particular show was not a success, and it closed before Tony had to broach the subject with the director.

Being a kind man, Tony never even mentioned the error to Michael until after the show closed, paying him his usual ten percent of the income, and using his savings to keep him going.

Their bond extended to their personal lives where they close remained friends, Tony was named the godfather of Tony's first child Peter, and in kind, Tony was the best man at Michaels wedding.

However the relationship changed somewhat in 2009 when Michael received a message from rising Hollywood starlet Melinda Dawson with an offer that he quite literally jumped at. This was rather awkward as he was in church at the time. It did however mean, that after spending the best part of his life working with Tony, they would have to go their separate ways. Tony was happy for Michael, but was also privately sad that their working relationship was to come to a close after spending the best part of their lives working together.

“I really want to do this Tone, but I won't if you feel you need me here.” Michael explained with the mixed emotions that only leaving a close friend can bring.

“No Mikey, you have to do it. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to step up to the big time, and I refuse to be the person who will hold you back from it.” Tony replied, with reassuring confidence in his old friend.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, of course. You are a good man and a great friend, I will miss your company, but now it's your turn to make someone else the best actor they can possibly be.” Tony replied. “If you don't take this opportunity you will regret it, and you should never have to look back and wonder what could have been.”

“Thank you Tone.”

Since then, although they remained in touch, their relationship had inevitably changed. Instead of speaking every day, they now spoke once a week at most, and only saw each other every few months when Michael flew back from America. Now and again though, Tony would still get a blank envelope in the post, postmarked from California, and containing nothing but a crisp $20 note.

Tony had always wanted to be a star in the US, but after his brief appearance in La Calamity he had never been invited back. His films and shows were huge hits in the UK, but had never merited more than niche popularity state-side. Michael had worked hard to arrange appearances, but without a major TV or film vehicle to back him they were reluctant to book such an unknown name. One of Tony's main motivations for taking the new show, negotiated by his new management team from SMT Management Team (The initials standing for Star Management Team) was the hope that working with internationally popular film stars would boost his profile and options for working in Hollywood, or at least Broadway. After the first two editions of The Tony James Show, he figured that he would be lucky to get through the Department of Immigration.

On the bright side, after the horrendous debacles of the past fortnight, it was unlikely that he would be forced to put up with the growing trauma for much longer. Unless things improved.

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