Thursday, March 30, 2006

Brian Sewell is a class act – but there’s surely something more to him.

I’ve been entertained by Brian Sewell’s television series on ‘The Grand Tour’ and enjoying his comment on the Italian locations visited by wealthy English gentry in the 17-1800’s. Sewell loves comfort and admires elegance and refinement. A choppy crossing of the Bay of Naples that induces queasiness and the wild untamed crater of Vesuvius are anathema. He’s at his knowledgeable best when commenting on the fine arts using carefully groomed manner.

The trouble is that the measured delivery and slowly enunciated words make him a bit aloof - you never feel you are getting to know the real man. On camera his act does not allow him to say certain words. Quoting a letter from the Earl of Mar describing the boredom of life at the exiled court of the deposed King James he had to explain an obscure word. It means the same as that word which begins with ‘f’ and ends in ‘king’ he explains. The brash Australian critic Robert Hughes would have had no hesitation in saying the word which Sewell took pains to avoid.

Somewhere between Paestum and Venice travelling the length of the Apennines Sewell’s producer persuaded him to talk about incidents that happened when he made this journey in a group of graduate students. Given a room where four boys were expected to sleep in one bed; driving an old Vauxhall Velox up a street so narrow the car almost jammed between the walls of opposite houses to an impasse where the only way out was down a long flight of steps. Reliving the memory brought a subtle change of body language and the haughty manner and measured diction slipped – just a little.

Behind the act there was a guy who had lived and had fun like the rest of us. I was left with the feeling that off camera and relaxed he would be good company.

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