Thursday, November 08, 2007

The end of an old fruit

Last night's film on BBC Four, "George Melly's Last Stand", showed how the urge to perform is the last impulse to die. It followed the last few months of George Melly as he succumbed to double lung cancer and drifted in and out of dementia. Bedridden at home and unable to eat ("there's no room for any food in me"), he was nonetheless eager to play whatever gigs he could. There he was in a Travel Tavern somewhere on the A1 on his way to a sold-out gig in Newark. There again being carried down the fire escape at the back of the 100 Club in his wheel chair to play his last show. As shows, they weren't up to much. He couldn't wear the suits anymore and the voice was down to a reed but he still wanted to be wheeled on. The objective, he said, as ever was "to win them".
His wife Diana arranged for his old girlfriends to come and say goodbye to him. These were women who'd had affairs with him during their marriage. "I didn't think you'd recognise me," said Molly Parkin, dressed up like a medieval Archbishop.
There was some insight into what it's like to live with a legend. Not always fun. His children, who seemed remarkably sane, talked about how embarrassing it had been to have him as a father was when they were teenagers, what with him coming out as gay and bursting into song in the streets. His sister talked about how he'd been "such a big personality there was almost no room for anyone else."
Now he was shrinking there was almost a sense of relief.


  1. Astonishing programme, and an A-grade study of what it takes to be famous - the ego of seven men. Also, of what it takes to be married to a man with the ego of seven men - amazing forgiveness, and the strength to stop sleeping with a man who gave you the clap - and then to accept your husband's mistresses at the end. The fact that he had such a brilliant sense of humour until the end was the most moving thing for me.

  2. I missed Melly unfortunately, but I enjoyed the Louis Prima documentary on the previous night. He was utterly irrepressible too. Allegedy a jealous Sinatra formed the Rat Pack because a whole team of entertainers was needed to equal the excitement of a Prima gig.