All the world’s a stage
My business takes me to Tunbridge Wells frequently. An interesting town, clichéd forever by the disgusted letter writer of years ago. And that sense of quirkiness still hanging over the place. Famously genteel, old fashioned in parts, vibrant and modern everywhere else. To me, there’s always seemed just a slight air of decadence in the air. I like it.
I always stay at The Spa and If ever a hotel exactly mirrored a town, it’s The Spa. It’s set on a ridge overlooking the town; perfect for taking an after-dinner stroll, over the Common, down into town, perhaps a pint, and then a walk back. And a while back, that’s what I did.
It was late, after midnight, when I returned to the Hotel. I didn’t expect anyone to be around. But there they were, in the corner of the Lounge. Other guests, perhaps fifteen, twenty people, sat in a semi-circle around a grey haired old man, his bow tie unravelled, hanging down to the shiny silk collar of his Tux. He sat at a table in an alcove, dimly lit, barely visible. The dramatic effect was emphasised by his voice. Booming one moment, soothing the next. A voice that commanded your attention. He certainly had the attention of this audience. Transfixed, hanging on to his every word.
“………………… and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me: I’ll have grounds
More relative than this: the play ‘s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”
His voice tailed off, leaving an awkward silence. I joined in as we clapped politely, almost reverentially. A few people from the audience approached the old man’s table. Pens and bits of paper appeared. Autographs.
I sat down, next to Philip, the hotel’s night porter. Small, balding and avuncular, part of the furniture here. Philip had Spa Hotel running through him like a stick of rock. ‘Who’s that?’ I whispered. ’Is he famous?’ I don’t think he noticed the faint hint of sarcasm.
‘Oh hello sir.’ His seemed excited. ‘Well, that man you see sitting there, is one of Hollywood’s all time greats, John Henry Barrington Jnr. They reckon he was the biggest matinee star in the world back in the forties and fifties. A legend. He’s been staying with us for a few days… but he hasn’t done this before. This is a first!’
Well that served me right! ‘ The name rings a bell. What have I missed?’
‘Well, unfortunately, you’ve just missed his delivery of four of Shakespeare’s greatest speeches. Totally off the cuff. Just did it because he felt like it. Amazing. What a star. What style. See….?’ He pointed to the tables in front of us, littered with bottles, of champagne. and plates, mostly empty. ” He’s treated everyone to champers, oysters, you name it. And you’ve missed that too.’ he smiled.
‘So what’s he doing here. In Tunbridge Wells?’
‘Apparently, he loves it here. It’s his first time at the Spa, but he’s been coming to Tunb …’
We were interrupted as the Duty Manager rose from the star’s table. “Ladies and Gentlemen. Mister John Henry Barrington junior is retiring now, and on behalf of all of us and the Spa Hotel, I would like to thank him for his impromptu performance this evening. We have been privileged to hear a performance that Broadway audiences have paid many thousands of dollars for, over the years. He has also kindly said that that his bar tab is still open and you are all kindly invited to continue to be his guest….but I have to warn you we have almost run out of champagne’. At this he chuckled. ‘Thank you again Sir.’
The great man rose from his chair, his rugged bronzed features now evident in the light, his grey hair revealed as white. ‘Thank you.Thank you Tunbridge Wells. One of my favourite places in the whole wide world’ His american accent was in direct contrast to the theatrical oration of the few lines I had heard him deliver moments earlier. He went on, ‘ As I’ve always said, if it’s good enough for Queen Victoria, it’s good enough for me’. A big smile, a flash of very white teeth and he was gone, leaving the room standing to attention and one or two laughing nervously at the royal joke. They weren’t too sure about what they had heard and some weren’t too sure who they had seen, but they were pretty sure it had been good. Shakespeare or not!
The manager was right, the champagne had almost run out, but I managed to snaffle a glass. Then straight to bed.
I had set my alarm for 10am. but the bedside phone rang and woke me. It was 8.17.
‘Good morning sir. Sorry to trouble you. I believe you were at the, errm, cultural soiree last night? Late last night?’
‘Yes, thats right I was.’
‘Perhaps you could join us downstairs at 9 sharp? The man’s voice was urgent. ‘We’re in the Pantiles Suite, just off the main Lounge. Oh, by the way, I’m Inspector Black, Tunbridge Wells Police.’
Fifteen minutes later I was pushing the door to The Pantiles Suite open. The room was busy, full with people sitting, lining the walls. One or two of them I recognised from the night before. I introduced myself to the policewoman who asked me to take a seat. She brought me up to date. Appears our friend the Great Orator from last night, hadn’t been a great orator after all. Turns out that while he was orating, his accomplice had taken all the keys from behind the reception desk, and then burgled the rooms of the enthralled audience. Wallets, bags, purses, valuables, jewellery, and any spare cash lying around had gone. That explained the pale. drawn faces everywhere around me. They were waiting their turn to be interviewed it seemed.
The policewoman seemed a little disappointed, or was it my imagination, when I told her that my room seemed untouched, nothing was missing. It seems that my habit of always taking my room key out with me had saved me from a similar fate. ‘May I leave now. “ I asked.
‘Afraid not sir. I’d like you to see the Inspector before you leave. He won’t be long.’
Inspector Black was in his fifties I’d guess, greying, with an oily complexion, and a manner as sharp and urgent has it had been on the ‘phone. He asked me questions about my whereabouts last night, my circumstances. The usual stuff. But I drew the line at giving him my bank details. ‘Well everyone else has sir.’ he reasoned. He flashed his warrant card at me. ‘And we’ll need to check and cross check with the banks all sorts of cash movements, dates, times etc.‘
‘Well they’ve all been robbed. I haven’t. May I go now? I need my breakfast!’
‘Of course sir, have a good day’,
And that was that.
It was a few weeks later when I next checked back into the Spa hotel. Usual routine. Dinner, a walk into town, a pint, a walk back. And there was Philip, alone behind the reception desk.
‘Hello sir. Good to see you back’
‘Philip. How’s you?’
‘Excellent sir, thanks’
‘Seeing you reminds me. Did they ever catch that con-man? Remember? The Shakespearian guy?’
His smile grew wider. He began to chortle.
‘Well! You don’t know the half! It’s unbelievable really. Turns out that copper that interviewed us, wasn’t a copper at all! It was the same bloke! He was acting all along! He acted like a film star the night before, did a runner, rings the hotel very early in the morning saying he’s received a call, then turns up pretending to be a detective. Conned everybody out of their bank details, and cleaned ‘em out of thousands!’
‘Nope. Thousands he took!
‘And they never caught him?’
‘Naaaah. They have an idea it might be Jimmy Tooby, a guy used to live around here. But that was years ago. But they ain’t sure. He was very good. Left no fingerprints, nothing!’ Philip seemed almost lost in admiration.
‘So why do they think it was him?’
‘Well, apparently he was in TWODS, they’re a big Am-Dram group around here, used to be a really good actor apparently, and was always very good at, whaddya call ‘em? Solly something ?’
‘‘That’s it. Anyway, years ago, he was good enough to do a turn on the band stand down in the Pantiles and the Shakespeare stuff was his speciality.’
‘Tooby did you say?’
Yes, that’s him.’
Something right at the back of my mind stirred. What was it? C’mon.. c’mon..think…what is it? Then it came to me. I laughed.
Philip gave me a quizzical stare . My laughter made him chortle again too. ‘Sir? What’s so funny?’
‘Oh it’s nothing. Just my sense of humour.’
‘Well. Just can imagine the police, Tunbridge Well’s finest, sitting around the table. Discussing it. Wondering if they have got the right man. Then, the Chief Inspector stands up. You know what he says Philip?
‘Tooby or not Tooby? That is the question…’