This piece was penned by Kev McCready and read out at the start of #MontyMarch as a tribute to the great man. You’ll find Kev on Twitter @KevMcCready and you’ll be glad you did.
Richard Griffiths had a long, successful and varied career playing a certain kind of Englishman. In a way, this was a stereotypical image of what being English is about: louche, lascivious, moustache waxed, eyebrow raised. In a way, this is a kind of some vulgar little tumour of the men he sometimes played. It also does the man a massive disservice. Sometimes actors are typecast, sometimes their roles take on a life stronger and stranger than celluloid. Their work is an after image of what left us when their soul fluttered somewhere else.
He’d already proved his worth as a stage actor, before his film and TV career started. He never played The Dane, but played most of the great comic Shakespearean roles. A native of Yorkshire, he had that region’s great skill for blunt speaking: there at least three recorded instances of him asking theatre audience members to leave for a ringing mobile.
So: a serious man, with a serious mind. A very precise, proscribed way of doing anything. Not in a Freudian, anally-retentive way. Rather a dry sense of morality and how things simply should be. So, why then should such a grey cloud be the source of much sunshine? Why should he be regarded as such a great comic actor?
Simply put: comedy is tragedy with a different face. Comedy should be played absolutely straight. We are all simply the punchline to one massive cosmic joke, in any case: as Nietzsche says: ‘I accept chaos, I’m not sure it accepts me’. That’s why I am part of Monty March, celebrating the man’s life with other Withnailians.
I’ve previously spoken at length of the craft of Richard E Grant and Paul McGann. Monty is perhaps, the quiet centre of the film. Withnail and Marwood’s need for a holiday needs a solution, Monty provides one… but heightens the decaying relationship between the two leads. He is erudite, but bordering on a pretentious buffoon. In denial of his own sexuality, but fully prepared to thrust himself (literally) on any Greco-Roman youth he finds in his cottage. Monty is the product of a very peculiar kind of English disappointment: in denial of his own organismic self, in quiet contemplation of the next disappointment.
He leaves the film unseen, much as he left this life in March 2013. His obituaries refer to him as Harry Potter’s Uncle, a man whom in another time and space; turned down the chance to succeed another English eccentric Tom Baker, as Doctor Who.
But this is not about fantasy, this is about reality. Richard Griffiths was a delightful by-product of our environment. He was not part of a terrible cult; he was a particular kind of Englishman. For that, we should be grateful his grace was part of our presence.
And he always will.
– Kev McCready 28th March 2015