All right G, I say, I'm Frankie, and I'll have a London Pride. He smirks at this a bit, the cheeky little bastard. Summink funny? I ask. His face suddenly goes dead straight and dead white, all scared of me – quite rightly, I may say. No, just your choice of beer ... I thought it might make a good title for the feature, actually. Nice recovery, I think. I'll drink to that, I say, and take a sip. Now what do you want to know? He stares at me. Has anyone ever told you you sound just like Del Boy? He ain't exactly Mr. Tact, this one. I hope I don't have to teach him manners too. I can sound like Julian Clary if I want to, son, I say smoothly. As long as my business associates respect me and I bring in the money, nobody gives a fuck. Oh, absolutely, he says. No, your voice is great. I salute him with my pint. Perfick, I say, like David Jason playing Pop Larkin, but he don't get it. Calls himself a film-maker and he's never seen “The Darling Buds of May”? I should've known there'd be trouble.
For the next couple of months G is my shadow, following me around on all my jobs wearing this stupid fake moustache in case, he says, anybody recognises him. I don't have the heart to tell him that the people I work with prefer your Korean martial-art epics to noncy British crime capers. Why spoil his fun? In fact, after a few weeks I give Dave, my chauffeur, a holiday and dress G up in his little uniform and cap. I tell the boys that I'm training him up, and he sits in meetings and takes notes just like a secretary. Might as well make himself useful. He soaks it all up like a little kid in his first strip joint, hardly able to believe his luck. Everything's lovely-jubbly, as Del Boy might say. Ten weeks later and I'm in a lock-up in Peckham, congratulating myself on the way that G has listened and learned at the feet of the master. Well, it ain't actually a lock-up in Peckham, it's a sound stage in Elstree, but it's modelled on a lock-up in Peckham I used to know quite well, and I must say it's amazing what that skinny fashion student of a set-designer has knocked together. It's almost like being back in the eighties. G bounces up like a retriever puppy. Frankie, hey great to see you! he says in that funny accent of his, half Eton, half Luton. What do you think of the lock-up? Nice job son, I say. That little set girl's done alright. You mean Colin? What? Colin's my set designer. I headhunted him from St. Martin's, says G, all proud. Now this is a little bit embarrassing, as I've been looking at that long-haired kid with the eye makeup scurrying around and wondering why birds these days never wear nice dresses no more. Fortunately I haven't mentioned this aloud. Still, lucky escape. I don't want to get done for harassment, not with my record. Yeah, well ... lovely job. Have you got a few minutes? asks G. Officially, my job title is Script Consultant, so I get calls from Mr. Film Director at all hours of the day and night, asking me about little authentic details like what sort of hat Benny Twenty used to wear and whether you'd use a bolt cutter or garden shears to cut off somebody's toes. Money for old rope, but plenty of it, so I like to oblige. Well, I say, I've got a business meeting in Hounslow at five, but till then I'm yours. Aha, business meeting! says G, tapping his nose and grinning. It's with my tax accountant, but I don't tell him that. What can I do for you, son? I say. Ah well, today is Sir Ted's first day on set and he'd like to meet you.
The great Sir Ted is in make-up in his trailer when G leads me in. He acknowledges us with a royal wave and waits for his scar to set – I've got to admit, it's another bang-up job by G's team, it looks exactly like mine – before coming over and shaking hands. Pleased to meet you, Frankie, says Sir Ted. It's a privilege, I tell him. Oh really? Have you seen my work? Not me, I say, me wife. She's a big fan. Saw you playing that Jew fella at the RSC a few years ago. Shylock? he says, with a bit of an edge in his voice. Yeah, that's the one. You was just like Benny Twenty, she said. Accent and everything. She said you was brilliant. G starts scribbling this down. Notes for the bloke playing Benny, I'm guessing. Sir Ted softens a bit. Well, it's nice to be appreciated. I'm glad she enjoyed it. Oh yeah, I tell him, she said it was the funniest thing she'd ever seen. Couldn't stop laughing. For some reason Sir Ted changes the subject after this, and for the next half hour it's all motivation and character development and tweaking the dialogue, till I look at my watch and G gets the hint and calls the limo round. Good luck son, I say, as I step in. Call me if you need anything.
It's two weeks after that I get the call. I'm in the middle of some delicate negotiations with one of my casino managers who's been taking liberties, and I can't hardly hear my phone ring over the sobbing and begging, but I remember my obligation to G, and hand the bolt-cutters over to Sam. Outside in the corridor I call G back, expecting more bollocks questions about the lapels on Mad Mo's suit or summink, but he sounds upset and panicked. Oh Frankie, thank God, he gasps. There's been a disaster. He's got that doom-laden tone people use for plane crashes and Special Branch raids, and I tense up, my heart buggering about in my chest like nobody's business. What is it, son? I've got visions of fire at the studio, a punch-up between the actors that got out of hand ... maybe he needs me to take a little trip to Epping Forest with a package in the boot? It's Sir Ted, says G, he's dropped out of the movie. He what? He's been asked to play Lear at Stratford. I had to let him go. I don't care if he's playing Arsenal at bleeding Wembley, I say, disgusted, he gave you his word! It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for him, whines G. He asked me very nicely if he could break his contract, and I couldn't say no. What a bleeding nonce, I think. If I ran my crew like G does his, I'd end up with a two-by-four to the back of the head, and I'd deserve it too. Well if you've let the bloody welsher go already, I say, what can I do about it? I was .... well, I was wondering if you'd step into the role? says G, like he's telling me I've won the Lottery. Me? Of course! he witters, it's perfect! I mean, it was written for you ... the character is, basically, you ... plus you've got an amazing screen presence. Really magnetic. I'd love you to do it. And that's when the alarm bells start to ring. Screen presence? I say, What you on about? When have you seen me on camera? I'm thinking about the CCTV of the armed job in '94, but I knew we'd buried that along with the cashier at the time. Still, I'm getting a bit worried. Well, I did a bit of secret filming in the meetings, when I was shadowing you ... You fuckin' what? I yell, and the screaming from inside the casino office goes quiet for a bit, then starts up again. Just for atmosphere ... to get the look and the dialogue right ... I wasn't going to ... I didn't mean to ... stutters G, suddenly realising he's in the shit. I breathe deep and calm myself down. This needs careful handling. That sort of evidence could get me banged up for a pony or more. I curse myself for trusting the little bastard. These creative types always think everything's material. Well, not when it's my bleedin' business and my bleedin' golden years banged up in chokey, it ain't. Hmm, I say, a starring role eh? Sounds like an interesting proposition. I'm in the middle of something right now, but give me an hour and we can meet up and talk about it. Oh yes, says G, nearly crying with relief, stupidly certain that I've been won over like all those other mugs by the idea of my face on the big screen. He should know that in my game, it's all about being anonymous, faceless, untraceable. It's all about keeping your head down. One more thing, I say casually, why don't you bring the footage so I can have a look through? Good idea, he says. Mind you, he'd say anything to please me at this stage, and bloody right too. Make sure you bring all of it, mind. I tell him. I want to see myself in action. Of course, of course, says G. Whatever you want. Where shall we meet? Well, I say, there's a lovely little spot I know in Epping Forest.
© Richard Meredith, 2008
Crime caper by Richard Meredith was read by Silas Hawkins at the Liars' League Crime & Punishment event on Tuesday 9 September, 2008