Michael Burrell’s final column: ‘Blessed with the most rewarding of friends’

Michael Burrell
Michael Burrell

One of the last over-riding things, I guess, about being a newspaper columnist, never mind sitting on numerous committess in the course of a busy life, is that you always want to have the last word.

And I confess one of the really irritating things about being dead is that I can’t poke my nose in any more.

To be honest, I don’t know how you’re all going to manage! Except, of course, that I do. You’ll all manage perfectly well.

Many years ago, one of my colleagues, actor John Warner – the original lead in the slightly unlikely West End hit, Salad Days, and a really nice fellow – was lying in hospital dying and one of his friends, visibly upset, said: “John, we’re going to miss you so much.”

“And I’ll miss you,” John said. And then, “Oh no, of course, I’ll be dead. I’d forgotten that.”

When you’re young, you know you’re going to live forever. While at the same time being quite clear that anyone who’s 40 is as good as in the grave.

As the years go by, you lose friends and acquaintances but, again, at the same time you get rather used to being around yourself and don’t question too much that you’ll be doing things tomorrow.

Well, as I look back from my damp cloud, I have to say I’ve been very lucky. The work I’ve done has mostly been very fulfilling, whether acting, directing, writing, managing, teaching or – believe it or not – sitting on the committees to try (and often fail) to get things done.

Work has taken me all over the world and to some countries, notably Canada, the States, Morocco and Tunisia, many times; it’s taken me all over the UK and it’s given me all sorts of adventures: smuggling a dissident’s letter out of Leningrad during the days of the USSR; drinking cola with the Prime Minister of Goa; acting with some of my idols, Paul Scofield, Celia Johnson, Peter Ustinov, Irene Worth and many more; and the enormous fun of being involved with group after group of people, professional and amateur, intent on putting on a show, making a TV programme or a film, to be the best they can possibly make it.

Most rewarding, though, are your friends, and I’ve been blessed, with very rare exceptions in the friends I have had, the newer and younger ones and the ones who have stuck by through the decades.

And I remember my education with gratitude: if there’s one last thing I’d like to get across to my godsons and to youngsters everywhere, it is to take the opportunities your school and college offer, nothing is boring if you take the trouble to be interested; and if you do as well as you can it will open the door to a great life.

Finally, yes, really finally, to borrow a line from the broadcaster John Ebdon, if you have been, thank you for reading me.