A long time ago I played a monk in a touring production of Eliot's verse Drama Murder in Cathedral for the National Youth Theatre. The show started in Christchurch Spitalfields went up to St.Giles in Edinburgh for the Festival, played the Tyne Theatre and Opera House in Newcastle before ending up at the Moscow Arts Theatre. It was a fantastic trip ... but to be honest apart from scuttling about in a monk like fashion, rising in mock amazement when Thomas A' Beckett returned from France and shouting my one line 'The Door is Barred!' as dramatically as I could, there wasn't that much to do. The starring roles carried the action and we obediently provided the wallpaper.
As the tour went on boredom, and inevitable subversion, grew and the monks started to make up fantasy back stories and sacred duties for their characters. Some of us looked after the bees, some illuminated manuscripts, some fermented mead, others tended the orchards and one of our number memorably became a sandal thief - this at least gave us something to improvise quietly in the back ground ('A good year for windfalls, brother Mark' or 'I'm afraid I'm clean out of left feet this week, brother Martin') whilst the turbulent priest's story was re-enacted out in front of us.
By the time we had reached Stanislavski's hallowed theatre we'd realised that our large cassocks could hold almost anything and a new competition evolved for what could be hidden in the sleeves - this led to bags of chips, water pistols, bottles of vodka and one evening a kitten joining us on stage. We were untouchable and the joy was in getting away with it.
I was reminded of this bad behaviour today because the smooth and ever reliable James Purnell was amongst our number (understudying Dan Craig as first knight - but that's a different story, Bond was obviously a harder figure to assassinate.) James was renowned for being sensible - often refusing to join in with the squirting or animal kidnapping fun - and whilst the rest of us indulgently corpsed our way through the shows - he remained steadfastly focused on providing exemplary monastic support to the archbishop in a range of impressive genuflects, bows and head shakes, even cowering behind the nearest pillar as the Knights ran Thomas through with their long swords. At the end of the run James shook each of our hands in turn, joined the Labour Party and disappeared off to Oxford to start his PPE degree.
The last line of his resignation letter released last night reads - 'I am not seeking the leadership nor acting with anyone else. My actions are my own considered view and nothing more.' Sad as the whole sorry tragedy of Gordon's demise is, if Brother James has forsaken his door keeping duties then it's only a matter of time before the Knights come storming through the sanctuary once again.