It was Tuesday, April 9, 1991, when I was talking to my English teacher, and I happened to mention that Graham Greene had died over the Easter holidays. He said that it was sad and that he felt, because he’d read so many Graham Greene novels, that he knew him.
Whatever your personal beliefs towards Graham Greene are (I disagreed with his views on women), what my English teacher said was something I understood. I remember, when I was six, watching a Quiz Show when a champion was beaten and I became sad. I didn’t know this person in real life, but she was nice, and I thought her nice.
Okay, if you read the guidance officer’s column in my high school’s monthly newsletter, you would have thought that he was an approachable man who you could talk to about any problem, only to find that he would sit there and chortle at you if you were upset. I remember, November 30, 1990, when we were doing some training for something at school (it was the last day of the school year) and so many of us talked about him, and the teacher we had, who was really nice, said, “I am amazed at how unhappy so many of you are with someone you’re supposed to be able to talk to about your problems.” Granted, she wasn’t in a position to criticise him, and he might have been different in the staff room to what he was in the office, but she probably hadn’t seen him in those circumstances.
Yesterday, I was shocked to read that Dieter Brummer from Home and Away had died, age 45. I knew he was a year younger than me, and I was only reflecting that it was almost 28 years to the day since I had seen him on the front page of the TV Guide and was in an interview inside the magazine. I wasn’t too happy to read that he said you’d have to be a bit silly to be complaining about acting, but I thought to myself, as he was to explain, some years later, that you can, if you go on something like Home and Away, find yourself going from being a relatively unknown run of the mill high school student, to being unable to walk down to the shops to buy a bottle of milk without being mobbed, and the toll it can take upon you. He also admitted that working five days a week, spending a whole day making what is around 25 minutes of television for every night can burn you out.
One thing that I say to people is, you have to always be careful to separate the role they play from the person themselves. Dieter Brummer’s character on Home and Away was willful and reckless, and his character on Neighbours had a history of violence, but Dieter Brummer himself might have been all right. When I read a tweet saying that someone had seen him at Perth Airport, I was disappointed that I didn’t get a response when I said, “But was he a nice person?” What I wanted to know was, rather than having adulating fans rushing at him, did he, in response, say, “Get lost,” or, did he, perhaps, say to his minders, “Okay, I can spare a few minutes to sign some autographs for people.”
I mean, I have met a few celebrities, in my time, some of whom have been very nice, some of whom have not. I remember Natalie Bassingthwaite getting nasty mail over her role in Neighbours, yet in real life, Natalie Bassingthwaite is a kind, sweet person.
I remember feeling sad when I read that Kevin Lloyd, who played Alfred “Tosh” Lines, in The Bill, had died. And I was touched when Colin Tarrant (Inspector Andrew Monroe, from The Bill) died and I sent Graham Cole (PC Tony Stamp) a tweet and he replied, “Most kind, Pete.” to me. Similarly, I was saddened when Lorrae Desmond (known for playing Shirley Gilroy, in A Country Practice) died, but touched to think that when I tweeted to Shane Withington (Brendon Jones from that series, who now spends his time on Home and Away) and Wendy Strehlow (Judy Loveday) that they liked and even responded to my tweets. Lorrae Desmond was part of my Sunday and Monday (later Monday and Tuesday) escape from a traumatic reality during the 1980s. I wished that she had been the doctor’s receptionist where I went and that I had had a doctor I’d liked when I was younger. I have often said that if I had been able to tell my story on A Country Practice, I would have wanted Jackie Woodburne as my onscreen mother, Dr Alex Fraser (played by Di Smith) as the doctor I saw, and had Jackie take me in and say, “He gets ill after eating certain things,” and have Dr Alex Fraser say, “Hmm, I think we should run some tests and that will mean hospital.” Then, to have had Shane Withington come in as Brendon Jones and say, “Hmm, you like UK Crime Dramas, do you? Tell you what, it’s Saturday night, so you can watch The Professionals. You like them?” “Yeah!”
Celebrities come into our lives via our TV screens, and we either like them or we don’t. Now, with social media, we can contact them more easily. I remember, when I told my mother that I was sad when Kevin Lloyd died, she asked me, “Was that because you liked the role that he played or because you liked him as an actor?” I replied, “Well, both, I guess.” The circumstances of his death were, he was an alcoholic, and he turned up for work drunk and he muffed his lines three times and was fired. He had been receiving Antabuse, but went out and got drunk and choked on his vomit. The storyline was to be that Tosh had applied for a job elsewhere and accepted it, but as he died only days later, he was in the final scene and it said, “Kevin Lloyd, 1949–1998”.
Whether you feel as though part of your childhood memories is dying, or whether that person genuinely touched you, grief for a celebrity is as legitimate and as understandable as grief over the death of a friend. Nobody should be ridiculed over it or have their feelings invalidated.