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The best of times for posh actors

I've always thought Vexed, the tongue-in-cheek BBC2 cop show starring Toby Stephens and Miranda Raison, is criminally underrated, largely because of Stephens' hilarious performance.

I met Stephens years ago, during a previous incarnation as a movie critic. It was on a crushingly boring trip to the Eden Project in Cornwall to see a stunt for the James Bond movie Die Another Day being filmed. Stephens was playing the villain and, when the film was released months later, turned out to be the best thing in it.

Very nice bloke, too, although terribly, terribly posh. But it seems sounding posh is beginning to push Stephens to the limit of his patience. Even though his parents, the actors Maggie Smith and the late Robert Stephens, were born "regular working-class people," he told a UK newspaper, "I ended up speaking in a certain way and one gets sidelined into doing certain parts. I think that is really quite narrow-minded.

"That is what I love about America -- they don't have any of this. Actors are actors, and they can play whatever and whoever they want."

Well, some of them can. Luckily for Stephens, he's one of them. My 16-year-old daughter thought he was the perfect Mr Rochester -- a role that does require one to talk all proper -- in the BBC's excellent adaptation of Jane Eyre, which is her all-time favourite book.

But he's just as good as Vexed's boneheaded, politically incorrect cop Jack Armstrong, who speaks in a deliberately preposterous, decidedly non-posh drawl that verges on mid-Atlantic.



Yearns

He also made a highly convincing General George Armstrong Custer in an episode of a fine 2006 BBC drama-documentary series called The Wild West.

You can understand why Stephens yearns for the wide open casting spaces of America. Most of the top TV leading men there at the moment are British.

Damian Lewis currently has audiences on both sides of the Atlantic rapt in Homeland, but who would have guessed he went to Eton? So did his pal Dominic West, who played cop McNulty in The Wire.

Idris Elba, who played smart gangster Stringer Bell in that series, is also British, as is Dorian Harewood, who appears with Lewis in Homeland.

And let's not forget the man who started it all: Hugh Laurie, whose audition tape for House was so convincing, the series' creator believed he was an American actor.

Still, toning down a posh accent is one thing; toning it up is another. Can you honestly see Steve McFadden, aka EastEnders' Phil Mitchell, playing the Prince Regent?

>arise, dame glenda Compared to Britain, we're poorly stocked when it comes to national TV and theatrical treasures of the female persuasion. They've got Cilla, Dame Judi, Dame Maggie and quite a few others we don't have space today to mention. And who have we got? Twink. Not even a sniff of a score-draw there. It's about time we started balancing the scales.

So I humbly put forward Xpose host and all-purpose TV3 fixture Glenda Gilson as the ideal candidate for elevation, if only for the fabulous entertainment she provided this week when talking about how she doesn't want to talk about her €73,000 tax settlement. "Bad news... they love it," she said, "they" presumably meaning the media (and isn't it extraordinary how many television presenters talk about the media as if they weren't actually a part of it?). "It's funny, if I won an Oscar, you wouldn't get the headlines like it." You're right, Glenda. You and an Oscar? No, you'll certainly never see headlines about that.

>the paddy don Due to coverage of the Exposure documentary on the vile Jimmy Savile, I had no room in Thursday's review to look at what, in a normal week, would have been the highlight: the TG4 documentary Paddy Don Patricio, which is the name adoring Spanish football fans gave to Paddy O'Connell, the one-time Liffey Wanderers, Belfast Celtic and Manchester United player who also captained Ireland.

O'Connell wasn't an ideal family man -- he abandoned his wife and child -- but his story is fascinating. As a manager, he guided Real Betis to their first and only La Liga title and single-handedly saved Barcelona from extinction. Without him, that great club probably wouldn't exist today. And without TG4, we wouldn't have great documentaries such as this.


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