Actor, producer and writer Steven Berkoff shares his views about Sir Philip Green
I recently watched a group of investigators sitting around a semi-circular table politely asking questions of Sir Philip Green. They elicited either vague responses, unsure responses, or contemptuous responses about him flogging BHS, a once venerable institution, to a somewhat dodgy character for a quid. If one of the pale faced interrogators even hinted that some of his business practises smelt a little like stinking fish or let’s say a little strange, Green’s surly reply was always: “That’s your opinion”.
What was most fascinating to me, watching him live on television, was his whole stance and body language: He sat, heavy arms spread akimbo like he was a wrestler between bouts and waiting for the next round. The obviously university educated interlocutors were mostly decent professional men who faced a person whose way of life could not be more different. ‘Sir Shifty’ (as the Daily Mail mockingly now refer to him) has, after all, fought his way up from market dealer to wealthy mogul and he’s eaten people like these all his life.
I even noticed one woman on the committee staring at Green from time to time and then turning away to whoever was asking him questions. She only dared to glimpse back at him for a few seconds. The feeling was that she was facing some kind of monster, a rabid devourer of nervous young English ladies. He then even rudely abused a member of the committee with sarcasm and a threating wit. It reminded me of the young toughs at the Lyceum Dance Hall in the fifties and their “Oo ya looking at!” jibes.
Green actually said something similar to this at one time and directed it to one of the members, reproaching him for staring. It is a bit difficult, if you are facing someone under investigation, not to stare, I would have thought but then this is the ‘Green look’. His stare is nothing less than demonic; his dark beady eyes less meant for merely looking than for ‘eye balling’ with a shadowy hint of violence beneath. He didn’t just respond, he responded with an expression that seemed to dare you to challenge him. His voice carried notes of warning in it and yet was not grating – even if the timbre reminded me of Petticoat Lane.
Now, what made the whole exercise even more bizarrely fascinating was that he is a Jew. This might create a slightly awkward backstory since Jews were famously interrogated by the guardians of the church centuries past. A group of priests, many of them with a strong intellectual bent, frequently interrogated Rabbis on the meaning of their faith and hurled questions of religious complexity challenging them on all sorts of issues, the failure of which to answer satisfactorily could mean, a rather painful conclusion.
These sessions were held in public and their main purpose was to ridicule and humiliate. So, watching Green’s examination many similar thoughts flittered through my mind, not least of all the appalling interrogation of Shylock in Shakespeare’s unpleasant satire, The Merchant of Venice.
The ever-changing mosaic of thoughts shifted and I saw Shylock being interrogated, except here is no Portia tripping up the recalcitrant Jew. Here are at least a dozen pairs of eyes and I can guarantee that not one of them, could avoid, thinking and not with malice, that in front of them sat a Jew; a money bags dealer. Even if not one of them would ever admit to a shred of anti-Semitism, it would be impossible not to see a distant cousin of Shylock in front of them. I certainly did; I could not help it. How awful, but it is also true. It has been rubbed in our faces by Shakespeare no less than Dickens. And here sitting in front of them, including the lady who could hardly bare to look his way, was the archetypical Jew. You couldn’t make it up.
Even if Shylock was originally in an Italian play, it found its way to our shores: The Italian villain was then changed to Jew. Centuries ago under those horrible interrogation and inquisitions, the Jew would have to answer civilly and been humble, humble yet intellectually sound.
No need for humbleness now; Green was the direct opposite of his distant predecessor. If his eyes were basilisks he would have scorched up the entire circle but yet, he was steaming if not actually burning. It was his face and his expressions that carried the shades of the demonic. Up to now I have only read about the deeds of Green and the rather shabby money dealings and his frequent photo ops with one of his models, out on the town with his heavy paw around some nubile waist. Now, for the first time I heard him and I watched the ‘gentle’ eyes of the Christians attempting to unravel the complex spider webs of this bully and his empire.
I hope the public who were watching were also able to resist the brain washing of centuries and not give in to an almost reflex action and think “look at him, another one of those lying, money grabbing yids”.
I found that I couldn’t switch over to another channel. This was actually too dramatic. This was life and death not those easy, shallow chat shows of Norton, Ross and company with the forced laughter. No, this is the real thing. Now my mind shifted again from Shylock to Al Capone.
Of course, if Green’s empire ever totally collapses and he is looking for another job he should think of shifting his base to LA and having a bash at a few villains. He would make a marvellous Al Capone as what makes gangsters so dangerous is that they are all deliberately thin skinned. They don’t want to be calmly tolerant or turn the other cheek. Green’s bull-like face was full on and he even chided one of the committee with a snide: “Put your glasses back on”. The confessors, however, won’t get much of a confession out of Green. And he won’t take any criticism: “That’s your opinion”, he uttered again and again.
I can see Sir Shifty in the dock: A perfect Capone; think about it Phil.
Steven Berkoff is an actor, producer and writer.
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