' Alright love ? Relax, for today. D'ya wanna cup of tea ? '
This was my first encounter with Jimmy, a large bear of a man with a Robert Redford thatch. Although in his 50's with a widening girth, he still had Matinee Idol good looks which he occasionally hid behind thick rimmed glasses. His smile revealed a row of perfectly shaped teeth tainted by years of tobacco abuse.
He was the Supervisor in a London Theatre Box Office and this was my first job. I was so nervous but his flamboyant swagger couldn't fail to put me at ease. Incredible really how such a talented man should end up in an office but it marked the beginning of a special friendship.
Jimmy lived with and adored his elderly mother. He was always on the phone making sure she was OK. We worked long hours and he worried for her welfare constantly. Away from her he led a colourful, dangerous life. He drank to excess and sometimes went missing for days without a word until eventually he'd reappear like a naughty school boy who couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Amazingly, no-one dared to ask where he'd been, not even the manager. We placated ourselves by enquiring if he was alright. He didn't give much away and a few of us began to wonder if he was aware of just how long he'd been absent.
He could be fiercely loyal or your worst enemy. House Managers had learned never to interfere when Jimmy was on pre-show Doors. He didn't care what anyone thought yet cared deeply about people. His hands were like great, heated spades, his heart the size of a giants.
Suave, irresistible, unpredictable Jimmy. How we loved him.
In his Glory days he was Dresser to the Stars. and spent much of his time at after show parties. Always on the edge of fame but never in the spotlight. Years back, he'd trodden the boards in Bingo Halls and Working Men's Clubs until it became obvious he wasn't going to make it to the big time. On good days he made us howl with laughter, regaling us with stories of being on stage in his best velvet suit, crooning away in some dismal Derby and Joan.
" There I was mid song, when this little flat cap geezer comes on, rips the mic' from my 'and and starts boomin';
Pies. Get yer Hot Peas and Pies. The Pies are ready. Only to have it thrust back at me as though naffin had 'append.
What did I do ? What d'ya mean what did I do ? I'm a Pro' I carried on singing o' course. Mind you, half the bloody audience had disappeared to get their supper-know what I mean ?"
Jimmy could camp it up when he wanted and would quite often burst into a Shirley Bassey number in the middle of the office.
But for every high there were many lows. There were surreptitious meetings outside where bulky envelopes changed hands. He'd come to work already intoxicated and rebuke staff or anyone who had the mis-fortune to be in his way. We would sit in silence for fear of upsetting him and awakening the rage within.
We spent many an evening chewing over the fat. Me with a cup of tea, him with something stronger. He had the saddest eyes I've ever seen and a way of using them to manipulate attention. A man of the world spilling his guts to a girl barely in it and yet he seemed to look to the younger generation for his salvation. He loved the vitality, the humour, the sheer life force that emanated in the face of youth. It reminded him of the potential he once possessed but had somehow misplaced.
We lost touch after I left. He was never one for writing except once when he sent a beautifully scribed letter explaining why he couldn't come to our wedding. I think the idea of the conventional filled him with horror.
The truth was he saw himself as a loner, an outsider looking in as though the warm, pleasant scene he witnessed could only be marred by his presence.
I suspect that in his own movie he would always be the trench coat figure in the shadows. His face illuminated briefly by the lighting of a cigarette. Collar turned up of course and shoulders hunched against the cold. Turning away, he'd flick the ash before sauntering down the dimly lit ally. His charismatic spirit languishing like a ghost.