Never a crossword… un­til I met a pro­fes­sional

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Cross­words have had a big im­pact on my life. For rea­sons I shall ex­plain, the form that im­pact has taken has been one of to­tal ab­sti­nence. I have par­taken freely of, and en­gaged ex­ten­sively with: Codewords, Word­searches, Join the Dots and Spot the Dif­fer­ences. Most Puz­zler games – yes. The crossword – no. We are yet to be­come friends.

My grand­mother was an avid crossword-er-er (now a word), and on film sets I have seen many ac­tresses, specif­i­cally older ac­tresses, im­mersed in the things. So I think I al­ways felt cross­words were for very clever older peo­ple with literary minds. I was in­tim­i­dated by them and I didn’t want them to show me up so I avoided them: that was their im­pact.

It turns out, though, that my fear might have been un­nec­es­sary all along, and my crossword-er­ing days might be about to be­gin – all thanks to the ac­tress Ju­lia McKen­zie. I met Ju­lia on the set of Gangsta Granny, a tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tion of David Wal­liams’s chil­dren’s book. She was sit­ting in a chair be­tween scenes, crossword spread out be­fore her. I went to sit next to her and dis­cov­ered that, to my slight horror, she wasn’t just do­ing the crossword; she was do­ing the cryptic crossword.

“Oh I won’t dis­turb you, you are do­ing the cryptic. Must be very dif­fi­cult.” I made to re­treat.

“Not re­ally, dear,” she replied. “You see, there are some ba­sic rules and rhythms to a cryptic. Once you know those, you are off. It’s not just the lat­eral mind game that peo­ple tend to think it is.”

She started talk­ing me through the murky world of cryptic clues and even­tu­ally I be­gan to see a pat­tern. It was fun, not in­tim­i­dat­ing, so I took the chance to quiz her fur­ther. Did a lot of ac­tors do cross­words? “If you visit any film set, there will al­ways be the crossword tribe dot­ted around. I used to think it was to keep your mind ac­tive while rest­ing the be­hind – but over the years I have come to re­alise that do­ing a crossword is just a ploy to avoid lis­ten­ing to other ac­tors’ old sto­ries about their days in Wor­thing rep.”

I thought to my­self I would quite like to hear about Wor­thing rep – any­thing to quiz that gen­er­a­tion of su­per the­atri­cal stars – but I got her point. No one likes a bore. She went on.

“There are quite strict – though un­writ­ten – rules of be­hav­iour, of course. Num­ber one (on pain of death) is never to fill in a clue on another ac­tor’s puz­zle while they are work­ing on a scene. That could get you into an aw­ful lot of trou­ble. And, of course, any­one rub­ber­neck­ing or crib­bing is per­sona non grata.”

Did she have any ex­clu­sive morsels of crossword-based showbiz goss? Any diva fits? “Not re­ally. But I can tell you that John Giel­gud is re­puted to have fin­ished his in record time ev­ery day – un­til some­one found his puz­zle in a waste pa­per bas­ket and it was all com­plete hog­wash.”

Did ev­ery­one in the Crossword Club chip in and work on their puzzles to­gether?

“Oh, def­i­nitely. We used to sit like gip­sies on our trailer steps dur­ing the film­ing of Cran­ford, with Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Bar­bara Flynn and Deb­o­rah Find­lay all knit­ting or cross­word­ing. Rather WI! That was the only time we hud­dled. Nowa­days there doesn’t seem to be so much of this cross­word­ing. Per­haps the dreaded iPhone has re­placed it. Or per­haps it’s that younger ac­tors have bet­ter things to do.”

I think it’s pre­cisely the dreaded iPhone that cre­ates th­ese sup­pos­edly “bet­ter things to do”. We are al­ways avail­able. We can al­ways be work­ing. We can iso­late.

So, in this crossword cen­te­nary, what­ever our pro­fes­sion, let’s put down our smart­phones, pick up a crossword and read a clue out to our col­leagues. Let’s have a break and a chat.

Code­breaker: ac­tress Ju­lia McKen­zie re­vealed the se­crets of solv­ing the most cryptic of puzzles to Mi­randa

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.