The day my Zion­ism died

Vet­eran ac­tress Miriam Kar­lin tells Alex Kas­riel about par­ty­ing, can­cer, and her prob­lem with the Jewish state

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Books -

Afee morn­ing. But the el­e­gant oc­to­ge­nar­ian with a keen sense of hu­mour is still tak­ing on film roles and in­sists that she in­tends to do so to the end of her days.

Even the fact that she has re­cently en­dured mouth can­cer and suf­fers on­go­ing pe­riph­eral neu­ropa­thy (a con­di­tion af­fect­ing the ner­vous sys­tem, which she is con­vinced was caused by 56 years of anorexia) will not stand in her way, she says.

Kar­lin played Grandma Sadie in the 2003 Bri­tish-Jewish com­edy film Suzie Gold — a film which she hap­pens not to have rated. More fa­mously, she was Cat­lady in Stan­ley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clock­work Orange, de­spite hav­ing a pho­bia of cats.

Her latest role is in the up­com­ing film drama Flash­back of a Fool, star­ring James Bond star Daniel Craig, whom she never met dur­ing film­ing. The role did, how­ever, al­low her to visit South Africa for the first time.

“I have been asked to go to South Africa five times in the past, but al­ways re­fused be­cause of the apartheid,” she says. “Then, just when Nelson Man­dela was re­leased from prison, my health started fail­ing and I thought I’d never get to go — I was very up­set. But to be T THE age of 82, ac­tress Miriam Kar­lin might be ex­pected to have packed up her ca­reer and taken up full-time bridge and the odd se­niors’ cof- of­fered this film out of the blue is just won­der­ful.”

Kar­lin, who trained at Rada, is best known for her role as a mil­i­tant shop stew­ard in the 1960s BBC sit­com The Rag Trade, who called a strike at the slight­est whiff of un­fair treat­ment of work­ers with the catch­phrase: “Ev­ery­body out”.

The role to some ex­tent re­flected her own left-wing po­lit­i­cal views — she is an ac­tive mem­ber of ac­tors’ union Eq­uity.

Sit­ting in the liv­ing room of her Cen­tral Lon­don man­sion-block flat where she lives alone (she never mar­ried or had chil­dren), she talks about her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Some Sort of Life, pub­lished this month, which in­cludes can­did de­tails about her sex life, gam­bling, drug­tak­ing and eat­ing dis­or­der.

“It’s not all down there,” she in­sists. “I’m 82 and I have been work­ing since I was 19 — since I left Rada — I should think there’s 10 per cent of work in there. I don’t in­tend it to be any­thing like a CV. I think CV books are ghastly.”

In fact, the Lon­don-born ac­tress had never in­tended to write a book at all. The ex­er­cise was mainly a dis­trac­tion from her can­cer treat­ment.

“What I’m em­bar­rassed about is I’m not a writer,” she ad­mits. “I can write pretty good let­ters, but I’m not a writer of books. This came about partly be­cause I had mouth can­cer and had three slices of tongue taken away. When my great friend Jan Sar­gent — who’s not only a bril­liant di­rec­tor and worked with me in three plays but is also a trained psy­cho­an­a­lyst — heard about me hav­ing six-and-a-half weeks of chemo­ther­apy, she said: ‘Mim, would it be a good idea if I came round ev­ery day with a tape recorder and we just recorded stuff?’

“We made a list of the sort of things I was in­ter­ested in. There was noth­ing about friends or TV pro­grammes, it was all to do with pol­i­tics. It was a won­der­ful fo­cal point for me; a most mar­vel­lous piece of ther­apy. Jan would be here with the tape recorder. Ad­mit­tedly I talked a lot of bol­locks. There was a lot of inar­tic­u­late stuff, but at least I did it.”

Kar­lin has al­ways been an ac­tive Labour party sup­porter, but when Tony Blair came to power she re­nounced her mem­ber­ship.

“The most dread­ful part of the Blair gov­ern­ment is that he brought us in to the Iraq war. That is some­thing for which I could never for­give him,” she says. Now that Gor­don Brown is Prime Min­is­ter, she has signed up again.

Kar­lin also changed her mind about Is­rael. She used to call her­self a “staunch Zion­ist”—– a tra­di­tion that ran in her fam­ily since her grand­fa­ther was at the first Zion­ist con­fer­ence with Theodor Herzl in 1897.

“He came away so fired with en­thu­si­asm that the only so­lu­tion to the Jewish ques­tion was for us to have our own coun­try,” she says. But she is now more com­fort­able speak­ing out for Jews for Jus­tice for Pales­tini­ans.

“I think I was be­gin­ning to lose a bit of faith and the thing that fi­nally fin­ished me was when [Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak] Rabin was mur­dered by an ul­tra-Ortho­dox Jew,” she ad­mits.

“It prob­a­bly killed my Ju­daism and my Zion­ism both to­gether in a way. I know that Rabin wanted to give back Gaza and the West Bank, and for an ul­tra-Ortho­dox Jew to mur­der him… If that had not hap­pened, 9/11 wouldn’t have hap­pened,” she claims.

“I would love to see Is­rael back as it was when there were no class dis­tinc­tions. As soon as they got in to bed with apartheid South Africa it was very dif­fi­cult to get out.”

Oddly, she is a good friend of the pub­licly Zion­ist Mau­reen Lip­man — but re­fuses to dis­cuss Is­rael with her.

Af­ter flirt­ing with athe­ism, Kar­lin — who says that the only rabbi she liked was Lionel Blue — is a hu­man­ist. She says: “As I’m such a great joiner, I joined them. I feel much hap­pier with this.”

But if she is a hu­man­ist, can she also be­long to a group with “Jews” in its name? “I’m very con­scious about be­ing full of dou­ble stan­dards,” she says. “I say one thing and do an­other. I’m a so­cial­ist and I’m a mem­ber of Bupa.” Some Sort of a Life is pub­lished by Oberon Books on Novem­ber 23. To or­der a copy for the spe­cial price of £18 (rrp £19.99) with free UK p&p, call 020 7607 3654 and quote “JC”. Miriam Kar­lin talks about her ca­reer at the Na­tional Theatre, Lon­don SE1, on Novem­ber 23 at 6pm. Tel: 020 7452 3000

Miriam Kar­lin: Rabin’s as­sas­si­na­tion “killed” her Ju­daism

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