by Philip Mackie

I don't know whether to start by describing Quentin as a wit or as a saint. He is in fact both, which is remarkable in these days when witty saints are in short supply or saintly wits even shorter. He is also an outrageous exhibitionist, which is probably what enabled him to survive in those days when he used to parade the streets of London wearing — no flaunting — long red hair of deepest dye, and (in his own words) "blind with mascara and dumb with lipstick."

In those days when real men wore short-back-and-sides, and anyone who didn't was obviously a pansy, wit was Quentin's only shield against the beatings-up of outrageous fortune. He could have made it a weapon, but he is too kind, or perhaps too indifferent, ever to hurt anyone. His eternal response to life has been, "If you like," "If you want to." He has given submissiveness a new meaning, and it could do with one. Still, I would hesitate to engage him in verbal combat; in his seventy-odd years of life he has invented and polished and stored away ready for use more bright sword-thrusts than I would know how to parry.

John Hurt, who brilliantly impersonated Quentin in the television version of The Naked Civil Servant, seems to have filled him not only with admiration — "Very cozy!" was his exact comment — but with a desire to do likewise. Quentin is now busily engaged in seeing whether he too can impersonate Quentin: at least, the present-day Quentin. Hardly a day passes, it seems, without his popping up on my television screen, being interviewed, giving his opinions, posing, as for years he has posed in the art-schools of the Home Counties — being what in truth he always was, a well-known personality.

Quentin's hair is — you cannot fail to notice — a bright blue now, like an American matron's. I felt he had paid me a great compliment when he turned up for my first rehearsal wearing a new blue rinse. But I saw him impersonating himself on television the other night — in a book program, of all things — and his hair seemed equally new and bright. Perhaps he has it done every day; or perhaps it is just that his hair, like his wit, has mastered the art of always seeming new.

Text copyright © Philip Mackie (from the 1978 Ambassadors Theatre program). All rights reserved.
Self-portrait illustration copyright © Quentin Crisp. All rights reserved.

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