The good guy

Guy Henry is my kind of actor. Wiry and haunted, he stalks a stage like an unobtrusive cat, quietly nurturing the acid knowledge of everyone else’s misdemeanours and biding his time 'til the elegant pounce. He plays the kind of politicians we wish we had, because then we could blame them.

I first fell for him at Stratford in 2001, as his blazing, bleak King John aged thirty years in three hours and his heartfelt, faded Malvolio made me hate those pretty, witty, shitty lovers.

In the lauded 2005 Donmar revival of Schiller’s Mary Stuart, his Leicester was the stealth star. While those rain-soaked, keening drama queens Mary and Elizabeth scripted their epilogues, he wearily cloaked up against the chill wind of reality already battening through their dying Shakespearean globe.

Cue May 2006. Ambling alone in a determinedly casual, self-congratulatory sort of way into Ken Campbell’s late-night improv Décor Without Production Downstairs at the Royal Court, I find myself caught in the bomb-check bottleneck next to the great Guy himself. Usually affecting a subtly complicit hauteur in the face of celebrity, in this world-shattering instance I stammered all kinds of embarrassing nonsense which was duly received with patient warmth and grace. I then shot away to my seat in a lather of post-coital relief, at which point he very slowly walked down the aisle, double-checking his ticket with pale resignation, and folded into the seat next to me. Ah, happy, happy hour of over-long limb-clashing.

Which merry prologue tenuously allows me to mourn the passing of Rome on BBC2 tonight. This series includes, with insouciant extravagance, many of the best English character actors around – Ciaran Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Bamber, and of course Guy himself - for once having fun and getting paid decent dollar, rather than having to rip out their souls nightly to smiling Travelex OAPs in south London.

Obviously, the real reason that I love Rome is because it has lots and lots of big biceps, buggery-primed bums, blood, straps, chiffon and horses. Sort of what I always, naively, hoped it would be like backstage at the RSC. The innocence, the dream!

All is not lost. Come, sofa. HBO, ho! For one last, sad night, I’ th’ East my pleasure lies.