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Name dropping

July 16, 2021

Here’s a funny story that I found myself telling friends at a dinner party last night. (Yes! A dinner party! Fully vaccinated people getting together. Wow!)

In 2001 I bid farewell to the Greenpeace Vancouver office to take up a contract with the Greenpeace UK office.

The previous year the Blair government had published a report on how it would meet its targets on renewable energy. There were lots of photos of wind turbines and solar panels, but buried in the appendices were plans to build a hundred (perhaps hundreds of) municipal incinerators to capture “energy from waste”. Setting aside all the inevitable pollution caused by burning household waste (which the Blair government was clearly prepared to do), two things should have been obvious: garbage is not a renewable energy source and, as I pointed out in this rant a few years ago, it requires more energy to burn municipal waste than said burning could ever create.

No one in the Greenpeace UK office spotted this bollocks buried in the back of the report. It was actually one of the Greenpeace scientists, who lived in Arkansas and always read the appendices, knowing this was where the bollocks was invariably buried. Once she alerted the UK office, it became clear that they needed to start an anti-incineration campaign. This was going to be bigger than the one permanent toxics campaigner could tackle. That’s where I came in.

A month after I arrived, Mark (said toxics campaigner) and an action team shut down the incinerator in Sheffield (the worst polluting in the UK). While Mark was up the chimney, I was on the ground rallying the local support for the action. (As this BBC report details, a number of local residents hung bed sheets out their windows to thank us for shutting down the pollution. That was my idea.)

As a result of our action and the public meeting I organised after the action was over and attended with Huw, (the climber who painted the warning on the chimney and got a standing ovation when I introduced him), a group of local people started up Sheffield Against Incineration. Part of my job entailed nurturing this group and so I made several trips to Sheffield in the following months.

On one such visit (like a few others), I got off the train and headed for the Brown Bear, a lovely little Sam Smith pub in central Sheffield to meet the local activists. It was early evening and the pub was packed. There was only one small table in the back corner, which the eight of us squeezed around, sitting on stools purloined from other tables.

I went up to the bar to get a round in. 

No, this old fellow wasn’t there then, although another bloke was. When I glanced at him I thought, “Hmm. I know him from somewhere. Who is he?” He caught me glancing at him and smiled, which was when I realised, fucking hell it was Kenneth Branagh. What the hell was he doing there? Then I remembered that he was soon going to be appearing in Richard III at the Crucible, so obviously he was in rehearsals. I quickly looked away, as you do in Britain. Generally this is because you don’t want to pester famous people, sometimes because you don’t want to acknowledge that you’ve recognised them.

Branagh was sitting with several other people at a large table. Some time later, crouched at the little table in the corner, I noticed most of the large group getting up to leave. There were now only three people sitting at the largest table in the still packed pub. Sod this for a game of soldiers, I thought. I got up and walked over to the table, now occupied by Branagh, another actor I recognised from RSC productions and all the Branagh Shakespeare films and a third bloke. 

“I apologise for intruding,” I said. Branagh beamed at me. Obviously I was going to ask for his autograph or simply tell him how bloody marvellous he was. Instead, I pointed to the table in the corner and said, “We’re crowded around that little table and I was wondering, given that most of your group has now departed, if you would be willing to swap?” Branagh looked crestfallen. The actor I recognised roared with laughter at this and said, “Absolutely!” He stood up and picked up his drink. Branagh and the other bloke did the same. I waved to my large group who followed suit. “Thank you,” I said. “Our pleasure,” the actor assured me. We swapped tables.

When I was telling this story last night, I said of the second actor that they would absolutely recognise him, as I knew they’d seen all of the Branagh Shakespeare films, although I had no idea what his name was.

Well, before starting to write this, I did a bit of googling. The actor in question was Gerard Horan, pictured above with Branagh at the 1995 London premiere of In the Bleak Midwinter. 

Thank you, Gerard, for that Sheffield laugh.

From → Blog

  1. Oh, crap. Just realised I’ve already told this story in a post some years ago. Said post did have a lot more to say about the Greenpeace incineration campaign, in case anyone’s interested.

  2. krysross permalink

    Still a great story and bears retelling.

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