As a first year undergraduate at the University of Manchester, I was flung towards a random collection of strangers and told that I had to share a flat with them for a year. Such is the fate of all those living in halls of residence and, for the most part, it worked out well. Despite being a hugely antisocial person, I got on well with people and in that time made several friendships that have endured over the years. One of the first people I met was a drama student called Boycie (yes, like inOnly Fools and Horses), a first year drama student with a worldliness that I found slightly intimidating. He alluded to all sorts of colourful exploits and was the first man I ever met who cleansed, toned and moisturised. We had our differences, but we quickly bonded over a shared love of vodka and B&H.
As the year progressed, Boycie took part in many a student production and the rest of us would hear tales of his new, fabulously bohemian lifestyle. One evening, he told us about a young actor who had the lead in the production of The FrontPage running at the Student Union.
“He’s great,” Boycie told us. “Very talented. Quite good looking, but not a pretty-boy. But he’s going to be famous. “
We asked his name and the rest was history.
From that point on, Benedict Cumberbatch became a mythical figure in our household. We knew, logically speaking, that he was probably the same age as us, but somehow the name felt like it belonged to someone older; a grizzled theatrical stalwart who had been around for yonks. We pictured him as half deaf, half mad, absolutely soused and forever dining off anecdotes about treading the boards with dear Larry. And he was always Benedict Bloody Cumberbatch, as in:
“BOYCE? IT’S BENEDICT BLOODY CUMBERBATCH! I’VE GOT TREVOR NUNN WANTING ME TO PLAY ESTRAGON AT THE NATIONAL. I TOLD HIM TO SHOVE IT UP HIS BLOODY ARSE!”
“HELLO? HELLO? IS THAT YOU, BOYCIE? IT’S BENEDICT BLOODY CUMBERBATCH. I’VE GOT PETER AND RICHARD COMING ROUND FOR TEA. I NEED YOU TO BRING ME A MALT LOAF AND A BOTTLE OF ETHER.”
“BENEDICT BLOODY CUMBERBATCH HERE. I CAN’T BE SURE, BUT I THINK I HAVE YOUR TROUSERS.”
And so on. It was nice to while away the hours, imagining this eccentric old ham shouting at all and sundry. Eventually, of course, we went to one of Boycie’s student productions and got to see the man himself. While he was obviously a fantastically talented actor, all of us felt a little disappointed to find out that he was only human, after all.
Now, of course, he’s now doing frightfully well for himself, having been on the telly and in proper films and everything. I can only hope that he has a long and fruitful career, full of incident, applause and no small dollop of bad behaviour. Hopefully, in forty or so years time, I can contrive a reason to speak to him and he, now as addled as he first was in my mind’s eye, can say the words as they were meant to be said:
“TOM? IT’S BENEDICT BLOODY CUMBERBATCH!”