I mark with great sorrow the death of my friend Miriam Karlin. Even I am too young to remember when she was at her most famous, one of the biggest stars of British television in the early 1960’s. A RADA and RSC actress of great distinction, she maintained that the same discipline of performance needs to be applied to sitcom work, and that is why sitcoms seldom do work nowadays.
Of course I knew her largely as a political campaigner, with a great interest in human rights everywhere. Her activism, despite ill health, against the war in Iraq was just a continuation with a life constantly devoted to helping the underdog, be it struggling actors or victims of human rights abuse in Palestine or Burma. Towards the end she could not do much more than compose letters to editors, but she still kept doing that.
I recall arriving in her little flat near Great Portland Street tube station a few years ago, to be met by Miriam, hobbling on her stick, brandishing a copy of The Times at me, eyes flashing with indignation. It was how I found out that David Aaronovitch had published an article calling me anti-semitic. Miriam was even more furious on my behalf than I was myself, and wrote a letter to the paper (it wasn’t published). But I won’t forget what she said; she said her own mother was an Aaronovich, and that many of their family had been killed in the holocaust, and that those who had suffered would be horrified to see their legacy perverted to a neo-conservative agenda.
I also remember her coming to see Nadira’s one woman show at the Arts theatre to give Nadira notes. There are hundreds of actors who have benefited from Miriam’s generosity with her time and experience over decades. She told Nadira to let the words paint the picture; the text contains all the emotion – just deliver it clearly, and as your character would. You don’t have always to convey the emotion other than simply and through the words.
Miriam really did live her life largely for others. I am so sorry it has ended.