Grief is a strange beast. It fogs your mind, grabs your
throat and strangles your heart. But through all the pain, strands of memory
push towards you and start to join together until they begin to form cogent
wholes. All my strands, every single one of them, remind me of what a rare man
was Rob Poulton – a lovely, loveable man, and I, like so many others, genuinely
loved him. He was a rare constant. It didn’t matter if I saw him or didn’t see
him; I knew that – if I could get hold of the bugger – he would be a friend in
good times and bad.
I can echo what so many others have said; if Rob was on the
cast list, a production switched from something that you didn’t fancy much to
something you couldn’t wait to do. No question. Henry Waddington mentioned the
other day that Rob was going to be in a show we’re doing soon, and both us were instantly thrilled at the
prospect. No disrespect to Wadders, but it’s just not going to be the same any
Laughing. We were always laughing. If I said that I remember
“laughter”, that wouldn’t begin to convey the half of it. Laughing with Rob was
a physical, unfettered, joyous thing. There’d be corpsing (usually triggered by
one of us passing the other during a highly charged, serious and sombre moment
and whispering a filthy insult at the other) and there’d be wheezy giggling.
But most of the time there’d be laughing that would render you incapable of
doing anything else but crying. This could happen anywhere; over a pint, in the
canteen or in the Rotterdam branch of HEMA, where we once spent nearly a whole
day. We would do whole dialogues in cod Dutch accents, imitating various
directors (Richard Jones to Rob: “It’s a bit damp”) and conductors, pissing
ourselves with absurd flights of imagination. One conductor he likened to the
SS officer in “Where Eagles Dare” and it just took the line “I zort zat in
Dusseldorf ze trams ran on ze uzzer zide off ze sqvare” to have us chortling helplessly
God he was funny.
Other memories come back. Cycling from the rehearsal studio
in Antwerp back to our digs… I say cycling; I was on a bike while he was on a
tiny folding push-scooter that looked like it belonged to one of his beloved
boys. He looked like an idiot but he didn’t care. That same job, my laptop was
playing up and would only switch on if I smacked it on the side as it booted
up. On a Eurostar back home for the weekend, he asked if he could have a look
at it. Whereupon he laid his hands on the laptop and shut his eyes, willing it
to get better. It didn’t work but I loved him for thinking it might.
As a singer he was simply magnificent. I never heard him
sing anything that he hadn’t mastered and he was a fearless, wonderful actor.
He was also a genuinely supportive and generous colleague while being
self-deprecating when it came to his own abilities. Anyone who heard him
mucking about, doing Sherrill Milnes-esque “baritone singing” will know what I
To say there’s now a massive Rob-shaped hole in our lives is
an under-statement. I can’t imagine anyone making me laugh like that again.
I’d like to sign off as if ending an email to Rob. It may
offend some, but I know he’d get it. And he’d laugh.
Nobby, you wanker. Big
moist ones, The Helmet xxx