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Sunday, 4 August 2013

where is arthur sultan, the surrey mystic?




Screengrabs from the 1978 TV film The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash
Whatever happened to Arthur Sultan, the Surrey mystic? It's a question that, probably, no one has asked in the years since The Rutles went to his secret retreat in Bognor for a weekend of Ouija board table-tapping (and the rest). We – okay, I – can imagine that after the tragic departure of Rutles manager Leggy Mountbatten for a teaching post in Australia, and the swift exit of the shocked and stunned Rutles from Bognor, Arthur might have turned to other bands: The Rolling Stones, The Who, Herman's Hermits. Or written an English version of the I-Ching based on cricketing terminology. Or even tried to levitate the local bingo hall in Woking as a protest against inferior-quality Jesus sandals flooding the hippie scene (and to raise the profile of his wholefood shop). More likely, the Maharishi of Bognor is now the billionaire owner of an online psychic hotline based in Singapore, with a 20-year-old 'paranormal investigator' (and actress) girlfriend, and a basement full of clones of himself ready to unleash on the world in the near future. 

At least there isn't such a mystery about the man behind Arthur Sultan – actor, playwright and theatre director Henry Woolf. Woolf was already a seasoned thesp in TV and film when he first performed with Eric Idle in the latter's BBC2 comedy sketch show Rutland Weekend Television in 1975 and then took on the role of Arthur Sultan in All You Need Is Cash, the fake rock doc about beat behemoths The Rutles. A veteran of the avant-garde, with a hefty dose of childhood pal Harold Pinter's kitchen sink, Woolf's on-screen performances notably also include the 1967 film adaptation of Peter Weiss's play Marat/Sade (a play that was still causing controversy and audience walk-outs when the Royal Shakespeare Company staged it in 2011) and early 70s Doctor Who baddie The Collector. For more on Woolf's sinister looks, absurdist drama and unexpectedly scary roles see Familiar Unknown.

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