Entertainment The best culture feuds: 10 partnerships that combusted

The best culture feuds: 10 partnerships that combusted


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If only the Carpetright sale had existed in the Victorian era, the greatest partnership in the history of comic opera might not have combusted. In 1890 WS Gilbert baulked at the cost of an expensive new front-of-house carpet for the Savoy Theatre being taken from the profits of G&S’s hit The Gondoliers. “D’you think I’m going to pay for a confounded carpet for the stairs to an office where you do the dirty business of your blasted opera house?” he told the Savoy’s owner, Richard D’Oyly Carte.

Arthur Sullivan had long been annoyed by the overbearing behaviour of his peppery librettist, who rarely yielded in artistic disputes. Sullivan decided to side with D’Oyly Carte, who had made them both rich even if he was trying to pull a fast one over the carpet. A meeting to discuss the matter led to Gilbert stalking out, yelling: “You are no gentlemen … You are both blackguards!” There was a rapprochement of sorts three years later, when G&S collaborated on Utopia, Limited, but the magic had gone.

Mondrian and Van Doesburg

It’s been called “the war of the Diagonals”. Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg were the founders of the Dutch abstract art movement De Stijl (“The Style”), otherwise known as Neoplasticism: their works comprised regimented grids of horizontal or vertical straight lines to which rectangular blocks of colour would be added. When van Doesburg introduced a diagonal line into his 1924 work “Aritmetische Compositie”, Mondrian resigned from the group in disgust.

Mondrian’s biographer Nicholas Fox Weber has suggested that there was more to it than just an offence against his aesthetic sense. “They were totally different sorts of people. The feud was inevitable; the diagonal lines provided a rationale that represented but was not itself the source of the problem.”

Abbott and Costello

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The highest-paid entertainers in the world in the 1940s, the comedy duo indulged in several public spats throughout their career. In 1945 Lou Costello told the press that Bud Abbott was a boozer who had signed them both up to unfavourable contracts when drunk; Abbott responded by threatening to thrash him publicly.

After 22 years together they dissolved their double act in 1957, and two years later Errol Flynn explained in his autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, how he had put the nail in the coffin. When Costello asked Flynn for a copy of The Adventures of Robin Hoodto show his family and guests in his private projection room, Flynn sent him “a pornographic film, about as obscene as could be devised”. Once those present had got over the shock, Costello accused Abbott of switching the reels.

“This didn’t help their business relationship at all,” recalled Flynn. “Not only did the comedians stop talking to each other, but now the wives were not talking to either their own husbands, the other husband, or the other wife … I swore on the Koran it was not I.”

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis

From 1946, frenetic comedian Jerry Lewis and sexy crooner Dean Martin made an unlikely but phenomenally successful double act on stage and film. One of their most durable routines involved Lewis upstaging Martin while he was trying to sing, and this reflected Martin’s real-life sense of being overshadowed. This was exacerbated in 1954 when Look magazine did a photoshoot with the duo but cropped Martin out of the cover photo.

“To me, you’re nothing but a f—ing dollar sign,” Martin growled at Lewis. The pair were not speaking by the time they made their final film, Hollywood or Bust (1956) and wound up their partnership 10 years to the day after it started. Two decades later Frank Sinatra organised a surprise reunion live on television, and after being manoeuvred into an embrace the twosome renewed cordial relations.

Steptoe and Son (Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H Corbett)

Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s Pinter-esque sitcom wrung dark humour from the claustrophobic co-dependent relationship between father-and-son rag-and-bone men Albert and Harold Steptoe. And you could make an equally disturbing black comedy about the relationship between the two lead actors, Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H Corbett, which came to mirror that of their characters to an alarming degree.

Old-school thesp Brambell and Brando-revering Method actor Corbett were never destined to be buddies, but initially rubbed along ok; by the end of the second series, however, they were insisting on sitting at opposite ends of the table during read-throughs. “Harry would complain bitterly about having to feed Wilfrid helpful hints with his lines during the show, either because he hadn’t learned them, or because, battling with alcoholism, he couldn’t remember them,” recalled Corbett’s wife, Sheila Steafel.

Steptoe and Son ended in 1974 after 12 years, but nightmarishly both men were forced by financial necessity to continue working together, touring a Steptoe show in Australia: Brambell, the Liam Gallagher of his day, missed one performance after getting bladdered. It was “a hostility that, certainly in Harry’s case, blighted his life”, wrote Steafel.

Simon and Garfunkel

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Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel became friends when they were 11 years old and were still performing together in their 70s, but spent an awfully large proportion of those decades on non-speaks. Garfunkel felt betrayed in 1958 when he discovered that Simon had recorded a solo single: “He’s base, I concluded in an eighth of a second, and the friendship was shattered for life,’ Garfunkel wrote in his 2017 autobiography. “I never forget and I never really forgive.”

Art got his revenge by undermining Simon during their 1960s heyday. “I remember during a photo session Artie said, ‘No matter what happens, I’ll always be taller than you.’ Did that hurt? I guess it hurt enough for me to remember 60 years later,” Simon told his biographer Robert Hilburn in 2018.

The duo split in 1970 but regularly re-formed, although things got frosty backstage during their 1993 reunion tour when Simon got better reviews than Garfunkel: “I genuinely believed that if there had been a knife on the table one of them would have used it,” declared Simon’s manager Joseph Rascoff. The final straw came in 2010 when Garfunkel underplayed problems with his vocal cords and a tour had to be cancelled when he admitted the truth. “I didn’t feel I could trust him anymore,” Simon lamented.

The Likely Lads (James Bolam and Rodney Bewes)

James Bolam and Rodney Bewes created one of sitcom’s most convincing friendships as best pals Terry and Bob in The Likely Lads and its sublime sequel Whatever Happened To the Likely Lads? Bewes was famously a loose cannon on set and Bolam, a serious and private man, did not much care for his exuberant co-star.

They fell out for good when Bewes was promoting their final project together, the 1976 Likely Lads movie, and relayed to the press an anecdote that Bolam had told him in confidence. It was an innocuous story, but Bolam never spoke to Bewes again, and was notable by his absence on Bewes’s This Is Your Life.

“The worst thing is I’ve lied about it ever since,” Bewes admitted in his 2005 autobiography A Likely Story, having spent decades assuring journalists and fans that he and Bolam were still friends. In later life, Bewes accused Bolam of blocking repeats of The Likely Lads despite Bewes being in need of the fees, although comedy historian Graham McCann has debunked Bewes’s claims. As for Bolam, he would respond to fans’ queries of “Where’s Bob, Terry?” with a terse “He’s dead”.

C-3PO and R2-D2 (Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker)

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For more than 40 years the friendship between Star Wars droids C-3PO and R2-D2 has represented the benign face of AI. The humans encased in those metal shells couldn’t stand each other, however.

Before he died in 2016, Kenny Baker, the man inside pedal-bin lookalike R2D2, rarely missed an opportunity to complain about the superciliousness of Anthony Daniels, the gangling embodiment of C-3PO. “He looked down his nose at me like I was a piece of s–t. He said: ‘…go away little man.’ He really degraded me and made me feel small – for want of a better expression.”

Daniels defended himself last year: “Kenny decided that he wanted to say unkind, unpleasant, rude, hurtful things … And rather like Mr Trump, if you say it often enough, people believe you.” However, Daniels has previously been dismissive of the level of acting that Baker’s role required: “I mean, R2-D2 doesn’t even speak. He might as well be a bucket.”

Morrissey and Johnny Marr

The songs written for The Smiths by Morrissey (frontman) and Johnny Marr (guitarist) defined the 1980s for anybody frustrated in life or love. Marr did not share Morrissey’s capacity for boundless nostalgia, however, and took a break from The Smiths in 1987 after getting fed up with his bandmate’s insistence on endless covers of songs by Cilla Black and the like.

Marr, believing the affronted Morrissey was the source of a “Smiths To Split” article in the NME, decided not to return. Last year Morrissey published an open letter to Marr on his website: “This is not a rant or an hysterical bombast. It is a polite and calmly measured request: Would you please stop mentioning my name in your interviews? … We haven’t known each other for 35 years … Move on. It’s as if you can’t uncross your own legs without mentioning me.” Marr dismissed Morrissey’s screed as attention-seeking.

Liam and Noel Gallagher

Just beating Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks to the title of Pop’s most dysfunctional siblings, the Gallaghers are truly the AS Byatt and Margaret Drabble of the rock world. They enjoyed the most physically violent of the feuds on this list, with Liam hitting Noel over the head with a tambourine onstage in Los Angeles in 1994 – leading to the first of Noel’s many temporary departures from Oasis – and Noel battering Liam with a cricket bat at a recording session in 1995 (the bat was later sold at auction).  

In 1996 Liam turned up to a recording of MTV Unplugged too drunk to perform, and proceeded to heckle Noel’s performance; and when Liam pulled out of Oasis’s 2009 V Festival gig at the last minute, Noel accused him of being hungover, leading to a lawsuit from Liam.

“It’s with some sadness and great relief to tell you that I quit Oasis tonight … I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer,” Noel announced in August 2009. He went on to form the band High Flying Birds, mockingly referred to by Liam as “High Flying Smurfs”.

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