roger marbury

“Lord John Marbury”

Previously on The West Wing: India and Pakistan are about to start kicking one another’s shins, and the situation needs at all costs to be kept from going nuclear. But President Bartlet has a plan.

BARTLET
There’s an India expert I want to bring in.

LEO
Who?

Bartlet looks at him pointedly.

LEO 
No.

BARTLET
You guys are gonna love him.

LEO
He’s a lunatic!

BARTLET
He’s colorful.

LEO
He’s certifiable!

SAM
Who?

BARTLET
Lord John Marbury, former ambassador 
to New Delhi from the Court of Saint James. SAM Where do we find him? LEO A psychiatric institution. BARTLET He’s colorful, Leo. LEO You’re really gonna let him loose in the
White House, where there’s liquor and women? BARTLET We can hide the women. But the man deserves
a drink. LEO Sir... BARTLET Let’s get him on a plane.

C.J., on the phone with someone, describes him in this wise:

C.J.
[into the phone] -- the Earl of Sherbourne, 
he is the great great grandson of a former Viceroy and for thirteen years served as
the Queen’s minister to either India or Pakistan. Lord Marbury is here to counsel
the President, and if you think this is all starting to sound like a Gilbert and
Sullivan operetta, I don’t blame you a bit.

And soon enough, the man himself staggers jovially into the Oval Office, stubbly and with a whole lot of in-flight booze on board, greets the President like a long-lost friend, and then turns to Leo:

MARBURY
[to Leo] Allow me to present myself, Lord 
John Marbury, I was summoned by your President. LEO Yes. We’ve met, ten or twelve times. I’m Leo
McGarry. MARBURY I thought you were the butler. LEO No, I’m the White House Chief of Staff. The President is watching all this unfold with a barely-
concealed smirk. MARBURY Nonetheless, would you have something with which
to light my cigarette? LEO Oh, I’m afraid we don’t allow smoking in this part
of the world. MARBURY Really? LEO Yes sir. MARBURY In this part over here, we encourage it. LEO Sir. MARBURY It’s “Your Lordship,” as a matter of fact, but
it couldn’t possibly make the least difference.

(turns to Bartlet and has a woozy moment leaning on
his desk))

So, tell me, how can I be of service to you? If it’s
within my power to give, you shall have it. BARTLET We need your take on the situation, John. MARBURY What is your “take” on the situation? BARTLET The world is coming apart at the seams. MARBURY Well, then... [hands his coat to Leo, imperiously]
...thank God you sent for me! LEO (gives Bartlet the most restrained stink-eye ever) ...Yes.

…Roger Rees plays Marbury a bit like a tipsy, effortlessly egotistical Mycroft, staggering physically and verbally around the landscape and giving every appearance of not caring in the slightest how hard he flouts the proprieties. He veers seamlessly back and forth between the feckless-multiply-titled-overentitled-unreconstructed-imperialist act and a deep clever analysis of period Asian politics, with occasional joyous forays into the what-was-your-name-again thing with Leo.

What’s interesting both from the screenwriting side of things (generally) and the West Wing side of things (specifically) is that the script’s title character doesn’t even put in an appearance until the end of act 3. Normally this is a sign of a writer who has something so good waiting in the wings that he’s intent on making the audience wait for it as long as possible, so as to make more of a splash.

Anyway: of all the once-or-twice-off characters Aaron Sorkin devised forThe West Wing, Lord John Marbury is possibly the best, and I love him to bits. (Not that you couldn’t tell…) If you haven’t seen this one, go online and see if you can scare up the episode on one of the streaming services. It’s worth a rewatch to appreciate the skill of the actor who’s left us.

BARTLET
John, there’s a quote from Revelations...

MARBURY
“And I looked, and I beheld a pale horse, and his 
name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed
with him.” BARTLET Are you frightened, John? MARBURY Do you mean do I think we can stop a war in the
next two weeks? BARTLET Yes. MARBURY Yes. BARTLET Good. MARBURY But -- Bartlet turns to him expectantly. Marbury takes a
cigarette from his pocket. MARBURY [cont.] -- I shall require a light. Marbury catches the lighter Bartlet has tossed him,
smiles, and lights his cigarette.

DISSOLVE TO END TITLES
FADE TO BLACK
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Roger only appeared in 5 episodes of The West Wing, but despite that he’s become one of the most memorable characters from the entire series.

GERALD!