A Stage in William's Life by Mango

Mango gives (or should that be give) us an excellent puzzle this week. A superb piece of grid construction, some elegantly misleading wordplay, three hidden phrases in the clues, a number of clues to be solved blind, and with everything falling into place beautifully at the end, it is one of Gregson's favourite puzzles of the year.

The letters removed from clues spell out FIRST AND LAST LETTERS OF MODIFIED CLUES. The first and last letters of clues (after modification by removal of extra letters) spell out PRAY YOU MASTER LIEUTENANT SEE ME SAFE UP AND MY COMING DOWN LET ME SHIFT FOR MYSELF.

Across answers are all entered normally. Down answers which intersect with 33A are entered in reverse, i.e. safely up. Down answers which intersect with 1A are modified by shifting each letter by the same amount through the alphabet and amazingly always forming a proper word, e.g. PRIMERO plus 3 becomes SULPHUR.

The quotation (minus the first word "I") is from William Roper's Life of Sir Thomas More, reputed to have spoken by More to an officer in asking for assistance to ascend the execution stage. He then addressed the executioner, "Pluck up thy spirits, man, and be not afraid to do thine office; my neck is very short; take heed therefore thou strike not awry, for saving of thine honesty". His final words were "The King's good servant, but God's first".

The word missing from the quotation, "I", is entered in the central square forming the apt message UTOPIA I COINED, to be highlighted

In the following explanations, letters to be removed from clues are shown in square brackets, as are grid entries for down answers intersecting with 1A.

ACROSS
1 Playing, smash it [f]or extra (13, three words)
SIR THOMAS MORE (anag of SMASH IT OR + MORE (extra)
8 Region's one to get American fuel - [i]deal that! - in vain (8)
UNUSEFUL (UN (one) + US (American) + anag of FUEL)
11 [R]ailing in New York, perhaps with this pot o' gold (5)
TUMOR (TUM (pot, stomach) + OR (gold)) The o' means on not of
13 Yearning to have [s]on gleam (6)
LUSTRE (LUST (yearning) + RE (on))
14 You'll find one in princess royal - [t]he adored Kelly? (7)
RAINIER (RANI (princess) round I (one) + ER (royal)) Ref Grace Kelly
18 Olympic guy losing heart dealt with [a]che - not diabetic? (12)
HYPOGLYCEMIC (anag of OLYMPIC GUY minus middle letter CHE) Perhaps not quite accurate, even with the italics and query, as some diabetics do
suffer from hypoglycemia as well as hyperglycemia
20 [N]ut - ordinary plant in a land that could be described as cloud-cuckoo (6)
UTOPIA (UT + O (ordinary) + PIA (plant))
21 Made up a spot of dessert, previously [d]one in ice cream (6)
COINED (CONE (ice cream) round I (one) + D (first letter of dessert))
22 Anything you can't evaluate? I'll get [l]aden with problem in pi! (12)
IMPONDERABLE (anag of I + ADEN + PROBLEM)
29 Severing flesh from calf, nameless [a]gent experiencing no sensation (7)
VEGETAL (GENT minus N (ie nameless) in (severing) VEAL (flesh from calf))
30 [S]trap section in tea wagon lacking spring (6)
TELEGA (TEA round LEG (section))
31 [T]end a couple of azaleas with vase of delicate blue discarded (5)
AZURN (AZ (first two letters of azaleas) + URN (vase))
32 Reckless [l]earners going about with someone who might say yes or no (8)
ANSWERER (anag of EARNERS round W (with))
33 Lethe, it [e]rased minds as one returned new (13, two words)
THE LIEUTENANT (anag of LETHE IT round UT (as) + ANE (one) rev + N (new))

DOWN
1 [T]ice in professional game long forgotten (7)
PRIMERO [SULPHUR] (PRO (professional) round RIME (ice))
2 [T]ease mole in soil (4)
LOME [RUSK] (anag of MOLE) Ease as in move by a small amount
3 Unpleasantly sweaty [e]ta from Berlin finally gone (4)
DANK [HERO] (DANKE (ta in German) minus last letter)
4 Tees off, etc: set off with learner, [r]ef, the first to start (5)
GOLFS [MURLY] (GO (set off) + L (learner) + F (ef) + S (first letter of start))
5 Elektra, perhaps, [s]ore with pash about getting rid of mum (5)
OPERA [STIVE] (anag of ORE + PASH minus SH (mum))
6 [O]ne sliding off lane, for example, turning over in freeze (4)
GEAL [OMIT] (LANE minus NE + EG (for example) all rev)
7 [F]an gets leg up in the year of Augustus (4)
ANNO [ERRS] (AN + ON (leg) all rev) Augustus rather spoils it, only really being there for the surface syntax
9 Not so supportive stocking runs, [m]end bit under arch (9)
STROPPIER (STOP (end) + PIER (bit under arch) round (stocking) R (runs))
10 Terra non firma? A grassy spot for Will following [o]bit in Shanghai (7)
FENLAND (FEN (bit in Shanghai) + LAND (grassy spot, cf laund))
12 Sour Irish girl's [d]one in Mabel, written off (9)
UNAMIABLE (UNA (Irish girl) + anag of MABEL round I (one))
15 Except initially [i]conic golfer proves the best (6)
EXCELS (EX (except) + C (first letter of conic) + ELS (golfer))
16 [F]easter could be from Belarus - I'll dig into tons myself (6)
BYTIME (BY (Belarus) + T (tons) + ME (myself) round I)
17 Makes the best of [i]deals involving porcino? (7)
ACCEPTS (ACTS (deals) round CEP (porcino)) The query probably just reflects the fact that porcino, although correct, is not verifiable in Chambers
19 Euripides' speciality is [e]go overwhelming senior (7)
TRAGEDY (TRY (go) round AGED (senior))
23 Scott Joplin's lead-in? [D]in preceding trio from Trondheim (5)
INTRO (IN + TRO (first three letters of Trondheim))
24 Acceptable [c]over not far, I'd perhaps remove canopy (5)
UNLID (U (acceptable) + NL (not far) + ID)
25 Fat [l]over, American, cooker of chapatis? (4)
TAVA (VAT (fat) rev + A (American))
26 Early tree with [u]redo, huge (4)
EUGH (anag of HUGE) Reading "redo" as a noun makes "with" non-redundant
27 Urn, [e]special, removed from waste channel (4)
EWER (SEWER (waste channel) minus S (special))
28 Perhaps [s]quad is amateur - reason boy's sent off? (4)
AREA (A (amateur) + REASON minus SON (boy))