Can you remember your audition, or first day on set?
There was no audition. I have never got any job from an audition in my life; I always fail them. The only work I do is because I am asked and GS was no exception. Marks and Gran saw me performing Think No Evil of Us at the 1997 Edinburgh Fringe and approached me straight after the show, saying they wanted to work with me on something soon. The idea of me playing Noel Coward came up later, apparently. The first day of rehearsals was scary for me as I felt like I did not belong in the world of telly and stars like Lyndhurst. I thought they might throw me out at any minute. In fact they were delightful, professional and accepted me without question.
What was the set like compared to other stuff you've done; did the cast socialise much, get along, was it serious or upbeat, are you still in contact with anyone, etc...?
I had never seen a real television studio set before, let alone acted on one and I was like a kid in a candy store. I got to know a lot of the technical people, set-dressers, cameramen and such and could not believe that I was allowed to wander about looking at the set close-up!
The cast were very professional and friendly, though there was not much socialising after work. I recall one lunch hour going window-shopping with Nicholas, Elizabeth Carling and Emma Amos, round Peter Jones in Sloane Square, Nick with his baseball cap pulled firmly down at the front to stop him being recognised. It didn’t work: he was noticed everywhere he went! I got to know Emma quite well at the time and I even house-sat for her but I have not seen her in many years now.
I did bump into Liz Carling last year at the premiere of Michael Sheen’s film about Brian Clough. I put on my best Coward voice and said, “Ah hello, Phoebe my dear.” She looked at me in utter bewilderment and said, “I’m sorry, who are you again?” Well, it had been ten years since we’d worked together!
The most enduring friendship I made on the show was with the actor Robert Whitelock who played a nervous policeman in the Series 6 episode Flash! Bang! Wallop!
What was Nicholas Lyndhurst like to work with?
Delightful. Very professional, amusing, generous and patient. Really knows what he is doing after a lifetime’s experience before the cameras, so I learned a lot – which I hope to use should I ever be asked back on television again.
Is portraying such a real-life, historical figure more daunting for an actor than creating a wholly new character, about whom the public has no preconceptions?
You do have to get the mannerisms and voice right but the good thing is that the audience already knows a lot about the character so you have a kind of ready made characterisation.
Who are your favourite actors, both past and present, and why?
I love Spencer Tracey and any actor who does not look like they are acting but ‘being’. I always want the audience to forget I am acting. One of my biggest theatrical influences is the American monologuist Ruth Draper (1884-1956), who inspired Joyce Grenfell’s best work. The recordings of her performing her ‘monodramas’ are astonishing. (see www.drapermonologues.com for more)
Lastly, what do you have planned for the remainder of 2010…?
Survival! It’s looking like a tough year. Well, it is for all of us, I think, not just in show business. I have two new shows I am creating for the Edinburgh Fringe (and then on tour I hope) - one on the Lockerbie bombing and the other a big singalong musical show. I will be continuing with what little touring work there is, in the Autumn. I anticipate having to take a job scrubbing floors any day now. But I will go on as long as I can in this profession in the hope that one day, by the time I am seventy-two, someone will write something like Dad’s Army where they need a lot of old codgers. I shall be ready!