You can learn about my early years in theatre on my blog page eloquently entitled, ‘How it Began’.
So, I’ll pick it up where my face began to sport its stunning good looks on TV.
To tell the truth, I never really saw myself as an ‘actor’. Acting is hard and takes a hell of a lot of skill and talent. More accurately, I was a performer.
At the same time, many actors would tell you that playing comedy is the hardest thing they do, but, for some of us performing funny stuff was something we just got good at by doing nothing else but. A misspent career, you might call it.
As a writer for Alas Smith and Jones, and always hanging around the set, it was often quicker for Mel or Griff to shout, “Oi, where’s Driscoll? Get him in that leotard and find him a wig!” and I’d have five minutes to learn a few lines before lights, camera, action. Other writers were likewise press ganged into supporting roles. Other times it was just easier, faster, to have me play a role in something I’d written.
This makes me smile when I think about it: I often found myself wearing a uniform of some description, which could be a lot of fun on a slow filming day. As Sergeant Sevenoaks in a Mr Majeika episode with Stanley Baxter, I was waiting for my cue to stroll round a corner on a country lane. I’d done a few takes already and was getting a tad bored. Unaware of the film unit, a car containing a young family drove by. I gave them my fiercest stare and stuck out my tongue. The kids laughed and the parents gaped in horror. Childish, I know, but giggle-worthy at the time.
When you’re shooting on location and happen to be wearing a uniform, there’s a strange phenomenon that often occurs. Wherever you are, the local police always know you’re there. They also know that a production base will always have a catering wagon with an endless supply of tea. So, a couple of times a day, a cop car would pull up and a pair of bobbies would get out to watch whatever was being shot.
Understandable, you’d think, but the strange thing is, even though it might be obvious you’re an actor, if you’re dressed as cop, security guard or even an AA man, coppers will always come and stand next to you like you’re all in the same club; like you’re all waiting for the next truck back to barracks, or something. Then they’ll drop their air of authority and start asking questions in low tones, frightened they’ll get into trouble for talking at the back of the class. A typical exchange would go something like this:
FIRST COP: Alright, mate?
YOU: Yeah, cheers, you?
SECOND COP: What’s the program?
YOU: The Fast Show. It’s a comedy.
FIRST COP: Oh, yeah? Anyone famous?
YOU: Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson.
BOTH COPS: Who?
YOU: Simon Day? Arabella Weir?
FIRST COP: Very interestin’. Any chance of a cup of tea?