Tea Time Tidbits: 2012

Tea Time Tidbit

Week of December 31, 2012:
New shows coming up!

 

Happy New Year! We're kicking off the New Year with a two new Afternoon Tea shows in the 1pm time slot on Tuesdays and Wednesdays beginning this week.

New Shows
Yes, Minister.

Yes, Minister, which airs on Tuesdays, stars Paul Eddington, who played Jerry Leadbetter in Good Neighbors, as The Right Honorable Jim Hacker MP in the fictional Department for Administrative Affairs in Whitehall. The show also stars Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds. When the series first aired in England back in the 1980s, it was the favorite television show of then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who told The Daily Telegraph that "its clearly-observed portrayal of what goes on in the corridors of power has given me hours of pure joy".

New Shows
Café.

Café, airing on Wednesdays, is set in and around a café in the seaside town of Weston-sur-Mare. It's run by the generational trilogy of Mary (June Watson), Carol (Ellie Haddington) and Sarah (Michelle Terry). Described as a "gentle comedy", Café features an assortment of true to life characters that I think you're going to love getting to know.

 

New Shows
Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson.

Remember to tune in by the way on Sunday at 9pm for the long anticipated Season 3 of Downton Abbey, where the special guest this season is the award winning actress Shirley MacLaine, who stars as Lady Grantham's mother, Martha Levinson.

 

New Shows
Highclere Castle.

Before Downton Abbey, you might also want to tune in at 8pm for Secrets of Highclere Castle, which was the setting for Downton. Once the social epicenter of Edwardian England, Highclere has stories to tell that might well rival its fictional counterpart. This program gives you a glimpse into the lives of the inhabitants of the 1,300 year old castle, from the aristocrats enjoying a life of luxury, to the servants toiling away below stairs.

We'll be chatting more about these series over the next few weeks, in the meantime, you can let me know what you think of them by dropping me a line.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of December 24, 2012:
Call The Midwife Holiday Special

 

There are a lot of things I miss about being in England over Christmas, including the Holiday specials aired on television. This year though I'll be bringing a little bit of England into my living room when MPT airs the Call The Midwife Holiday Special.

Call The Midwife Holiday Special

Although set at Christmas the show was actually filmed in June, when it was really far too warm to be wearing knitted sweaters and hats and gloves. For the children who appear this proved especially trying, and according to producer Helen George resulted in "lots of dramas and lots of crying".

They weren't the only ones though. There's a particularly moving moment to look out for when scenes of Jenny washing Mrs. Jenkins are set to the sound of the nuns singing beautifully in Latin.

Jenny Agutter, who plays Sister Julienne, admits she finds the spiritual side of her character "difficult to get hold of", but even she was moved during the filming of the scene where she has to wash the vagrant Mrs. Jenkins as the nuns were singing in Latin.

Call The Midwife Holiday Special
Jenny Agutter as Sister Julienne
with pageant children.

"To them, the word charity doesn't mean just giving to fill the gaps - charity is the essence of giving your love as best you can. Repairing the damage done to this woman, and the nuns singing, is a beautiful juxtaposition," she says.

Agutter also found it very hard to keep in character during the birth scene, which opens the show. "I found the moment of holding this baby overwhelmingly emotional but that's not Sister Julienne so it was very important to sit on that," says Agutter.

Another cast member who found filming the show particularly moving was Ben Caplan who plays Chummy's new husband PC Peter Noakes and who had just welcomed a new baby into his own home himself. "It does get you, you can't help it, whether you're acting in it or watching it," he says.

Call The Midwife Holiday Special
Miranda Hart as Chummy.

Playing Caplan's wife Chummy in the series is the popular British comedian Miranda Hart. She too has a moving storyline in the Christmas special, involving an under-age pregnancy. Being Chummy though, she also has more than a few humorous moments. Her scenes attempting to run an unruly cub-scout troupe and to put on a Christmas pageant are sure to make us laugh.

"She gets quite bossy in her attempt to make it perfect," says Hart.

It sounds to me like this is going to be an episode for which you'll need to have your hankies at the ready!

The Call The Midwife Holiday Special will air at 7:30pm on Sunday, December 30th.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of December 17, 2012:
Upstairs, Downstairs' Eileen Atkins, Part Two

 

This week we continue to chat about Dame Eileen Atkins who recently starred in the Upstairs, Downstairs revival series as Lady Holland. The series, which was originally going to be titled Behind the Green Baize Door, first ran from 1971-75.

Eileen Atkins
Atkins as Lady Holland in Upstairs, Downstairs.

Atkins co-created the concept for Upstairs, Downstairs, along with her friend Jean Marsh, who played the maid Rose. Although she couldn't be in the series first time round owing to her stage commitments, Atkins did have a role in the revival series, where she played Lady Holland. Originally she'd wanted to play the cook, but eventually took the matriarch role for what she knew at the time were the wrong reasons. "I did it for the money", confesses Atkins, "I wanted a pension." (Despite having worked so hard for so many years, and earned so many accolades, Atkins was practically bankrupt, having invested in the 1997 film Mrs. Dalloway, which she wrote the screenplay for and which starred Vanessa Redgrave.)

The experience acting in the new Upstairs, Downstairs, was not a good one and Atkins and the series eventually parted ways.

Atkins and Marsh also devised another popular BBC series The House of Elliot which ran from 1991-1993, but it's another period drama Atkins starred in that remains her personal favorite; Cranford, where she played Deborah Jenkyns. Atkins was the first choice for the role and working alongside her was her good friend Judi Dench, who played Matty, Miss Deborah's younger sister. That wasn't the first time the two actresses had played siblings; they also been cast as sister in a radio drama in the late 1950s.

Eileen Atkins
Atkins and Judi Dench in Cranford.

"To have worked together all those years ago and then, at this age, to play sisters again was heavenly," recalls Atkins. "Plus it's great being paid to have so much fun"! Atkins reports that she had more fun on Cranford than any other job; thanks mainly because she was, she says, in the company of Britain's un-Botoxed best, including Dame Judi Dench, Julia McKenzie and Imelda Staunton.

On one occasion Atkins recalls that she and Dench were crammed in a tight space waiting to make their entrance in a scene when Dench whispered urgently to her "Come on, tell me...have you had anything done?!" To which Atkins responded "Judi, if I'd had anything done...would I look like this? Come off it."

"We laughed so much", says Atkins, "that Jim Carter [who played Captain Brown], who was passing by, said, 'Where else would you find two women in their seventies laughing all morning and being paid for the privilege?' And he was right, of course."

Eileen Atkins
Atkins in Doc Martin.

Most recently Atkins has been having fun working in Cornwall on Doc Martin, where she plays Martin's equally cranky Aunt Ruth. When she was offered the role, Atkins had never even seen the show, so she and her husband of over thirty years Bill Shepherd figured they'd better watch a couple of episodes to get an idea of what it was like. They were hooked from the start and ended up watching two box sets back to back.

Atkins met her husband in an elevator. She had held the door open for him and asked him where he was going. To which he'd replied "I'm going wherever you are." Within three days he had proposed. The couple married on February 2, 1978. Although Atkins confesses to being "high maintenance" - she is a lifelong insomniac - the marriage continues to thrive. Atkins, who has never had children, claims she has never possessed the maternal instinct. Something she puts down to the fact that she never got along with her mother.

In 1989 Atkins toured the world in her stage adaptation of Woolf's collected lectures, A Room of One's Own, which she followed up three years later with Vita and Virginia, a two person play in which she starred alongside her good friend Vanessa Redgrave.

In 1995 at the age of 61, Atkins was diagnosed with breast cancer. She survived the disease, which sadly took the life of Linda McCartney who had received the same diagnosis the same week as Atkins. The pair, who were put in touch with one another through a mutual friend, supported each other throughout the treatment process and when McCartney knew she was not going to recover from the disease she never revealed the fact to Atkins.

Along with a long list of acting awards, Atkins was also awarded, in 1990, the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire). In 2001, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2001 Queen's Birthday Honours List for her services to drama. In 2005, Atkins received the Degree of Doctor of Arts, honoris causa, from City University in London and just two years ago, at the age of 76, she was conferred the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, by Oxford University.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of December 10, 2012:
Upstairs, Downstairs' Eileen Atkins

 

Time for another viewer request! This week's featured actress is Dame Eileen Atkins, whose life story reads almost like a novel.

Atkins was born on June 16, 1934 in a Salvation Army Women's Hostel in the East End of London. Her mother, Annie, who was 46 when Atkins was born, worked as a barmaid at night and as a seamstress in a factory during the day. Her father, Arthur, was a gas meter reader. Before that Arthur was "under-chauffeur" for the Portuguese Ambassador. Not being able to drive, it was Arthur's job to keep the Ambassador's car clean.

Eileen Atkins
Dames Eileen Atkins & Maggie Smith.

After Atkins was born the family moved to a council house (government housing) in Tottenham. One day a Gypsy came to the door selling lucky heather. She predicted that the young Atkins would one day be a famous dancer. Although they were struggling financially, Annie promptly enrolled the three-year-old in dance lessons. The lessons continued for the next twelve years although by the age of seven Atkins was helping to contribute to the family's income by earning 15 shillings a time performing in a local working men's club. Her stage name was "Baby Eileen" and during the war she performed at London's Stage Door canteen for American troops.

Atkins first professional theatre work was in pantomime when she was 12 and it was the feedback she got to the recitation of her one line in the show that would change her life forever. Someone who saw the show mentioned to Atkins' mother that her daughter had a "Cockney" accent. Horrified, Annie immediately set out change her daughter's voice; elocution lessons were out of the question though, being far too expensive. Instead, Annie found someone to pay for her young daughter to attend Latymer's grammar school in Edmonton, London. It was there that Atkins found her very own Henry Higgins; the Rev. Michael Burton, who taught religious instruction at the school.

Eileen Atkins
A young Eileen Atkins.

As well as teaching Atkins how to speak "proper", the Reverend also introduced Atkins to the works of William Shakespeare. After being taken to see a production of King John at the Regent Park Open Air Theatre, Atkins wrote to the director of the play, telling him that she could do a better job in the role of Prince Arthur than the young boy actor she'd seen. Not realizing Atkins was only fourteen, the director, Robert Atkins, invited her to come and see him. When he found out she was just a school girl, he told her to go and enroll in drama school and come back when she was an adult.

Encouraged, Atkins with the help of Reverend Burton managed to persuade her parents to let her stay on at school until she was 16 and old enough to audition for drama school. Both of Atkins' siblings had left school at ages 14 and 15, and her parents wanted Atkins to do the same. Rev. Burton was convinced though that Atkins would get a scholarship at a good drama school, but to do so she needed to stay at school until she was 16. Eventually it was agreed that if Burton could not get Atkins a scholarship at the drama school of her choice, she would fund the cost herself by taking a teaching course as well as drama and teaching at the school.

Eileen Atkins
After winning the Evening
Standard
Theatre Awards for
best actress in 1965.

The year that Atkins auditioned for the RADA scholarship, the school had 300 applicants. Atkins made it to the final three but was not selected. Instead, as promised, she embarked on a three-year teaching course at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where she also got to take drama classes and perform. Atkins spent her last year at Guildhall teaching and she would later confess that she "hated" every minute.

After leaving Guildhall, the freshly graduated 19 year-old promptly got in touch with the director Atkins she had met earlier. Now that she was older he was able to cast her; as Jaqueetta in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, also at the Regent's Park Open Air Theater. Not long after Atkins found herself working as an assistant stage manager at the Oxford Playhouse, under the direction of Sir Peter Hall. She didn't last too long in the job though before Mr. Hall fired her for as far as he could tell Atkins was "having a continuous cold". Although others have reported it was for being impudent. Atkins and Hall would become firm friends and worked together numerous times over the years. Another assistant stage manager at the time was Dame Maggie Smith, with whom Atkins would also develop a close friendship.

Eileen Atkins
Atkins' first husband, Julian Glover,
in an episode of Midsomer Murders.

Although Atkins may have lost her job at the Playhouse, she did find herself a husband. Julian Glover, an actor who would also go onto a luminous career on stage, screen and television. The couple married in 1957, but divorced in 1966. During the time they were married Atkins began to get steady acting work. But it was a non-acting project that would prove the most lucrative, when in 1971, she co-created – along with her best friend, actress Jean Marsh – the classic British drama series Upstairs, Downstairs.

We'll talk more about Upstairs, Downstairs and Atkins' career next week. In the meantime, be sure to tune in on Sunday to see Atkins' long-time friend, Dame Maggie Smith, in Downton Abbey. Each Sunday night MPT is airing two back-to-back episodes of season two of the series, beginning at 9pm and 10pm. This is all in preparation for the new Downton series which begins in January.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of December 3, 2012:
Midsomer Murders' John Nettles, Part Two

 

This week we continue our chat about Midsomer Murders and the actor who played Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby in the series, John Nettles.

If you enjoyed the two back to back episodes we aired on MPT's Mystery Night last Friday, you're in for a treat again this week, because we'll be airing another two episodes of this delightful series set in the idyllic British countryside. If you showed your support for the series with a pledge, thank you.

John Nettles
The Bull & Butcher pub.

You certainly get your monies' worth when you support shows such as Midsomer Murders. Did know for instance that each episode of the series takes five weeks to film, involves up to 100 people and costs over two million dollars to produce! Most of the stories are filmed in villages around Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. The fictional town of Caulston, where Barnaby lives is in actual fact the town of Wallingford and an old RAF college in Bracknell is used as the police station.

If the pubs you see in the series look authentic that's because they are; they just get renamed. The Bull & Butcher pub in Turville Heath, Bucks, for instance, has been featured in three episodes. It's now so associated with the series that they've even added a new dish to their pub menu; Midsomer Burgers!

One of the biggest mysteries in Midsomer is how come the sun is always shining?! It's all done by what Nettles calls "computer trickery".

"The sky is brightened, the clouds removed and the fields given a green makeover. Summer flowers magically appear in the gardens – even if we're filming in December!" explains Nettles. "As for the clothes under those thin summer frocks and short-sleeved shirts are several layers of thermals".

The other thing that has often puzzled me is how quiet life in the village is - especially for a place that seems to have such a big crime rate. The lack of noise isn't owing to computer trickery, but to the fact that the locals are all asked not to use weed-wackers, chainsaws, mowers, or any form of power tool while filming is taking place.

John Nettles
Nettles with his fellow actor Jane Wymark,
who plays his onscreen wife

The series was originally going to be called Barnaby with Judi Dench's late husband Michael Williams in the title role. Producers eventually decided that Williams was too old for the role and so the part went to the much younger John Nettles. The role of Tom Barnaby is one Nettles has made his own; that of a happy family man without any of the odd or unusual "quirks" normally found in a television detective. Last year Nettles retired from the series. He was 67 and decided to quit the show before his character and he got any older.

"I wanted to try other things before the Grim Reaper came knocking", jokes Nettles, who since his retirement has kept himself busy by looking after the ever increasing number of animals in the home he shares with his wife Cathryn. They have two kittens, five chickens named after the Spice Girls, three cats, a dog, and a donkey called Hector.

"I have a feeling that Hector is payback time as far as my wife is concerned", says Nettles. "I smuggled a plasma screen TV into our front room when Cathryn wasn't at home, and when I went away she installed Hector into the paddock".

Nettles has also been able to spend more time with his family, especially his grandchildren who live on Jersey; the location of Nettles' first big hit television series, Bergerac.

In September of this year, Nettles was awarded a honorary doctorate as part of Plymouth University's 150 anniversary graduation celebrations. He was also honored two years ago when he was awarded an OBE for his services to drama in 2010 Queen's Birthday Honours List.

John Nettles
Nettles and Neal Dudgeon.

Replacing Nettles in Midsomer is veteran actor Neil Dudgeon, whose character DCI John Barnaby is a cousin of Nettles' character. When he learned that Dudgeon was to be the new "Barnaby", Nettles offered up his congratulations.

"If Neil has half the good times that I have had on Midsomer then he will be in seventh heaven", says Nettles, who jokingly continues "I am only worried that he is much younger than I am and a much better actor!"

Nettles' favorite Midsomer episode is Judgement Day and there'll be two episodes of that very story this coming Friday night at 8pm on MPTs Mystery Night. Hope you can join us!

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of November 26, 2012:
Midsomer Murders' John Nettles

 

This coming Friday be sure to tune into MPT at 8pm for two back-to-back episodes of Midsomer Murders, starring John Nettles as Tom Barnaby.

John Nettles
John Nettles as DCI Tom Barnaby and Jason Hughes
as DS Ben Jones in Midsomer Murders.

Nettles was born October 11, 1943 in Manchester. His birth mother was a Roman Catholic Irish nurse who found herself pregnant and single after moving to England to work during World War II. At that time, unmarried mothers without family support or independent financial means could be held in Mental Institutions on the pretext that they were morally deficient. Their babies were taken from them and placed for adoption, but the mothers remained forcibly detained. This was the appalling fate suffered by Nettles' birth mother. She was placed in a mental institution where she contracted TB and died at the age of 28. Although he never discovered the identity of his father, Nettles did later find out that he had a brother and two sisters.

Nettles' adoptive parents Eric and Elsie brought Nettles up in the mining district of St. Austell, Cornwall, where Eric ran his own small carpentering business and Elsie worked as a cleaner at local hotels. Life for the Nettles family was not easy. They lived on a run-down public housing estate, where keeping the bailiffs from the door was a constant struggle. Nettles' father was, according to his son, "hopeless with money". So hopeless in fact that the family was plunged into poverty after he built some caravans which he sold for less than they had cost him to make. When Nettles was nine his parent went bankrupt and to this day he remembers his mother's tears.

"It affected her greatly, especially being the target of all the petty insults. It hurt her a lot", recalls Nettles. "She tried to hide her tears but I saw them. She did everything she could to earn money. She waited on tables, that sort of thing, but it was never enough, and I think she knew that."

As a small boy, Nettles lived in fear that the bailiffs would take away the families furniture.

"I tore up pieces of paper and wrote messages on them saying: `This furniture is the property of my uncle and aunt', so the bailiffs couldn't take them away," he recalls.

After the bankruptcy, Nettles father's health steadily declined. Despite being a skilled craftsman he was unable to find work as a carpenter. So, although too old and too sick, he went to work on a building site, where he earned barely enough money for the family to live on.

"My dad became solitary and increasingly bitter", recalls Nettles. "Being a proud man, he nursed an overwhelming sense of failure. He felt he'd failed not only himself but his family." Nettles' father would die in 1970, when he was barely 60 years old. His wife died in the mid-80s, from cancer at the age of 64. Nettles believes that it was his parents' constant money worries that drove them to an early grave.

Nettles left school in 1962 and won a scholarship to attend Southampton University, where he studied philosophy and history. During the holidays he found work at the local clay mines. It was while he was at University that Nettles discovered a love of acting and the course of his life changed.

"I'd planned to be a minor academic, but wanted to be loved," says Nettles. "The easiest way to be loved is to appear on stage."

John Nettles
In a Shakespearean role
at the RSC.

So on leaving university, Nettles joined the Royal Court Theatre in London, where his first professional performance was as the Third Murderer in Shakespeare's Macbeth. More stage work followed and in 1970 he was cast in his first film, One More Time. Following that he began working in television. He starred as Dr. Ian Mackenzie in the period drama A Family at War and had various other small parts in popular shows such as the hit comedy The Liver Birds, Dickens of London, and Robin of Sherwood.

In 1976, Nettles joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. His first wife Joyce was the casting director for the company and when an actor dropped out of Troilus and Cressida her husband stepped in. Nettles stayed with the RSC for two seasons, appearing alongside such acclaimed actors Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Ben Kingsley and Patrick Stewart.

As Nettles recalls, "the quality of the work was extraordinarily high. I'd never come across work of such quality or actors of such calibre before and I thought I've got a lot of running to do here to keep up."

John Nettles
Nettles as Detective
Jim Bergerac.

In 1978 Nettles appeared in an episode of Enemy at the Door, a drama series set in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, during World War II. His character was that of a police detective ordered to work for the Germans. Filming of the series took place in the neighboring Island of Jersey, and it was there that Nettles would return in 1981 in the role that would make him a television star – Detective Jim Bergerac.

Bergerac ran for a decade, but while Nettles celebrity status grew, according to Nettles so too did his head.

"I was bloody arrogant", confesses Nettles, "what you might call a big head. "My tendency was to measure everything in terms of money, because it had caused my parents so much unhappiness. I started to judge people in terms of what they were worth. I developed an attitude of believing that money was the be-all and end-all."

A casualty of Nettles' newly acquired financial success was his marriage to Joyce. They'd been together since Nettles' University days. Their daughter Emma was born in 1970, but as time wore on Nettles grew more and more "difficult" and the couple's former loving relationship disintegrated beyond repair. They eventually divorced in 1984.

After Bergerac concluded in 1991, Nettles returned to the RSC, performing for five seasons in A Winter's Tale, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Julius Caesar and Richard III among others. Nettles' fame as Bergerac over the years had also led to him being a star attraction on the annual Christmas Pantomime circuit and it was while performing in panto that Nettles met his second wife, Cathryn Sealey, a former nurse.

John Nettles
Nettles and the Queen.

"I never thought I'd fall in love again", says Nettles. "I was very bitter and cynical when my first marriage broke up. I thought I was set to be a bachelor for the rest of my life. But I finally found a lady brave enough to take me on."

The couple married in 1995, in a quiet ceremony near Stratford-on-Avon where he was playing Brutus in Julius Caesar. The same year found Nettles being lured back to television to play Tom Barnaby, in a new murder mystery series, Midsomer Murders. The casting director for the series was Nettles' former wife, with whom he now gets along with splendidly.

We'll chat more about Midsomer Murders and John Nettles next week. In the meantime, you can see the show this coming Friday night at 8pm.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of November 19, 2012:
Call The Midwife's Jenny Agutter

 

Jenny Agutter
As Sister Julienne in Call The Midwife.

We've had several enquiries as to whether we'll be airing more episodes of Call The Midwife, and I'm happy to report that the BBC have commissioned a new series. As soon as we find out when it's going to become available we'll let you know. What we do know though is that actress Jenny Agutter has signed on to reprise the role of Sister Julienne.

Next month on December 20th, Agutter will be celebrating her sixtieth birthday. To me, though, she'll always be the young girl Roberta in the BBC series The Railway Children.

Born in Taunton, Somerset, Agutter spent time as a small child living in a number of countries, including Germany, Singapore and Cyprus where her father served as a British Army officer. When Agutter was eight she was sent to board at Elmhurst Ballet School. While boarding school made her independent and self-reliant for years she harbored resentment towards her parents for sending her away at such a young age.

Jenny Agutter
In The Railway Children.

While still at the school, when she was 11 Agutter was cast as a young dancer in the Walt Disney film Ballerina. She then got a recurring role in a twice-weekly BBC series called The Newcomers (that series also starred Afternoon Tea regulars David Janson who replaced Richard Gibson as Herr Otto Flick in 'Allo, 'Allo! and Wendy Richard who starred as Miss Brahms in Are You Being Served?). As she was still at school, Agutter could only appear in the series during her school holidays, but a few years later her schooldays would be behind her and she landed the lead role of Roberta in the BBC serialization of The Railway Children. Agutter reprised the role three years later in the film version. The following year, Agutter returned to the BBC playing Fritha in The Snow Goose; a role that earned her an Emmy award.

As Agutter grew into a young adult, having worked solely in film and television, she decided it was time to get some stage experience and at the age of 21 she joined the U.K.'s National Theatre, playing Miranda in The Tempest alongside Sir John Gielgud. It was Gielgud who taught the young actress the nuances of iambic pentameter.

Jenny Agutter
In Equus with Peter Firth.

From there it was back to Hollywood, where she made Logan's Run, The Eagle Has Landed, An American Werewolf in London and Equus, for which she won a British Academy Award. Agutter stayed in Hollywood for seventeen years until when she was 36 she was visiting England and, at an arts festival in Bath, met and fell in love with Johan Tham, a Swedish hotelier. Agutter returned to Hollywood and Tham visited her, but he hated the Los Angeles lifestyle, so Agutter moved back to England and in August of 1990, the couple married. Their son Jonathan was born a few months later on Christmas Day.

Jenny Agutter
With husband Johan Tham.

Once she became a wife and mother, Agutter left the movie business, focusing instead on radio plays and voice overs. She also became involved in numerous charitable organizations, such as the Cystic Fibrosis Trust of which she is a patron (she is also a carrier of the gene). In 2000 The Railway Children was re-made as a television film and Agutter was coached out of semi-retirement to take on the role of the mother. She also appeared in MI-5 (known in the U.K. as Spooks) alongside her Equus co-star Peter Firth. Since then Agutter has worked consistently and her latest film role was as a member of the World Security Council in the superhero film The Avengers released earlier this year.

Jenny Agutter
Receiving an OBE from the Queen.

Although their main residence is in London, now that their son is at Cambridge, where he is studying medicine, Agutter and her husband spend as much time as they can at their second home in the Cornish town of Lizard. This year Agutter was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours list for charitable services. One of the other organizations she supports is The St. Giles Trust, a charity to reform young offenders.

If you missed Call The Midwife first time round, you can see repeats of the series on Wednesdays at 8pm on MPT2.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of November 12, 2012:
To The Manor Born

 

This week I thought we'd have a behind-the-scenes look at To The Manor Born.

To The Manor Born
Peter Bowles and Penelope Keith
as Richard DeVere and Audrey
fforbes-Hamilton.

The idea for the series came about in 1970 after writer Peter Spence, who was working as a comedy writer for BBC Radio at the time, was told a tale by a London comedian that he found very entertaining. The comedian had purchased a large house in a Thames Valley village, and among the guests he invited to his housewarming party was the aging lady who had sold him the house, having been unable to afford to run it herself any more. Spence found the description the comedian gave of the previous owner's chilly attitude hilarious and the character would eventually form the basis for Audrey fforbes-Hamilton.

Three years later Spence married the daughter of the owner of the Cricket St. Thomas estate, and Cricket House; the house which would later find fame as Grantleigh Manor. The church they got married in was actually the very church we see in the series. After their marriage, the couple moved to the country, but Spence found life in a Somerset village not conducive to being a comedy writer and he developed writer's block. He did, however, pick up ideas and inspiration for his yet to be penned To The Manor Born.

To The Manor Born
Cricket House "as" Grantleigh Manor.

After a few years the Spences moved back to London and at around the same time the BBC were looking for shows in which the individual cast members of Good Neighbors (or The Good Life as it was called in the U.K.) could star. Working once again for BBC Radio, Spence heard about the search and it dawned on him that Penelope Keith's Good Neighbors character, Margo Leadbetter, would be well suited to playing a grand country lady, along the lines of the lady he'd heard of five years previous.

Spence promptly set to work creating a script, and in 1976, BBC Radio aired the pilot episode of To The Manor Born. The pilot originally featured Penelope Keith as fforbes-Hamilton and Bernard Braden as Richard DeVere. The BBC loved the pilot but a series never aired on the radio as they wanted to turn it into a television program, but The Good Life was still running and there wasn't room on the schedule for a new comedy series. It would eventually air, with additional writing from Christopher Bond, in 1979.

To The Manor Born
The Old Lodge.

In real-life, Cricket House is a grade II-listed manor house with gardens and grounds covering approximately 160 acres. It was originally created in the 19th century by the second Lord Bridport. The lawns of the estate, which have recently been restored to their former 19th century gardens, feature large cedars. It is believed that these cedars were the trees under which Lord Nelson and his mistress Lady Hamilton met clandestinely.

The Lodge, which houses Audrey and which appears to be a short distance from Grantleigh Manor, is in actual fact approximately a mile away from the house. The effect of their close proximity was achieved with fake gateposts in a number of key scenes.

You can watch To The Manor Born each Wednesday at 1pm on MPT's Afternoon Tea.

If you've got a favorite Afternoon Tea location, I'd love to hear from you.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of November 5, 2012:
'Allo, 'Allo!'s Vicki Michelle

 

Vicki Michelle
In 'Allo, 'Allo! as French
waitress Yvette, alongside Gorden
Kaye as cafe owner and
Resistance member René.

Pantomime season is fast approaching in the U.K., and many of the stars we see in our Afternoon Tea comedies are panto regulars. One such actress is Vicki Michelle MBE, who plays Yvette Carte-Blanche in 'Allo 'Allo!

Born on December 14, 1960 in Chigwell, Essex, Michelle's father was a fish trader and her mother an actress. As a child, Michelle, along with her sister Ann were raised by a German au pair, who would eventually become an international movie star; Elke Sommer. Sommer's father had died when she was only 14 and she had moved to England, where she'd learned English and to make ends meet had become an au pair.

Vicki Michelle
An early career shot.

Michelle initially hoped to become a ballet dancer so after staying on at school to complete a secretarial course, she joined the Aida Foster stage school in Golders Green, London. While there, Michelle started getting small roles in popular television series, such as the popular police drama Dixon of Dock Green. It was Michelle's portrayal of Yvette though that would bring her international recognition. She won the role after she had a small role in another David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd series, Goodbye Mrs. Noah, where she appeared as a robot cum maid. Eventually the 5' 5" actress would appear in every single episode of all nine series of 'Allo, 'Allo!, which first aired in December, 1982 and ran through 1992; a total of ninety-two episodes in all.

Vicki Michelle
With husband Graham Fowler.

The mid-eighties found 'Allo, 'Allo! attaining cult status and the show's producers Croft and Lloyd capitalized on its popularity by writing a stage version of the series, which had record breaking runs in London's West End before touring Australia and New Zealand and the rest of the U.K. Michelle reprised her role for the stage productions and she also played the same role when the stage show was revived in 2007 to celebrate 'Allo, 'Allo!'s 25th Anniversary. Before agreeing to the 25th anniversary show, Michelle thought long and hard. After all she was almost thirty years older than when she had first played Yvette on television. At one point it was even debated whether Michelle might play the role of Madame Edith. Croft and Lloyd squashed that idea pretty promptly. Michelle finally agreed to be in the show after seeing another popular stage adaptation by Croft and Lloyd; Dad's Army, which was touring at the time. "It was so brilliantly done", says Michelle, "I couldn't refuse".

Vicki Michelle
With daughter Louise.

When not touring with 'Allo, 'Allo! Michelle appeared as the Wicked Queen in a pantomime production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She also made several appearances in the long running British soap opera Emmerdale. Michelle's other pantomime roles include the title role and Genie in Aladdin, the Red Queen in Snow White, The Fairy in Jack and the Beanstalk and Mother Goose, Mrs. Darling and Hook's sister, Harrietta in Peter Pan, and Lady Cruella in Cinderella.

Michelle's other stage work included Miss Hannigan in the musical Annie, Play It Again Sam, where she starred opposite Dudley Moore and she played the leading role of Mina in Dracula. Michelle's film roles have included the 1976 comedy The Likely Lads, Alfie Darling, Resentment, The Greek Tycoon, and The Last Days of Pompeii. This year, Michelle took on a behind the scenes role when she was she was Executive Producer of Run For Your Wife, a film adaptation of Ray Cooney's theatrical farce. The film features Judi Dench and Richard Briers in cameo appearances.

Vicki Michelle
With her MBE.

In 2010, Michelle was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours list for her services to charity. As an active charity worker, Michelle represents numerous charities on a regular basis. She is also Patron of six organizations involving charity and theatre work; Haven House Hospice; The Dream Factory and Hopes and Dreams which are dedicated to granting the wishes and dreams of children with life threatening or terminal illness and disadvantages; Blackfish Academy and Talent Time, providing young people with the opportunity to learn acting and theatre skills. Michelle has also served for over a decade as Patron of the Friends of the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage. In addition, she is a regular supporter of The Heritage Foundation and is President of The Lady Taverners - Essex Branch. Vicki also produced a DVD to help teenagers with Asperger Syndrome and their careers.

You can see Vicki Michelle Fridays at 1pm in 'Allo, 'Allo! on MPT's Afternoon Tea.

Remember to write and let me know if there's an actor or actress you'd like to find out more about.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of October 29, 2012:
Ballykissangel creator Kieran Prendiville

 

Sometimes the only way we get to judge the popularity of an Afternoon Tea series is when it's replaced with another show. That's exactly what happened when we took Ballykissangel off the schedule. People were not happy, but the outpouring of thanks when we brought it back was heartwarming.

Kieran Prendiville
Kieran Prendiville.

Ballykissangel was created by Kieran Prendiville, who was born on Christmas Day, 1947 in Rochdale, Lancashire. His father, who was a native of Killorglin, in County Kerry, Ireland, immigrated to England in order to practice medicine. His son was sent to Ireland as a youngster to attend the same boarding school as his father had gone to; Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare.

The idea for Ballykissangel came about when Prendiville spent several weeks on an oil rig researching a drama series called Roughnecks. As Prendiville recalls "after a while I went stir crazy and started fantasizing about a place where you didn't hear the thud and clatter of heavy machinery twenty four hours a day...and where it didn't smell of diesel oil."

Kieran Prendiville
Avoca, the setting for Ballykissangel.

That place was Killorglin, in County Kerry where Prendiville's father had been raised. Although now a town, Killorglin back when Prendiville and his seven siblings would go there on holiday was just a tiny village. Up the road was the townland of Ballykissane. Its Irish name is "Baile Coisc Aingeal", which means "The town of the fallen angel". As Prendiville remembered those holidays in Ballykissane, he also recalled some of the characters that lived in Killorglin. As he was still working on writing Roughnecks, though the Ballykissangel project had to be put aside for a few years.

Kieran Prendiville
Filming on site.

When Ballykissangel eventually went into production in 1995, it was filmed in Avoca and Enniskerry in County Wicklow. The location was found by the show's producer Joy Lale, who had initially visited Ireland, planning on finding a village near Dublin. After coming across Avoca, however, she knew she'd found Ballykissangel. After seeing Lale's fifty odd photos of Avoca, Prendiville agreed it was perfect. Then when the first six episodes aired in 1996, Prendiville knew they had a hit series on their hands.

Kieran Prendiville
Dervla Kerwan and Stephen Tompkinson
as Assumpta and Father Clifford.

Avoca would become to Ballykissangel was Holmfirth is to Last of the Summer Wine. When Prendiville saw that a newspaper was running a competition to win a trip to Ballykissangel and NOT Avoca, he knew instantly that the series was a success. It would continue to run for a total of six series, and aired in England from February, 1996 to April 2001. Here and in other countries around the world of course the series is still running.

You can watch Ballykissangel every weekday afternoon at 3:30pm on Afternoon Tea.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of October 22, 2012:
Call the Midwife's Miranda Hart

 

Time for another viewer request and this week we're going to look at the life of Miranda Hart, who plays Camilla "Chummy" Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne" in our Sunday night drama series Call the Midwife.

Miranda Hart
Miranda Hart in
Call the Midwife.

Miranda Katharine Hart-Dyke was born in Torquay, Devon on December 14, 1972, but grew up in Petersfield, Hampshire. Her father David was an officer in the Royal Navy and her mother Diana was the daughter of Sir William Luce. Being of aristocratic stock, Hart is one of the few, if not the only, British comediennes to be listed in Burke's Peerage; the definitive guide to royal, aristocratic and historical families. Her family tree can be traced back to the 12th century and her aunt and uncle live in Lullingstone Castle.

When Hart was 10, tragedy struck the family, when during the Falklands War, the destroyer the HMS Coventry, under the command of her father, was sunk by the Argentinians. 19 men were killed and her father returned to England badly burned. It took a quarter of a century before Hart-Dyke could open up about the horror of the event. According to reports, the HMS Coventry had been under orders to lure the enemy away from British troops. Hart-Dyke felt like he was on a "suicide mission", but couldn't refuse.

"That's war", says the former Captain, "it's like a game of chess. You've got to give up some pieces to get checkmate at the end. I was one of those pieces."

Miranda Hart
Captain David Hart-Dyke with
wife Diana and daughters
Miranda (center) and Alice.

As a youngster, Hart understood what had happened but it became what the 6' 1" actress calls an "unsaid darkness". Instead life went on and tomboy Hart was enrolled at one of England's leading boarding schools, Downe House in Berkshire. After shooting up to her current height at the age of 16, life at school was difficult. The teasing about her looks though ended up being a blessing and is probably why she became the successful woman she is today.

"It's far better", says Hart, "never to have been beautiful".

Hart claims to have spent her childhood "in 1970s hand-me-downs, primarily from male cousins, which mainly consisted of a selection of beige, brown and orange dungarees". She feels, however, that being unattractive gave her the freedom to focus on nurturing her talents. In her book Is It Just Me? Hart says "If you look like a sack of offal that's been drop-kicked down a lift-shaft into a pond, you're going to spend many of your formative years alone. This may seem miserable - but you'll have space, space you can constructively use to discover and hone your skills, learn a language, develop an interest in cosmology, practice the oboe, do whatever you fancy, really, so long as it doesn't involve being looked at or snogging anyone."

Although Hart always wanted to be a comedienne, after leaving school she went to Bristol Polytechnic, where she graduated with a 2:1 degree in political science. After leaving she returned home to live with her parents where she became depressed and agoraphobic. The medication she had to take caused her to put on five stone.

"I was getting used to being tall and then in my mid-20s I ballooned in size so I was tall and big and that I found difficult."

Miranda Hart
With her clutch of
British Comedy Awards.

When Hart announced to her parents at the age of 26 that she wanted a career in comedy, they tried to dissuade her. At the time she was working as a temporary secretary and had just gotten an assignment as a personal assistant to a director at Comic Relief. Determined to go her own way, Hart borrowed seven thousand pounds to put on her first solo show in Edinburgh. That was in 2002 and only last year did Hart, who is now one of Britain's top comediennes, finish paying off the loan.

In 2003, Hart pitched an idea for a semi-autobiographical comedy show to the BBC. They loved it and a year later, at the first read-through, Hart made Jennifer Saunders cry with laughter. Miranda Hart's Joke Shop started out as a radio series, but eventually became a TV show simply called Miranda.

Although Hart had cameo roles in The Vicar of Dibley and Absolutely Fabulous among others, she didn't feel secure enough in her abilities to make a living in show business so she carried on temping until about five years ago.

Life nowadays is a whirlwind of activity for Hart; her Miranda TV series is now into its third series, and she makes numerous guest appearances in other shows. Hart also regularly participates in charity events, such as Sport Relief, for which she and six other celebrities helped raise over one million pounds by cycling from John O'Groats to Land's End. This past summer, Hart was among the performers at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert outside Buckingham Palace.

Miranda Hart
With her constant
companion, Peggy.

In 2010 Hart won the Best Comedy Performance award from the Royal Television Society for her performance in Miranda and in 2001 she won Best Comedy Actress and People's Choice Award for The King or Queen of Comedy in the British Comedy Awards, where she also won Best New British TV Comedy. "Chummy" in Call the Midwife is Hart's first straight acting role.

Despite her success, Hart continues to live a simple life. In fact, when she was burgled not too long ago, the most valuable thing they took was an £80 watch. Instead Hart prefers to spend her money on "experiences" and considers "health" to be her most treasured possession.

Although Hart still admits to suffering an almost constant low-level anxiety, she tries to force herself to see the positive. As she tells it "it's just bad genes, bad luck, really. I'm just naturally a bit under, a bit depressed."

Helping cheer Hart up is her dog, Peggy. The two share a home in West London although now as she approaches her 40th birthday, Hart's beginning to feel it's time to get married.

"I do like the idea of marriage," confesses Hart. "It's romantic. I like the idea of saying, "This is my husband..." Hart would not, however, want a traditional wedding. Apart from not being a church goer, "Someone would be bound to fall in the font," jokes Hart in best "Chummy" fashion!

Call the Midwife airs at 8pm on Sunday nights on MPT.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of October 15, 2012:
Call the Midwife's Pam Ferris

 

Pam Ferris
Pam Ferris.

I'm still riveted to our new British series, Call the Midwife, and am especially enjoying seeing Pam Ferris in the role of Sister Evangelina. Ferris of course is no stranger to MPT, having first appeared on our screens in The Darling Buds of May, then as Laura Thyme in Rosemary & Thyme and as Mrs. General in Masterpiece's Little Dorrit.

Ferris was born in Hanover, Lower Saxony, Germany, on May 11, 1948. Her parents were Welsh and they were stationed there when her father Fred was serving in the Royal Air Force. On their return to Wales, they lived in Llanelli where her father worked as a policeman and her mother Ann in the family's bakery business.

It was while living in Wales that Ferris became what she calls "obsessed" with being an actor and the obsession continued after the family emigrated to New Zealand when Ferris was thirteen. Her roles were limited to school plays and amateur dramatics, until she turned 16 and left school to become a full-time actress at an Auckland repertory company.

Pam Ferris
As Sister Evangelina
in Call the Midwife.

Ferris recalls the experience as being "excellent". Although she was only earning about "tuppence a week", it was a great place to learn her trade. Ferris's father died when she was 17 and when she turned 23 she returned to England alone. Not knowing how to find a cheap place to live in London, she soon got through her £700 in savings and found herself "stony-broke".

Although Ferris was making the rounds of auditions, she also had to take on other jobs such as working in an antique shop for a while. Then just as her bank balance was almost depleted, she got lucky and landed her first professional acting job on a theatre tour of Suffolk and Norfolk. By the age of 24 she was among the founder members of Actorum; the first actors' co-operative agency in the U.K.

The idea of "do-it-yourself" agenting came about when Ferris and her fellow actor friends realized that a lot of young actors weren't getting noticed and became angry enough to do something about it. "There was a lot of work around", explains Ferris, "but we couldn't get the agents to come and see us". The young actors' anger gave way to Actorum and the co-op is still going strong today.

Pam Ferris
In The Darling Buds of May.

Ferris's first television role wasn't until she was in her mid-30s, when she was in the 1985 TV series, Connie, playing the conniving stepsister Nesta to Stephanie Becham's title role character. It was a year-long job and she followed it up in 1991 with the series with which she is probably most associated; The Darling Buds of May.

After Darling Buds, Ferris spent about two years turning down roles that were similar to that of Ma Larkin. Then one day, out of the blue, she received a call from Danny DeVito asking her to play Miss Trunchbull in what would be the hit children's film, Matilda.

As Ferris recalls, "it was like the hand of fate coming out of the sky but it taught me a healthy lack of respect for the image of Hollywood. You imagine everything is surrounded by a glow of excitement. It is like that, of course, but in the end you realize that when you get in front of the camera you're doing exactly the same job as you did anywhere else."

The film was an international success and Ferris was reunited with DeVito in the 2002 film Death To Smoochy, which also starred Robin Williams and Edward Norton and was filmed in Toronto.

Pam Ferris
With husband Roger Frost.

Ferris met her husband, actor Roger Frost, when they were both appearing at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Each day they'd commute to and from the theatre on the same bus and according to Ferris by the eighth journey they were in love. They married when Ferris was 38. When asked why she didn't marry sooner, Ferris explains that she was obsessed with work in her youth. It's also the reason she chose not to have children.

"I know I wouldn't have been a half-bad mother", says Ferris, "but that's what happened. There's no regretting it."

One thing Ferris does regret is not being able to do a sequel to Darling Buds of May. Several years ago, she and David Jason who played Pop Larkin did a radio broadcast based on the final book written by H.E. Bates, but it was never made for television. As Ferris explains, "I think the problem was that, in the book, Pop has a heart attack and people didn't want to see that: Pop ailing and lying on his sick bed. They wanted him hale and hearty and ruddy cheeked."

Pam Ferris
In Midsomer Murders.

Ferris also mourns the demise of another series that is no longer being made; the whimsical detective drama Rosemary & Thyme, where she played Laura Thyme. She particularly misses working alongside Felicity Kendell who played her gardening partner mystery solver, Rosemary Boxer. The two became good friends and continue to see each other regularly.

Married now for 26 years, the 64 year old actress and her husband live in north London, where they enjoy gardening, reading, cooking and walking their two dogs.

 

Call the Midwife airs at 8pm on Sunday nights on MPT.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of October 8, 2012:
Call the Midwife's Jessica Raine

 

So what do you think of the new Sunday night British import, Call the Midwife? What a great cast, headed up by the very lovely Jessica Raine who plays Nurse Jenny Lee.

Jessica Raine
Jessica Raine as Jenny
in Call the Midwife.

Thirty year old Raine grew up on her father's country farm in Hay-on-Wye in Herefordshire, where she got a little practice for the role she's playing now.

"I grew up with my sisters and a couple of cousins – all girls", says Raine, "and we were always out and about on the farm. We would see calves being tugged out and go and do it ourselves sometimes. We helped with the lambing, too."

Having wanted to be an actress since she was 13, it was inevitable that as soon as Raine entered sixth form college she'd take theatre studies, which she followed up by studying drama at the University of the West of England in Bristol. On graduating she applied to, and was rejected by, every single drama school in England. Despondent, Raine left England and moved to Thailand to teach English as a second language.

On her return to the U.K., Raine auditioned for a second time for England's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. This time she was accepted and immediately after graduating in 2008 began a stage career playing teenagers much younger than herself, which Raine puts down to her having a "baby face".

Jessica Raine
As Princess Isabel of
Gloucester in Robin Hood 2010.

Call the Midwife was Raine's first television series, and working with babies was something Raine had to learn about pretty quickly. As Raine explains, "I've never worked with children before. There were loads [of babies] on set and I'd pick them up and just melt".

As the series was governed by rules that restrict babies being filmed for more than 20 minutes at a time, before taking a break of at least 30 minutes, the BBC used 20 real babies. To ensure medical accuracy and to make sure the babies were being taken care of there was always a consultant midwife on set and the babies' mothers were always present as well to watch the scenes being shot. Although some of the babies were as young as just a week old, for the birth scenes they used state-of-the-art lifelike dolls, costing the equivalent of about eight thousand pounds each.

Call the Midwife is based on the best-selling memoirs of Jenny Worth, who led a sheltered upbringing as Jenny Lee before working in the slums of 1950s London. Raine was fortunate enough to have met the author of the series before she died of cancer last year at the age 75. Lee was, according to Raine, "wonderful and wonderfully eccentric. She had read that the lives of midwives hadn't been documented so she decided to put that right, with the help of her husband. She did it all from memory, she was a very sharp woman."

Jessica Raine
In Gethsemane at the National
Theatre in London, 2009

While set in London's East End, as the area nowadays is full of waterside apartment and warehouse conversions, the series was actually filmed in Chatham, Kent.

Although Raine enjoyed playing Lee, she was relieved when it came time to return to the present day.

"Jenny's so buttoned up", says Raine. "She's a proper young lady, but all the clothes they wore, not to mention the underwear! I had to heave on conical bras each day. I couldn't wait to shake it all off. Even the hair was all teased. After filming I wanted to go out dancing to get rid of the 50s primness."

Call the Midwife airs at 8pm on Sunday nights on MPT.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of October 1, 2012:
Waiting for God's Graham Crowden

 

At the request of a viewer, this week we're going to take a look at the life of Scottish actor Clement Graham Crowden, who you probably know better as that lovable eccentric Tom Ballard in Waiting for God.

Graham Crowden
Graham Crowden.

Born in Edinburgh on November 30, 1922, Crowden was the third of four children. After studies at Edinburgh Academy, Crowden joined the Royal Scots Youth Battalion in 1940. His time there was short lived, when he was invalided out after being accidentally shot by his own platoon sergeant! As Crowden once recalled, the Sergeant-Major said "what is it now, Crowden", to which Crowden replied, "I think you've shot me sergeant."

After leaving the army, Crowden was hired as student assistant stage manager at the Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, before being hired in a "spear-carrying" role. A few years later, the 6' 3" tall redhead was treading the boards in repertory theatres across the country and it was while in rep at Pitlochry in 1950, that he met his wife Phyllida Hewat. In addition to acting Hewat was also the costume supervisor. Her first words to him were ""What's your inside leg measurement?" Despite the young Scottish actor's forwardness by encouraging her to find out for herself as he suggested "You hold the tape", the couple were married two years later.

Graham Crowden
With Stephanie Cole in
Waiting for God.

Crowden and Hewett settled in London, where Crowden had numerous small parts in the 1952 season at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park and by the mid-1950s Crowden had become one of the Royal Court Theatre's most prolific actors. In 1965, Crowden left the Royal Court to join the new National Theatre at the Old Vic and while there he originated one of his most acclaimed roles, that of The Player in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Crowden went on to become a fixture at the Royal Shakespeare Company and was one of the busiest theatre actors of his generation. He appeared opposite Vanessa Redgrave in both Ibsen and Chekhov in the West End, and took on the title role of Henry IV parts 1 and 2, as well as Prospero in The Tempest.

Somehow Crowden also managed to find time for film work, where he specialized in playing eccentric doctors, such as the 1973 films O Lucky Man! in which he played Doctor Millar, and The Final Programme, where he was the sinister Doctor Smiles. He also played a doctor in No Way Out, the 1975 pilot episode of what would become one of Britain's best loved comedy series, Porridge, starring Ronnie Barker.

Graham Crowden
In the 1971 film Percy.

After Jon Pertwee turned in his keys to the Tardis in 1974, Crowden was asked to replace him as the Fourth Doctor in Doctor Who. This, however, was one doctor role he didn't accept as it was a three year commitment which would have severely limited other acting opportunities. The role ultimately went to Tom Baker. Crowden did, however, appear in four episodes of the series in the late 1970s, playing the in The Horns of Nimon.

From 1986-88, Crowden starred as yet another doctor in A Very Peculiar Practice, the hit BBC black comedy, where he appeared as Dr. Jock McCannon, the head of a team of university medical center misfits. Yet another doctor role was added to his credits in 1991, when Crowden played a minor character, Sir Hector MacAuliffe, in a Rumpole of the Bailey episode; Rumpole and the Quacks.

Graham Crowden
With Ted Danson in Gulliver's Travels.

Although Crowden had enjoyed a successful career on stage, in films and television, it wasn't until 1990 when he appeared as Tom in Waiting for God, that Crowden became well known as a television star. The show ran from 1990 to 1995; a total of 45 episodes. After the show ended, at the age when most people are thinking of retiring, Crowden continued to act. In 1996 he appeared alongside Ted Danson in the made for television film, Gulliver's Travels.

In 2001, Crowden guest-starred in the Midsomer Murders episode Ring Out Your Dead and in 2003 played Richard in the film Calendar Girls. That film would be Crowden's last, but he continued to act on stage and on the small screen. Despite being in an accident while cycling with his wife on the car-free island of Sark, Crowden returned to the West End as soon as he was able. His stage appearance came almost a decade after the conclusion of Waiting for God; the 2006 revival of Agatha Christie's play And Then There Were None, where he played an eccentric old general. His last television appearance was in 2008, in Foyle's War. In his entire acting career, a career that spanned over half a century, Crowden felt lucky that he'd been able to only pursue the roles he'd wanted to. Not all of his work choices had been financially lucrative, in fact, when asked to pen his own epitaph, he once said "I've done very good work for very bad money."

Graham Crowden
Sarah Crowden.

After suffering a stroke, Crowden continued to be active in the actor's union, but on October 19, 2010, after a short illness he died peacefully at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. His wife of 58 years made her last television appearance in a 2006 episode of Rosemary & Thyme. Together the couple had four children; Harry, Lucy, Sarah and Kate. Of the four only Sarah has followed in her father's footsteps by becoming an actor. You can see Ms. Crowden next year on MPT in Downton Abbey where she appears in episode two as "Lady Manville".

If you've got a favorite Afternoon Tea actor you'd like to know more about, or have questions about any of the shows you enjoy on MPT, drop us a line.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of September 24, 2012:
Doc Martin's Ian McNeice

 

Recently one of our Afternoon Tea viewers was surprised to see the name of Ian McNeice in the credits of Chef! Mr. McNeice was already familiar with our viewer from his role as Bert Large in Doc Martin, but she had no idea he was also the French sous chef Gustave LaRoche. So this week I thought we'd take a look at this larger than life actor and maybe see what other shows he might have under his belt.

Ian McNeice
Ian McNeice.

Although McNeice was born in Basingstoke, Hampshire, on October 2, 1950, his schooling took place in Somerset. His father Frederick, who was a very successful businessman with a senior position in an American based drug company, packed him off at the age of just seven years old to Taunton School, a private boarding school. Although McNeice didn't want to go, his father insisted as he felt the death of McNeice's older brother Alistair, who had been knocked down by a car outside the family house at the age of 12, was resulting in his wife becoming overprotective of their youngest child.

Recalls McNeice, more than fifty years later, "my mother became overprotective towards me and gave me everything I wanted, including food, which meant I piled on the pounds very quickly. My father took the opposite approach. While mum wanted to mollycoddle and protect me, dad was worried about me becoming spoiled and packed me off to public school as soon as he could".

From that point on MacNeice feels his life was changed forever. Although McNeice hadn't actually seen his brother, to whom he was close, die, he was aware of what had happened and was "utterly traumatized". So much so that he developed a stutter which made his time in boarding school even more hateful.

Ian McNeice
In School for Scandal.

"I was the fat boy with the stutter", says McNeice, "the perfect target for bullies." The students nicknamed the sad chubby boy Toto, because whenever he tried to say the word "tomorrow" he would get the "to-to" part of the word out way before he finished the word.

Looking back, McNeice believes that in an odd way his weight problems and stammer became the foundations of his career as an entertainer. As he explains, "to deal with the bullies, I would make them laugh and gradually the bullying stopped when the other boys saw me more as class joker than as someone to be picked on."

The bullying may have stopped but the stammer persisted. McNeice vividly remembers his first television appearance after graduating from the London Academy of Music and Drama. He had just two lines in the BBC drama Warship, one which had the word "lieutenant" in it. No matter how hard he tried, McNeice could not say the world without struggling. Eventually the director suggested the word be changed to the character's nickname "Jimmy", but McNeice stammered over that too. He then told the director they could pay him half his fee – for the line he could deliver – and that the line he couldn't deliver should be said over the ship's Tannoy. Which they did.

Ian McNeice
As Winston Churchill.

As well as television, McNeice has also enjoyed a stage career, which includes a four year stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company and a production of Nicholas Nickleby on Broadway. Over the years McNeice's stammering has lessened, although he still laughingly admits that he's amazed "at many teas I've ordered in cafes when what I'd really wanted is coffee!"

McNeice's weight on the other hand remains a constant problem. One time when taping a Christmas special of Doc Martin, he was horrified to find that he'd put on so much weight he couldn't get into the little red plumber's van his character drove around. The special effects people had to take out the seats and create a new one that fit him, so he could get in and drive. The costumer for the show would also complain that two tape measures were needed to get around McNeice's stomach!

Ian McNeice
In Doc Martin with the dreaded red van.

It was after seeing himself in that Christmas special, and after his agent told him his weight, which was almost 400lbs, was affecting him getting cast in new roles, that McNeice took the advice of his girlfriend, American-born movie production coordinator Cindy Franke, and joined Weight Watchers. It worked and although he knows he'll always be chubby, the weight loss brought his blood pressure down and gave him a new lease of life. It also meant the old seats in the little red van could go back in, and his costumer can get by with just one tape measure.

McNeice also thinks that without his weight loss he'd have never been cast in an episode of New Tricks, or in the role as a Nazi conspirator in the Tom Cruise film Valkyrie, about an assassination attempt on Hitler. McNeice's other big screen credits include The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearn, 84 Charing Cross Road, Day of the Dead, No Escape, Ace Ventura Pet Detective: When Nature Calls with Jim Carey, The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill And Came Down A Mountain, starring Hugh Grant, White Noise and Around the World in 80 Days.

Ian McNeice
In Valkyrie.

McNiece is, however, best known for his TV work, which along with Doc Martin, New Tricks and Chef!, includes Sharpe, Lovejoy, Edge of Darkness, Lewis, The Bill and Minder with George Cole. He was also in the joint HBO/BBC mini-series Rome in a recurring minor character, the Forum news crier, as well as the 2001 BBC/HBO TV film, Conspiracy.

McNeice was also cast in the role of Illyrio Mopatis in the HBO pilot of Game of Thrones, but had to drop out before the series could be filmed because of scheduling conflicts. His latest stage work was in this past July when he was in the School for Scandal. In April of this year, he played Winston Churchill in a stage adaptation of The King's Speech.

Ian McNeice
As the Town Crier in Rome.

McNeice's one disappointment is that his parent didn't live to see how successful he's become in his chosen career. His mother died when McNeice was young and his father suffered a massive stroke soon after he retired, which was a long time before McNeice's career took off. Although his father, of whom McNeice was in awe and found terrifying because of his temper, did get to see McNeice in a pantomime version of Humpty Dumpty when he watched his son from his wheelchair with a nurse in attendance. "When the production finished, I asked the nurse what my dad had thought of me on stage", recalls McNeice. "She smiled and said, 'He obviously enjoyed it because he didn't doze off once'. I suppose it was a compliment of sorts."

In sharp contrast, McNeice doesn't hold back in praising his own children - Travers (28), Angus (27) and Maisie (24) - who he had when he was married to actress Kate Nicholls. To McNeice's relief, none of his children have gone into acting. Instead, Maisie attended the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Travers got a masters at Oxford University in biology, and Angus is a speech writer for Lord Bilimoria, who founded Cobra Beer. "They are three very fine young people and I'm exceedingly proud of all three of them", says McNeice.

If you've got a favorite Afternoon Tea actor you'd like to know more about, or have questions about any of the shows you enjoy on MPT, drop us a line.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of September 17, 2012:
Wallander writer Henning Mankell

 

If you're a fan of Masterpiece Mystery's Wallander series, I thought you might like to know more about the man who authored the books from which the series was conceived.

Henning Mankell
Henning Mankell.

Henning Mankell was born in Stockholm on February 3, 1948. When he was just one year old, his mother left the family home, leaving Mankell's father, who was a court judge, to bring up Mankell and his older sister Helena and his brother Gustav. The family moved north, after his father took a job in Harjedalen, a province in central Sweden. Life in the small town of Sveg, which according to Mankell was "bears and Christmas Tree forests," was a very different experience from living in the city. Although cold and remote, Mankell remembers Harjedalen as being a "wonderful place in which to grow up" and the dark winter days were among the "happiest of his childhood".

Judge Mankell and his children lived in an apartment above the law courts where he worked and it wasn't long before Mankell's grandmother, a widow, joined the family as care giver. It is she whom Mankell credits with teaching him to write at the age of six. Memories of the experience of penning his first sentence, then another, then an entire one page summary of Robinson Crusoe stick with Mankell to this day. "It was a miraculous feeling. It was at that moment I became an author."

Writing was probably greatly encouraged by Mankell's father as when court was in session each Monday the children needed to be quiet. Sometimes they were allowed to watch their father at work. One time Mankell remembers in particular was when he got to help in a court case by loaning his toy cars to help demonstrate how a traffic accident had occurred. Mankell's exposure to the world of murder also came as a child when his school holidays once were extended while his father investigated a local murder. It seemed inevitable that Mankell would grow up to be interested in the justice system and how it works.

Henning Mankell
Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander.

As well as encouraging Mankell to write, his father also encouraged a love of reading and classical music. Judge Mankell's ancestors had been musicians by profession, church organists and violin players, so it isn't surprising Mankell's books are filled with musical references. (As well as opera, which is also Inspector Wallander's passion, Mankell is a big fan of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.)

When Mankell was thirteen his father moved again, this time to the city of Borås, north west of Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast. Mankell left school when he was 16 and went to live in Paris. Not long after, he signed up to be a merchant seaman and worked for two years on a Swedish ship ferrying coal and iron ore to Europe and America. Despite, what Mankall describes as some "long boring days", he loved the experience, especially "the ship's decent hard-working community", which Mankall says "was my real university." It was also what Mankell calls "a romantic Conradian dream of escape."

After leaving the ship in 1966, Mankell went back to live in Paris where he stayed for eighteen months, surviving on very little money. "I don't know how I did it", recalls Mankell, "but I did". In 1968 he returned to Sweden to embark on a career in theatre. His first job was as a stagehand at a Stockholm theatre and it was while working there that he wrote his first play; The Amusement Park, about Swedish colonial interests in 19th century South America.

Henning Mankell
 

In 1973 Mankell's first novel, The Stone Blaster, was released. Sadly, Mankell's father died shortly before the novel was published. Not long after, Mankell travelled to Africa, where the minute he got off the plane he felt he'd "come home". In 1986, Mankell was invited to run Teatro Avenida, a theatre based in Mocambique, Maputo. Since 1984 Mankell has been head of another theatre called Kronobersteatern in Vaxjo, hence there being no Mankell novels published from 1984-1990. He made a comeback in 1990, publishing two books in the same year; The Eye of the Leopard, and the children's book A Bridge to the Stars. The following year, the world was introduced to detective Kurt Wallander, through the publication of Mankell's first Wallander novel, Faceless Killers.

The impetus for the Wallander series came about after Mankell returned to Sweden after being away for some time and became aware that "racism was exploding." As Mankell explains "I decided to write about that. To me racism is a crime, and I thought: Ok, I'll use the crime story. Then I realized I needed a police officer, and I picked the name Wallander out of the telephone directory. It was May the 20th 1989 when Kurt was born."

Although the first Wallander novel was a national success, it was not until the third novel, The White Lioness was published that the series became a best seller. Mankell set that novel partly in South Africa, and he wrote it "as an invocation, that nothing would go wrong during the South African election."

Henning Mankell
Mankell breaks ground on his
African children's home.

As well as dedicating himself to resolving problems that tear his beloved continent of Africa apart, Mankell is equally committed to the fight against AIDS. In fact, much of his spare time is spent working on his "memory books" project, which chronicles the life stories in words and pictures of parents dying with AIDS. It is Mankell's hope that "maybe in 500 years these "memory books" will be a great record of African times. My hope is to store them in the new Alexandrian library in Egypt."

In 2007, Mankell and his wife, Eva Bergman, whom he married in 1998, donated money to fund the construction of 15 houses for 150 orphans in Mocambique, South East Africa. As Mankell explains, "there are 800,000 orphans in this country. I can't help them all but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't help some. To me this is no sacrifice, it's a privilege."

Mankell's generosity doesn't just extend to Africa. In 2008, he put his support behind the organization Hand to Hand, aimed at empowering poor women in India to rise above their poverty.

Henning Mankell
Mankell with his wife, director
Eva Berman.

In June of 2008, Mankell finally got to go to University, not as a student, but as the recipient of an honorary doctorate, given by St. Andrews University. Past honorary doctors at St Andrews include the Dalai Lama and Bob Dylan, two people with whom one would think Mankell would share a lot common.

Someone who Mankell does not think he'd get along well with, however, is Detective Kurt Wallander. "I am not sure we would be friends if we met in real life", says Mankell. "We share a love of music and a Calvinist attitude to work, but otherwise we are quite different and I don't like him very much."

Unlike the millions of viewers all over the world. If you're one of those viewers, be sure to tune in for Masterpiece Mystery's Wallander Sunday at 9pm. And if you're a Wallander viewer whose financial support to Maryland Public Television has helped bring the series into our home, on behalf of Masterpiece Mystery fans, thank you.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of September 10, 2012:
Inspector Lewis' Laurence Fox

 

Actor Laurence Fox, who plays Detective Sergeant James Hathaway in Masterpiece Mystery's Inspector Lewis, is the subject of this week's Tidbits.

Laurence Fox
Fox with his father James and Kevin Whately
in Inspector Lewis.

Born in Yorkshire in 1978, Fox is the son of actor James Fox, who gave up acting in the early 1970s when he became an evangelical Christian. Fox the elder returned to acting in the mid-1980s and appeared alongside his son in an episode of the third season of Inspector Lewis. Fox the junior's uncle is Edward Fox, who played King Edward VIII in Edward & Mrs. Simpson, as well as the title role in The Day of the Jackal. His uncle Robert Fox and his cousin Emilia and sister Lydia are also actors.

When Fox was 13 he was enrolled at Harrow; an exclusive private school known for its strict regime. It was not a good fit for the shy, sensitive Fox. He felt "despised, criticized and out of place among the wealthy and titled". He rebelled by smoking, fighting, going into town and seeing girls. After five years, just weeks before his final exams, Fox was expelled.

"It was something to do with a girl at a dance," recalls Fox. "I went back to take the exams, but I wasn't allowed to speak to anyone."

Despite the fact Fox did well in his exams, his expulsion from Harrow prevented him from getting into University. For a few years he lived at his parent's home in Wimbledon working as a gardener, then in an office analyzing seismological date. When his father asked him one weekend over breakfast if he'd ever thought of becoming an actor, figuring he had nothing to lose, Fox auditioned for and was eventually accepted into the Royal Academy of Drama Art in London.

Laurence Fox
Fox and Piper on
their wedding day.

"RADA was good because it was the first thing I ever took seriously – especially when they first told me I didn't have a place. I made it my business to get in. It was the first time I was serious about something in my life."

Fox's time at RADA was, however, wasn't all a bed of roses. As he had at Harrow he continued to be outspoken and defiant and that, along with the fact he was an "Old Harrovian" didn't go down well with his fellow students. One of the things that made him unpopular was his acceptance of roles outside of the school, something the school forbade. One of the roles turned out to be Fox's first break into films – a 2001 horror film called The Hole. He followed that up with an appearance in Robert Altman's 2001 Academy award-winning film Gosford Park.

In 2005 Fox appeared in the made for television film Colditz. His performance so impressed actor Kevin Whately, who caught just the last ten minutes of the film, that the next day at a meeting Whately suggested that Fox "would be worth taking a look at" for the role of Hathaway in Inspector Lewis.

Fox's portrayal as Hathaway has proved key to the success of the series. While Fox and Lewis might seem an unlikely on-screen pairing, both have developed a rapport between their characters that spills over into their private lives as well. In defining their relationship Fox jokingly says, "I annoy him. He forgives me", which is fine with Whately who enjoys playing the "slightly disapproving uncle" to Fox.

Laurence Fox
Fox, Piper and eldest son Winston.

Both actors can't see themselves in the roles for much longer. As Fox explains, "Hathaway is cool, unflappable, decisive; he's who I'd really like to be, instead of the undisciplined mess I am. But it's a part that involves asking questions – the same questions – in every episode and looking unimpressed by the answers. I think I need to broaden my range before I start randomly arresting people down the pub."

Helping Fox ponder his decision as to when it might be time to quit the force is his wife, actress Billie Piper. The couple met in 2006, when they were performing in a play together. Despite Piper seeing the 6' 5" tall Yorkshire man once lose his temper with a paparazzo and get arrested for assault, she moved in with him. They were married on New Year's Eve 2007 in the 12th century parish church of St. Mary's in Eastbourne. Their son Winston James Fox was born in October of 2008 and a second son, Eugene Pip was born just this year on April 2nd. Together the family live in a country cottage in the market town of Midhurst in West Sussex.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of September 3, 2012:
Inspector Lewis' Kevin Whately

 

Kevin Whately
Kevin Whately as Inspector Lewis,
with Laurence Fox.

This week we're going to chat about actor Kevin Whately, who first came to our attention twenty five years ago as Sergeant Lewis in the Inspective Morse crime series. In recent years we've also enjoyed seeing Whately as the title role of the Inspector Lewis Masterpiece Mystery series.

Born in Northumberland on February 6, 1951, Whately's mother Mary was a teacher of English and History and his father Richard was a Commander in the Royal Navy. Whately's great-grandmother, Doris Phillips, was a professional concert singer who sang with BBC radio broadcasts and his great-great-grandfather was Richard Whately, an Anglican Archbishop of Dublin.

One of four children, Whately, who lost his father when he was still in his teens, was a shy kid, who took refuge in being on stage and hiding behind his characters. His career advisor at school, however, told him there was no future in acting and recommended he pick a different job.

Kevin Whately
With his mother Mary in
1996, as he received an
honorary degree.

As Whately recalls, "acting was like wanting to go to the moon and this guy said, 'There's no future in that son, what else do you want to do?' So I said I wanted to be a big business tycoon, which I didn't, it just popped out of my mouth. He got me signed up with Price Waterhouse within two days and for four years I was indentured to do auditing."

By 1975 Whately had had his fill of bean counting, and went off to study acting at London's Central School of Speech and Drama. After graduating, it took a few years before Whately got steady acting work. Then in 1983, came his breakthrough role; Neville Hope, a main character, in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet; a comedy drama series about the lives of migrant construction workers. The series ran through 1986 – it was also revived for a couple of years in 2002 – and it brought Whately to the attention of John Thaw, who asked him to read for the role of Robbie Lewis.

To prepare for the audition Whately went to the library to check out the Colin Dexter novels and was surprised to find that Sgt. Lewis was 63 years old! "I thought, 'Well I'm not going to get this'", recalls Whately. The show's producers, however, thought otherwise and after seeing Whately's performance even Dexter himself agreed that the younger Lewis was an improvement on the character he'd originally created.

Kevin Whately
Whately and John Thaw.

Whately went on to play Sergeant Lewis for fourteen years, appearing in all thirty two episodes of the show. After the series concluded with the death of Morse, followed two years later by the death of the actor who played him, John Thaw, television executives began to lobby Whately to allow them to give Lewis his own show.

The idea of promoting Sgt. Lewis wasn't a new one. According to Whately, "it had been suggested for years and I had pooh-poohed it. It wasn't until [executive producer] Ted Childs actually said 'How about this?' that I thought seriously about it."

Ultimately it was Whately's wife, actress Madalaine Newton, who encouraged her husband to allow Lewis to "put in for a promotion". Newton, who actually appeared as Morse's ill–fated love interest in the episode "Masonic Mysteries", and Whately have been together since 1980. When they first met, Newton was the bigger celebrity, having starred in the highly popular 1970s BBC drama When the Boat Comes In with New Tricks actor James Bolam. Over time Whately became the breadwinner and Newton put her career on hold to raise their two children, Catherine ("Kitty") and Keiran.

With their own children now raised, Whately and Norton, who married in 1984, are enjoying helping look after their six year old granddaughter Ivy, while her opera singing parents are on tour. According to Whately he's a hands-on grandparent and is as good at changing diapers as he is as running around the park.

Kevin Whately
Whately and his wife,
Madelaine Newton.

The couple's 30 year old son, Keiran still lives at the family home in Milton Keynes, which according to Whately "works very well as we all get along. His mum and I are often away working, so it's nice to know there's someone looking after the house too."

Whately and Newton recently celebrated their 30th anniversary of being together, and when questioned about the longevity of their marriage, Whately puts it down to the fact that neither of them is "particularly ambitious".

"We're on the same wavelength," says Whately, "we often instinctively know how each other feels about something."

The one thing the couple doesn't have in common is their views on romance. "Madelaine is more romantic than me", says Whately "I'm as romantic as a plastic chair!"

As well as supporting Whately in his acting career, Newton was also a great support to him when he was dealing with the deteriorating health of his mother Mary, a victim of Alzheimer's disease, who died a couple of years ago. She died while Whately was filming Lewis and the rest of the family was away.

"Luckily I had just wrapped up for the day", says Whately "and I was told she had gone into a coma. I went straight there and she came round so I got to sit with her before she died."

Looking after his mother for a number of years before she went into a home had not been easy.

"At one point Mum would decide: 'Right I'm off home now', even though it might be 4 o'clock in the morning and she lived 300 miles away!"

Kevin Whately
Whately visits with a dementia patient
to help with therapy.

As his mother's disease progressed, Whately became more and more involved in advocating for Alzheimers victims. He serves as Alzheimer's Society Ambassador, and in 2009 made a documentary for television that investigated the state of dementia care in the UK.

"As a family", says Whately "we had to fight to get her the best possible care for our mother to ensure she has support from properly trained care staff. As a son and as an Alzheimer's Society Ambassador, I felt it was vital to campaign to improve dementia care for every family and those who can't speak out".

As well as campaigning for Alzheimer's care, Whately is also involved in numerous other charities, including a children's home north of Oxford. He also fronted the Magdalen Bridge restoration appeal. Having filmed in Oxford for a quarter of a century the town has become like a second home to Whately, but now that he's reaching what he calls "police retirement age", Whately thinks it might soon be time to turn in his badge.

Retiring from the fictional Oxford police force would give Whately more time for the things he enjoys most, such as cricket, taking long walks, playing his guitar, or listening to classical music – something he picked up from John Thaw - and of course spending time with his family.

Next week we'll take a look at Lewis's partner, Hathaway, played by Laurence Fox. And don't forget to drop me a line if there's an actor you'd like to learn more about.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of August 27, 2012:
The Old Guys' Jane Asher

 

Jane Asher
Jane Asher in The Old Guys.

An actress we see every week on Afternoon Tea is a woman who, although acting since she was a child, is probably most famous for something she didn't do - that is marry Paul McCartney. I'm talking of course about Jane Asher, who plays Sally in The Old Guys.

Asher, who dated Sir Paul for five years, was born April 5th, 1946, in Willesden, North West London. Her father, Dr. Richard Asher, was a consultant in blood and mental disease at the Central Middlesex Hospital in London and was the first to identify Munchausen's syndrome.

Asher's mother was an oboe professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. One of her pupils in the late 1940s was George Martin, who studied piano and oboe at the school and would go onto be the Beatles producer.

Asher, who was educated at Queen's College in Harley Street, made her film debut at the age of five and when she was just seven years old starred in the film Mandy and in 1955 was in the science fiction film The Quartermass Xperiment. By the time she was fifteen, Asher had appeared in eight films, made nine television appearances, over 100 radio appearances and had been in five plays.

Jane Asher
Paul McCartney and Jane Asher.

In 1963, when she was not quite 17, she was already a popular panelist on the hit musical show Juke Box Jury. That was also the age at which she'd become involved with one of the world's most eligible bachelors, Paul McCartney.

The couple met when Asher was sent by the BBC program publication Radio Times to cover a Beatles concert at the Royal Albert Hall that was going to be aired live. Having only ever seen Asher on the television in black and white, McCartney thought she was a blonde, and he instantly fell for the titian-haired beauty.

According to John Lennon's fist wife, Cynthia, "Paul fell like a ton of bricks for Jane. For Paul, Jane Asher was a great prize."

It didn't take long before McCartney had moved into Asher's parent's home in London – an 18th century townhouse with six floors. McCartney lived in the attic room at the house for three years. It was a time he'd remember with great fondness. As McCartney recalled years later "there were people there and food and a homey atmosphere, and Jane being my girlfriend, it was kind of perfect!"

Jane Asher
Paul McCartney and Jane Asher.

Life in the Asher household was a world apart from what McCartney was used to back in working class Liverpool. The family was upper-middle-class with sophisticated tastes and interests. The aristocratic Mrs. Asher didn't just provide a place for McCartney to eat and sleep while in London, she also gave him music lessons. It was under her tutelage that McCartney learned how to play the recorder, which he would later incorporate into the accompaniment for the song "The Fool on the Hill." "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was also written in Mrs. Asher's music room, as was "Yesterday", the chords of which McCartney says he dreamed up and fell out of bed to play on the piano the Asher's had let him move into the attic.

In 1966, Asher and McCartney moved into their own London home and the following year Asher embarked on a five month tour of America with the Bristol Old Vic, appearing in Romeo and Juliet.

On Christmas Day, 1967, the couple became engaged and a couple of months later Asher accompanied the Beatles to India. On their return to England, Asher was working in Bristol at the Old Vic while McCartney remained at their London home. He was not alone and when Asher returned unexpectedly and discovered McCartney in bed with another woman, she walked out and sent her mother back to collect her belongings. Despite subsequent reconciliation attempts by July the relationship was over.

In the almost fifty years since Asher and McCartney first got together, Asher refuses to talk publicly about their relationship. Instead, she has worked tirelessly not just at her main profession as an actress, but also as an author and businesswoman (in 1990, Asher founded Jane Asher Party Cakes and Sugarcraft).

Jane Asher
Asher and husband,
Gerald Scarfe.

Asher met her husband, illustrator Gerald Scarfe, in 1971 at the 10th anniversary party of Private Eye magazine, of which she is a shareholder. Their first child Katie was born in 1974 and their two sons, Alex and Rory in 1981 and 1984 respectively.

Asher is also actively involved in a number of charitable organizations. She is president of Arthritis Care, the National Autistic Society, the Parkinson's Disease Society and the West London Family Service Unit, and is vice president of the Child Accident Prevention Trust.

You can see Jane Asher Tuesday at 1pm in The Old Guys on Afternoon Tea.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of August 20, 2012:
Bob Hoskins retires

 

Bob Hoskins
Bob Hoskins.

Actor Bob Hoskins recently announced his retirement from acting after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The 1978 Pennies from Heaven drama series, in which Hoskins appeared as song sheet salesman, Arthur Parker, is still for me one of the all-time great British television imports.

Hoskins, whose grandmother was a Romany gypsy, was born Robert William "Bob" Hoskins, Jr. on October 26, 1942, in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. His mother Elsie, a nursery school cook, had been evacuated there after the heavy bombings in London. Two weeks after Hoskins was born, they returned to Finsbury Park in London to rejoin his father Robert who was first a van driver, then a bookkeeper at a large furniture removals company.

Life for the young Hoskins was that of a typical working class Londoner. He lived with his parents in a one-bedroom bathroomless flat, where his bed was a folding camp-bed in the front room. Living in North London not only gave a Hoskins the accent he'd forever be associated with, but it also gave him his looks. A knife wound he got as a cocky teen for mouthing off at some of the local hard core lads, for instance, left him with a hollow between the eyes. During another fight an attacker stuck a blade into his stomach.

Bob Hoskins
In The Long Good Friday
with Helen Mirran.

"That's what happened back then," said Hoskins many years later, "You got through it. You survived."

At school Hoskins had been labeled "stupid" by teachers who failed to recognize his dyslexia, so he left school when he was fifteen and despite the temptations of the glamour of London's gangland, he resisted the lures of getting rich quick through crime. This despite once being taken to meet the city's underworld mobsters, Ronnie and Reggie Kray who lived at their mother's council flat near Hoskins' home.

Instead Hoskins took a variety of jobs, including being trainee accountant, a Covent Garden market porter, a window cleaner, a steeplejack and a sailor. Once in the mid-sixties he even set off to a kibbutz in Israel where he spent four months farming bananas. He also worked as a camel herder in Syria, a crewman in the Norwegian merchant navy and a circus fire-eater.

Bob Hoskins
Pennies from Heaven.

About the only thing Hoskins didn't attempt was setting foot in a theatre school and he was always proud to boast that he never took one single acting lesson in his life. He had, however, always harbored a dream of being an actor and the chance came completely by accident one night when he was in a pub with a friend who was waiting to audition for a role with a local theatre group. By mistake, Hoskins was handed a script and told "you're next". His impromptu audition was good enough to get him the job.

Not long after, Hoskins got himself an agent and after a few more stage roles, he started to get cast in television and films. By the mid-1970s Hoskins was drawing a lot of attention with his television roles as Alf in On the Move, an educational series about a removal man who had problems reading and writing, and as Arthur Parker in Dennis Potter's musical drama Pennies from Heaven.

Hoskins was 36, when he made the award winning controversial BBC series, which he quickly followed up with his first major film role; gangster Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday, which also starred Helen Mirran. But while Hoskins career might have been on the rise, his personal life was in turmoil.

Bob Hoskins
With daughter, Rosa.

On his return from the Kibbutz in Israel in the mid-60s, Hoskins had married a schoolteacher, Jane Livesey, but the marriage was not a happy one. "It was an awful relationship", said Hoskins, "I wasn't mature enough for marriage. I married her because she had my son. We shouldn't have been together. I was a romantic and she was an intellectual." Along with Alex, who was born in 1968, the couple also had a daughter, Sarah, who was born in 1972.

The end came after Hoskins confessed to an affair he'd had in South Africa while making the film Zulu Dawn. The divorce was a bitter one. "It was the most awful time in my life", said Hoskins of the experience which he said "sent him off his rocker". Hoskins gives credit to psychotherapy for the eventual recovery from what was a nervous breakdown.

Bob Hoskins
With wife, Linda.

Hoskins met his current wife, Linda on July 29, 1981; the day of Prince Charles's wedding to Diana. As Hoskins remembered it, "I had made up this woman in my head and on the royal wedding day, when they kept the pubs open late, I walked into one place and there she was, Linda, sipping a G&T at the bar and I thought, "you are mine." He was so poor after his divorce from Jane, however, that he was living in his car, so he parked it in Linda's driveway in the hope she would invite him in. She did and now over 30 years and two children later the couple are still together.

Bob Hoskins
In Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

With the success of his marriage to Linda and his Oscar-nominated role in the film Mona Lisa, Hoskins seemed to be back on track emotionally. He was then given the role of acting opposite cartoon characters in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The intensity of having to work in front of a blue screen every day gave Hoskins splitting headaches and disturbing dreams.

"I'd wake up and keep hallucinating," he said. "I'd see weasels pulling people's hair. I thought I was going potty. I had trained myself to hallucinate and in the end it [messed] up my brain. I would be sitting, talking normally and suddenly a weasel would creep out of the wall at me."

Bob Hoskins
As Smee in Hook.

The stress of the role resulted in another breakdown and Hoskins was told by doctors not to work for five months. Ultimately he took a year off, something he could now afford to do as the film was hugely successful and Hoskins was now able to command seven-figure fees.

Now a favorite with children, Hoskins played the romantic lead opposite Cher in Mermaids and was Mr. Smee to Dustin Hoffman's Captain Hook in Hook. Hoskin's latest film - and what he announced would be his last film role - was as a dwarf named Muir in the Hollywood adventure film Snow White and the Huntsman which starred Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth.

Our thoughts go out to Mr. Hoskins and his family and thank him for the great body of work he produced over the years.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of August 13, 2012:
Lark Rise to Candleford's John Dagleish

 

Time for another viewer request; this week it's John Dagleish, who played honest Alf Arless in Lark Rise to Candleford.

John Dagleish
John Dagleish as Alf Arless.

Like his character, Dagleish, who was born in 1981, is a hard worker who began performing when he was just five years old. That was when he and his little sister were in an amateur dramatics production of South Pacific at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, Essex, not too far from his home town of Kelvedon.

Dagleish's determination to make it as an actor stayed with him until he headed for London when he was 18. Unfortunately, breaking into the professional acting world was a lot harder than he imagined. As Dagleish explains, "I was thinking I was going to walk into an acting job, or get an agent and it would happen, but I ended up with a dodgy agency that weren't very good."

For the next five years the boy from the country ended up doing a lot of odd jobs, including a stint as a barman. It wasn't until he saw Jim Broadbent and David Tennant in a show called The Pillowman that he realized he'd better get himself a proper dramatic education.

"It was awesome," remembers Dagleish. "Something just made me feel angry I wasn't a part of it. It was so good. I left [the play] with a sort of annoyance that I wasn't a part of that world as much as I could be."

After doing his homework as to which drama school would push him the hardest, Dagleish enrolled at The Drama Center in London.

"I hadn't done any proper acting for five years, just a couple of amateur types with the other jobs I was doing to pay the rent. I needed something that was going to be intense to kick start me again. So I did three years there, and it was really hard."

Dagleish's determination paid off and before he'd even graduated, the fresh-faced Essex boy was picked up by the BBC for Lark Rise to Candleford. He'd auditioned for the role of Alfie a couple of months before the end of school and was cast three weeks before he graduated. Immediately after his final graduation performance on a Saturday night he was on a train heading for work, as his scenes were being shot the very next day.

John Dagleish
With Brendan Coyle in Starlings.

For the entire first series of the show, Dagleish felt like a deer in the headlights, because of his lack of film training. His training at the Drama Center had all been very classically focused – ballet, opera, etc. – and Dagleish didn't feel he was "camera ready" and he definitely didn't feel he was qualified to work with the likes of Brendan Coyle and Julia Sawalha.

"That first series you can see the fear in my eyes," says Dagleish. "Maybe it was my naivety about it that they picked up on. The character was a slightly naive, unworldly kind of chap. Maybe they saw that when I walked in - it was one of my first auditions."

As well as learning to act for the camera, Dagleish also had to learn to play a melodeon. Knowing that seven million people would be tuning into the show gave Dagleish the necessary willpower to learn the instrument. By the second series, he was playing well enough that the director would come to him and say "we need a song about this, with this kind of feel" and he'd go off and find the songs himself for the show.

Before long, Dagleish became identified so much with his Lark Rise character that old ladies would stop him in the street and pinch his cheeks, cooing all the while!

John Dagleish
In Beaver Falls.

After Lark Rise was cancelled after the fourth series, Dagleish got a starring role in a comedy series for Sky1 TV called Starlings, set in Manchester. His latest television role could not be more different than nice guy Alfie. He plays one of three just-graduated British students working as counselors at a fictional summer camp for the teenage kids of wealthy Californians. The series is called Beaver Falls and while set in California, the show, now in its second season, was filmed on location in South Africa, amid vineyards, mountains and wildebeest; a far cry from the Lark Rise location in the South West of England with its rolling countryside and pouring rain.

Given the high South African temperatures, it was a relief to Dagleish that his new role was a contemporary one. As he tells it, "I was very glad to be rid of the corduroy and the breeches and the hats and the waistcoats and the gaiters and the big boots."

If you've got a favorite Afternoon Tea actor you'd like to see featured let us know.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of August 6, 2012:
Geoffrey Hughes, 1944-2012

 

Geoffrey Hughes
Geoffrey Hughes.

Condolences have been pouring in since our announcement last week on the passing of actor Geoffrey Hughes, whose cheeky gap-toothed grin as Onslow in Keeping Up Appearances has been brightening up our afternoons for so many years.

Hughes, who was born February 2 1944 in Wallasey, Cheshire, across the Mersey from Liverpool, was the eldest of two sons to a Scottish mother and a Welsh dock-working father. He attended high school in the Norris Green area of Liverpool and on leaving school worked as a salesman during the day, while performing with an amateur theatrical group, the Merseyside Unity Theatre, at night.

It was actor Tom Bell who was responsible for Hughes taking up acting professionally, when he was taken by his friend screenwriter Alun Owen to see a play Owen had written being performed by the left wing Unity. Bell was so impressed by the young Hughes that he told him to pack his bags and return to London with him where he'd get him an agent.

Geoffrey Hughes
In Coronation Street.

It took Hughes six months before he decided to accept Bell's offer, during which time he quit his job and started working in repertory at the Victoria Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent. When he did make the move to London, Bell was as good as his word, and less than a year later Hughes was making his West End debut in Lionel Bart and Alun Owen's musical Maggie May. Before long, Hughes was also appearing in many of England's most popular television series, such as Z Cars, Dad's Army and The Likely Lads.

Hughes' agent also got him roles in several films, including Smashing Time (1967), The Bofors Gun (1968), The Virgin Soldiers (1969) and Carry On At Your Convenience (1971), but the film Hughes would be remembered for most was one in which he was heard but not seen; the 1968 animated Beatles film, Yellow Submarine, in which Hughes provided the voice for Paul McCartney.

In 1974, Hughes shot to fame on the small screen playing the role of dustbin man Eddie in Britain's popular soap opera Coronation Street. It was a role he'd play for nine years, until 1983, when he left the show because he feared he was being typecast. Also, the weekly trek to tape the show at Granada television studios in Manchester was keeping Hughes away from his 240-acre sheep farm in Northamptonshire where he lived with his wife Sue, who he'd first met in a pub owned by his Coronation Street cast mate Pat Phoenix.

Geoffrey Hughes
With wife, Sue.

As well as keeping sheep, the Hughes' had renovated many of the old buildings on the farm, turning one of them into a craft center which his wife ran. Hughes loved living in the countryside and especially enjoyed the old-time traditions, such as Morris Dancing. In 1990 though he was thankfully enticed back to television to play lovable ruffian Onslow in Keeping Up Appearances, which ran for five years.

It was while working on Keeping Up Appearances that Hughes was first diagnosed with prostate cancer for which he underwent surgery in 1996. When learning that he had cancer, Hughes said: "If I died tomorrow I could not complain about my life", And just six weeks after surgery, Hughes was living life to the fullest touring Australia in the Alan Ayckbourn play Bedroom Farce.

Geoffrey Hughes
With produce from Wood End Enterprises.

He seemed to have made a full recovery and in 2003 he and his wife moved to the Isle of Wight; an ideal setting for Hughes to combine his love of countryside and boating. For years, Hughes had attended Cowes International Yacht Races. Living on the island meant that as well as yachting Hughes was also able to develop other interests, such as the numerous local charities and organizations he supported and patronized, such as the Red Squirrel Trust and the Earl Mountbatten Hospice

Along with his wife and two others, Hughes also helped run Wood End Enterprises; a wood chip supply business that he founded with his wife and two others. Based out of their home, near Newport, the aim of it was to regenerate the couple's 23 acres of woodland and harvest the otherwise useless timber as fuel for eco-friendly biomass boilers. For years Hughes had been known as a "tree lover" and vocal supporter of green energy, and his eco-house was built using timber from his woodland.

Geoffrey Hughes
With Prince Charles at the Royal
Berkshire shooting school in Pangbourne.

Hughes' active involvement in his new community lead to his appointment in 2009 as Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the island, which meant that on special occasions Hughes was the official link between the island and the Royal Family. A year after his appointment, in 2010 Hughes was attending a charity event when he collapsed from extreme back pains. The prostate cancer had returned. He was immediately rushed into hospital where he underwent intense radiotherapy. Soon after he would suffer a stroke and lose mobility. His remaining days were spent confined to a wheelchair and on July 27, doctors reported that Hughes had "died peacefully in his sleep" at the Earl Mountbatten Hospice.

On learning about her on-screen brother-in-law's death, 83 year old Patricia Routledge who played Hyacinth Bucket said she "felt very, very sad. He was a most lovable man, just delightful and great fun to work with. He was just wonderful to have around. He never made a fuss and just got on with the work. He was a true professional."

Geoffrey Hughes
As Onslow in Keeping Up Appearances,
with Judy Cornwall as Daisy.

While Hughes' wife Sue was understandably too devastated to comment on the death of her husband of 37 years, his on screen wife Judy Cornwall, who played Daisy, recently shared some personal reminiscences.

"The first time we did a recording in front of an audience at the BBC, we both climbed into bed and it collapsed on us. Both our legs went flying up in the air and it took the BBC ages to calm the audience down because everyone was laughing so much. They built the bed up again but that's how our relationship started and continued – with a lot of laughs."

"Geoffrey later developed a habit of waiting until the countdown for the cameras to start...ten, nine, eight...and just before the end he would then pinch my bottom under the covers to make me yelp."

Rest in peace, Geoffrey.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of July 30, 2012:
Wallander's Sir Kenneth Branagh

 

Arise Sir Kenneth! Actor, director, screenwriter and producer Kenneth Branagh received a Knighthood from the Queen in her Birthday Honors List last month, recognizing his services to drama and to the community of Northern Ireland. If you caught the opening ceremony of the Olympics you also saw Branagh delivering Caliban's speech from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Way to go Wallander!

Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh as
Wallander.

Branagh was born on December 10, 1960 in Belfast, but brought up in Reading, England. His working class Protestant parents Frances and William moved there when Branagh was nine and his older brother William Jr. was 14 to escape the conflicts going on at that time in Ireland. Their sister Joyce was born in England a year after they moved. Branagh's life in Belfast had been spent in relative poverty. The family lived in the shadow of a tobacco factory and as Branagh once recalled "the Sectarian thing was never far beneath the surface, all this thing of being stopped by kids in the park and asked 'Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?' and it was always a trick question so that they could beat you up".

The being beaten up didn't end with the Branagh's move to Redding. To avoid being bullied at school, Branagh quickly acquired an English accent, reverting to his Irish brogue when he was at home. School was also responsible for providing Branagh with his first stage experience and he performed in productions such as Toad of Toad Hall and Oh, What a Lovely War. Branagh also excelled at sports and was made Captain of the school rugby and football teams. Reading was also a great love and during his early teens he got a job as a reviewer of children's books for a local newspaper.

Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh as Henry V.

After leaving school, Branagh received a grant from Berkshire's County Council to attend London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he was awarded their Gold medal for most promising student and not long after leaving the school in 1982, Branagh was cast in his first West End show; Another Country, which lead to a best newcomer award. The same year Branagh was lauded in his native Northern Ireland for his role as the title character in the BBC's Play for Today trilogy, The Billy Plays. Set in Belfast, the plays aired from 1982-1984, during which time, the 23 year old Branagh also became the youngest actor ever to play Henry V at the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was that production which Branagh would adapt for the film version of the play in 1989 and for which he was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Director.

Kenneth Branagh
Branagh with first wife,
Emma Thompson.

Encouraged by his success when he was just 25 years old Branagh branched out and formed the Renaissance Theatre Company; persuading actors such as Richard Briers, Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench to perform in the company's repertoire of plays. Actress Emma Thompson was also a member of Renaissance and she and Branagh married in August of 1989. During their marriage the couple appeared together not only on stage, but also on screen in films such as Much Ado About Nothing and Dead Again. They also appeared in the BBC series Fortunes of War.

According to Thompson, Branagh was "constitutionally unsuited" to being married. Her husband's affair with Helena Bonham Carter, his co-star in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which Branagh directed and starred in in 1994, helped to end the relationship and in 1995 the couple divorced.

Kenneth Branagh
Branagh with wife, Lindsay Brunnock.

In 2003, Branagh married film art director Lindsay Brunnock to whom he'd been introduced to in 2001 by Bonham Carter. The wedding, which took place in the rented New York apartment of an actor friend was an impromptu affair attended only by Branagh's personal assistant and his driver and right-hand man. Even Branagh's parents and his siblings were unaware their son was about to marry, until he called them on his way to Heathrow to catch the flight to New York. None of Brunnock's friends or family were invited to attend either; a stark contrast to Branagh's first wedding to Thompson, which was attended by a bevy of actor friends such as Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Richard Briers and Judi Dench.

Since their marriage Branagh's career seems to have enjoyed something of a revival; he is the first man ever to be nominated for Academy Awards in five different categories. His most recent Academy Award nomination was for his portrayal of Lord Laurence Oliver in My Week With Marilyn. His portrayal of the grim Swedish detective Kurt Wallander garnered the actor a British Academy of Film and Television award.

Playing Wallander is something that Branagh has to work hard at. "I cannot come back to him comfortably," he says. "It's never been, 'Oooh, I've got a nice job on the telly.' Every single time it feels like hard work - hard in that I find it difficult. In the early days, I had to do jolly things any chance I could: at the weekend wear bright clothes, go to flower shows. But now I'm better at compartmentalizing, being him for the least amount of time I need to be."

The BBC recently announced that the fourth series of Wallander will be the last; but you can be sure it won't be the last we'll see of Sir Kenneth!

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of July 23, 2012:
Waiting for God's Janine Duvitski

 

Janine Duvitski
Janine Duvitski.

Actress Janine Duvitski, who plays Jane in Waiting for God and Pippa in One Foot in the Grave, is the subject of this week's tidbits. She was born in June of 1952 in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, to an English mother and a Polish father. Before changing her name for the stage, Duvitski was known as Christine Janine Drzewicki (Duvitski is the phonetic pronunciation of Drzewicki).

Duvitski trained in London at the East 15 Acting School. On leaving the school, Duvitski got some minor work in television shows such as Z-Cars, but not having an agent was unable to secure permanent work. So she placed an ad and photograph of herself in Spotlight - an industry magazine - which was seen by director Alan Clark, who invited her to audition for a short play about the difficult subject of incest.

Janine Duvitski
In One Foot in the Grave.

Although just 20 years old, Duvitski was cast as the 13 year old lead and her performance won rave reviews. As Duvitski recalls, "when I read the script I don't know if I realized all that quickly that it was about incest. But I don't think Alan wanted the usual cliches of a piece like that, where it's all spelt out, and the victim is just moody and depressed all the time. He wanted to show Diane as being quite unpredictable, and the dad wasn't just some nasty thug. So you understood more about the sort of person who would do that - the everydayness of it."

Janine Duvitski
In Abigail's Party, right.

More stage and television roles followed, then Duvitski was offered the part of Angela in Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party, which was later made into a television play. In typical Mike Leigh fashion, there was no set dialogue for the play and Duvitski and her cast members were expected to develop the dialogue as they went along. It was an unnerving experience for the 25 year old.

 

Janine Duvitski
Daughter Ruby, Husband Paul.

Despite the fact she really didn't know what she was letting herself in for, Duvitski created a memorable role – nurse Angie – and over three decades later the play remains one of Leigh's best known works. Now Duvitski's daughter, Ruby Bentall, is following in her mother's footsteps by also starring in a new Mike Leigh play, Greif, which opened at the National Theatre last fall. Bentall, who played Minnie in Lark Rise to Candleford, is just one of Duvitski's four children; the others are John and Albert, who are both also actors, and Edith. Their father is actor Paul Bentall and both he and Duvitski are currently appearing together in a new comedy series airing in the UK called Benidorm, which takes place in the popular Spanish resort.

Janine Duvitski
In Little Dorritt.

Although comedic roles are what Duvitski is probably most known for, she also has a number of dramatic credits as well. She was in an English National Opera production of On The Town and also the television drama Boys From The Black Stuff, about a group of unemployed men in Liverpool. You may also remember Duvitski as Mrs. Meagles in the BBC's adaptation of Charles Dickens' Little Dorritt. She also played a mad women in both The Madness Of King George and the 1979 version of Dracula opposite Laurence Olivier.

In real-life Duvitski is reknowned for her sense of humor and according to her longtime friend Allison Steadman is "completely scatty, in the loveliest way." You can see Duvitski in Waiting for God on MPT2 Sunday nights at 8pm.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of July 16, 2012:
As Time Goes By's Jenny Funnell

 

In response to a viewer request, this week we're going to take a look at actress Jenny Funnell who plays Sandy in As Time Goes By.

Jenny Funnell
Jenny Funnell.

Funnell, who has a twin sister named Julie, was born on May 20, 1963 in Nairobi, Kenya. When Jenny and Julie were three, the family moved to Scotland, where her mother was from, but eventually settled in Surrey, near London. Funnell's decision to make a career as an actress came as a surprise to her family, as they were all in the medical profession, but with their support, she attended the Weber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts in South Kensington, London, where she won the Carleton Hobbs BBC Radio Drama Award in 1984. The award came with a job working for the BBC Radio Drama repertory company, which gave her the much coveted actors Equity card, which meant she could get paid acting work.

Funnell's first major television work was in the popular young people's soap opera Brookside in 1985, Although she started out in drama, also appearing in the BBC police series Bergerac and in an episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot (The Peril at End House), Funnell eventually turned to comedy, with roles in the television film Norbert Smith: A Life and the newsroom sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey.

Jenny Funnell
Funnell and the cast of As Time Goes By.

Funnell got the role of Sandy in As Time Goes By in a round-about way. She'd met the show's director, Sidney Lotterby, two years earlier when she'd auditioned for the part of Zoe in May to December. She was one of two finalists for the role, which eventually went to Lesley Dunlop. A year later she got a call from Lotterby asking her to read for the role of Jean's assistant Sandy. For Funnell, getting to work with Dame Judi Dench was like a dream come true. For years she'd idolized Dench and had not only seen practically everything the actress had appeared in, but when she was about fourteen, she'd written her a fan letter. In response to the young teen's gushy missive, Dench had sent Funnell a two page hand written letter, which she'd treasured and shared with Dench after they started working together.

More evidence of Dench's kindness came on Funnell's very first day of work. As Funnell explained in an interview "I was terrified because I was late because there was a bomb scare on the underground and I was stuck in a tunnel. So I had to walk into this room fifteen minutes late, but she [Dench] was very sweet. She just came up, put her arms around me and said "it must be awful, let me get you a cup of coffee." So that was fine."

Jenny Funnell
Funnell with the writer, director and cast mates of her
latest stage play "Playing Dead" at Devonshire Park
Theatre, June, 2012.

Funnell was also the recipient of one of Dench's famous white needlepoint pillows: a heart shape one for when Funnell got married. Funnell met her husband when she was working for British playwright Alan Ayckbourn's theatre company in Scarborough, Yorkshire. She'd joined the company in 1988 on a year-long commitment to perform in six plays, but when the time came for Funnell to return to London, Ayckbourn asked her to stay and play the role of the innkeeper's daughter in a Restoration Comedy they were doing called Beaux Stratagem. Funnell initially turned down the offer but was eventually persuaded to stay with the company, which by then was welcoming a new batch of actors. One of whom turned out to be her future husband. Because their various work commitments kept them apart for so much, the couple didn't get around to marrying until 1997.

Although As Time Goes By ended in 2005, Funnell isn't at a loss for work. She's been in several other series, television shows, and does a lot of radio plays for the BBC and voice over work. In 2009 she starred in the West End and on Broadway as the Player Queen in Hamlet, which starred Jude Law in the title role.

Funnell currently lives in Brighton with her husband and daughter, who was born in 2001.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of July 9, 2012:
Inspector Morse's John Thaw, continued

 

This week we continue taking a look at the career and life of actor John Thaw, who played Inspector Morse in the long running series of the same name.

John Thaw
John Thaw.

Thaw's acting career began when he was still a teenager. After leaving school at the earliest possible opportunity he worked first as a porter at Manchester flower market, then as an apprentice baker. After a friend filled out an application form on Thaw's behalf and submitted it to London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Thaw lied about his age, auditioned, and was accepted. He was just 16. One of Thaw's contemporaries at RADA was actor Tom Courtney and the two would be reunited in Thaw's first film, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, in which he had a small role.

John Thaw
A young John Thaw.

Thaw's first appearance in a televised crime series came early in his acting career, when he appeared in several episodes of the BBC police series Z-Cars in 1963–64. Then from 1965-1966 he was Sgt. John Mann, a hard-nosed military policeman in the ITV series Redcap. It was Thaw's role as Flying Squad detective Jack Regan in The Sweeney, which ran from 1974-1978, that made Thaw a celebrity in the UK, although he detested being in the spotlight and did his upmost to avoid talk shows and media interviews.

As well as television, Thaw also enjoyed a career on stage; appearing in productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. It was while working on the London comedy So What About Love? in 1969, that Thaw met his second wife Sheila Hancock. His first marriage to Sally Alexander in 1965 had ended in divorce in 1968.

John Thaw
Thaw, Sheila, Melanie and Joanna.

At the time of their meeting, Hancock was already married and refused to embark on an affair with Thaw. After Hancock's husband, actor Alec Ross, died from esophageal cancer in 1971 Thaw wrote Hancock, who was ten years older than him, a letter of condolence and the pair reunited. They married in a secret ceremony on Christmas Eve in 1973. The wedding was attended by the couple's daughters from their first marriages, Melanie and Abigail and not long after the wedding, Hancock, who was ten years older than Thaw, gave birth to Joanne.

In 1987, Thaw was cast as Chief Inspector Morse based on the books by Colin Dexter. The series ran for 33 episodes and Thaw became even more popular. Despite his celebrity status, Thaw could never understand why people wanted his autograph and he professed a hatred of "Hollywood types". Morse was, however, Thaw's favorite role and was a role he identified with more than any other. As well as being shy and a loner, Thaw – like Morse - also loved opera and classical music. Thaw also shared another commonality with his on-screen persona – he was a heavy drinker and everywhere he went he carried with him a little black bag full of vodka bottles.

John Thaw
Thaw and Sheila.

Although 1987 had brought fame and fortune, the Thaw-Hancock family's happiness was disrupted when that same year Hancock discovered she had breast cancer. Thaw's refusal to acknowledge the illness and his lack of support caused Hancock to take drastic measures. She left him while she underwent treatment for the cancer and she didn't return for eight months.

Thaw continued to drink, until in 1995, he was persuaded to see a Harley Street therapist whose treatment of Thaw's deep rooted depression brought on by his feelings of worthlessness at being abandoned by his mother, changed his life. He never touched another drop of alcohol. The same year, Thaw was cast as the liberal working class barrister James Kavanagh, in Kavanagh, QC, which ran until 1999.

John Thaw
Abigail, center, with Sheila Hancock
and Melanie, left, and Joanna, right,
at John Thaw's memorial service.

In June of 2001 Thaw, who had started smoking when he was 12, was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus; the same cancer that had killed Hancock's first husband. Despite treatment, the cancer spread. Thaw dealt with his illness like most things he didn't like; he turned his back on it. A month before he died, even though he was very frail, he was still telling friends how he'd signed a new contract for another series of Kavanaugh QC. Shortly after, on February 21, 2002, the day before his wife's birthday, Thaw died.

Thaw's funeral, which was held near his Wiltshire house, was attended only by his wife, and their three daughters. A memorial service attended by 800, including Prince Charles and the Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Blair, was held a few months later at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square.

John Thaw
Thaw with young Abigail.

Almost a decade after Thaw's death, his eldest daughter Abigail – who along with her sisters had gone into the acting business - was brought to tears when working on an acting role. She played the role of a newspaper editor on the receiving end of a series of questions fired at her by a young detective on the hunt for a missing schoolgirl. The detective was Constable Endeavor Morse – the younger version of the character Abigail's father had portrayed with such clarity and distinction. Following her father's death, Abigail was so devastated that she left the acting profession, but her acceptance of the cameo role in Endeavor – a two hour prequel marking the 25th anniversary of Inspector Morse – has since reignited her passion for the profession. Hopefully we'll see more of Abigail Thaw's work in the future.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of July 2, 2012:
Inspector Morse's John Thaw

 

John Thaw
Shaun Evans in the Inspector Morse
prequel Endeavour; John Thaw as
Inspector Morse.

Seeing this week's new Masterpiece Mystery! Endeavour put me in mind of John Thaw, who played Inspector Morse.

Thaw was born in Manchester on January 3, 1942. His father, also named John, was a long distance lorry driver and his mother Dolly a barmaid. The family was very poor. As a child, Thaw's favorite toy was a coconut brought back by one of his uncles from an overseas War assignment. Because of the nature of his father's job, it meant he was away a lot. Thaw's mother would go out leaving the boys alone and causing a great deal of local gossip. Eventually Dolly left for good and took the boys to live at her father's house. Things didn't work out, and the family moved to a council estate in Burnage.

On the day of his brother's fifth birthday, Dolly threw the boy a party, then promptly disappeared for good setting up home with a sticky tape salesman. Her father was furious and cut her and her sons out of his life. Without his grandfather knowing, young seven year old Thaw dressed himself and his brother in their best suits and set out to try and get their mother to return home. She opened the door; gave them each a sixpence, told them to go away and shut the door. Thaw never forgave his mother for deserting the family and couldn't understand why she'd never even sent him and his brother so much as a Christmas card.

John Thaw
Thaw's mother, Dolly.

It was Thaw's job to look after his little brother, especially when his father's job took him away overnight. He'd leave school and rush home to the council flat they lived in so Ray wouldn't come home to an empty house. Then he'd cook a meal for them both and the woman in the upstairs flat would make sure they were in bed at night.

"John had to grow up very quickly", Thaw's brother – now deceased - once recalled "we didn't have a childhood as such. We had everything from our dad, but we never had a mother. Sometimes we didn't have money for bread and often wondered where our next meal was coming from".

 

John Thaw
Thaw as a young boy (front/left)
at his uncle's wedding.

It would be 25 years until Thaw would see his mother again, by which time he was already a successful actor. Dolly died of stomach cancer shortly after Thaw's aunt persuaded him to visit her when he was performing in a play near where she lived.

Next week, I'll continue to look actor John Thaw's career, including his marriage to actress Sheila Hancock, his depression and alcoholism and his refusal to accept that his cancer of the esophagus as terminal.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of June 25, 2012:
Ballykissangel's Stephen Tompkinson

 

Stephen Tompkinson
Tompkinson with Dervla
Kerwan in Ballykissangel.

This week we're going to look at Stephen Tompkinson who appears as Father Peter Clifford in one of Afternoon Tea's most loved series: Ballykissangel.

Tompkinson was born October 15, 1965, in the North East market town of Stockton-on-Tees. When he was four his family, which consisted of dad Brian, a bank manager, mother Josephine, an elementary school teacher and older brother John, moved to Scarborough in North Yorkshire. Tompkinson attended St. Bede's Roman Catholic High School in the seaside town of Lytham St Annes, Lancashire and it was there that he was given his first lead role in a play: a red admiral butterfly in The Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner.

Inspired by his St. Bede's drama teacher, Tompkinson set out to study English or drama at University, but at the encouragement of his parents who had seen him perform the role of John Proctor in The Crucible at his sixth-form college in Blackpool, he decided to become an actor instead. At just 18, Tompkinson auditioned for and was accepted into London's Central School of Speech and Drama.

Stephen Tompkinson
Young Tompkinson.

According to Tompkinson, being at Central felt "like entering into Aladdin's cave". Not only had former students included Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench and Peggy Ashcroft but his classmates included the likes of Rufus Sewell and James Nesbitt. Despite the fierce competition, during his last year at the school in 1987, Tompkinson won an award which gave him an Equity (actors union) card, and a seven-month radio contract, performing a total of 54 plays, one of which starred actor Anthony Hopkins.

"It was the best start to a career that I could possibly have wished for", recalls Tompkinson. "I never expected to work with so many wonderfully experienced directors, writers and actors. It was just the best training, helping you hone your vocal talents to try and make dialogue as entertaining as possible."

It was while Tompkinson was working in radio that he met his first wife, Celia Anastasia, a BBC radio producer. The marriage was short lived, and after a lengthy separation the couple divorced.

Tompkinson's first major television role was in 1990 as Damien Day in the satirical comedy, Drop the Dead Donkey. The show ran for 9 years and garnered Tompkinson a Best TV Comedy Actor award in the UK's British Comedy Awards. Not wanting to get typecast, Tompkinson followed up that role by playing an assortment of characters in a number of shows, some of which you may have seen on MPT; Masterpiece Mystery's Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage for instance, or Prime Suspect: The Final Act. It was Tompkinson's role as a young Roman Catholic priest in Ballykissangel though that brought him international recognition.

Stephen Tompkinson
With former wife Nicci and daughter
Daisy Ellen.

Tompkinson appeared in Ballykissangel for three seasons, until the tabloids discovered that he'd developed a real-life relationship with his on-screen co-star Dervla Kirwan, who played Assumpta Fitzgerald. In 1998, the couple, who had worked together prior to Ballykissangel, left the show and became engaged. A year later, they split up and it didn't take Tompkinson long before he had a new partner; Nicci Taylor, who he met while being fitted for a suit at a Saville Row tailor's shop. In 2000, Tompkinson and Taylor, welcomed the arrival of their daughter, Daisy Ellen.

 

Stephen Tompkinson
On the Wild at Heart set.

The new parents married in August 2001, and Tompkinson's career continued to thrive, aided in part by Tompkinson's decision to give up alcohol. As Tompkinson explained to a reporter, "I was probably drinking a lot more than I was realizing. I was still getting all the work done, but I was feeling constantly tired. I was bored of feeling so sluggish. In order to keep home life and work positive, something had to go."

In 2006 Tompkinson was cast as the lead in the series Wild at Heart; the true story of Bristol veterinarian Danny Trevanion who with his family moves to South Africa to build a wildlife preserve and veterinary surgery. The series was a huge success and ran for seven seasons, but the stress of filming in South Africa and having to be away from his wife and daughter for months at a time put a strain on Tompkinson's marriage. Before he started work on the second series, the couple divorced.

Stephen Tompkinson
In Charley's Aunt.

Tompkinson's current partner is Elaine Young, a former Foreign Office diplomat who he met in a piano bar in Glasgow in 2007 while touring in a production of Charley's Aunt. Tompkinson has always enjoyed the challenge of live theatre. As he explains "you can feel a bit cosseted and wrapped in cotton wool in TV land and it's nice to flex all your acting muscles...It's sort of like flying without a safety net. And theatre - to get that immediate response is marvelous."

Tompkinson's is also no stranger to the big screen. In 1996 he appeared as Pete Postlethwaite's son in Brassed Off. The two actors, who had worked together before in Tompkinson's television debut, Tales of Sherwood Forest, became good friends and on Postlethwaite's passing in 2011, Tompkinson appeared publicly to praise the man who Stephen Spielberg once dubbed "the greatest actor in the world".

Stephen Tompkinson
With Pete Postlethwaite in Brassed Off.

"Pete was deeply generous with his time and cared about all aspects of his craft passionately. Like all great teachers, he was inspirational and ultimately unforgettable. He will be dearly missed", said Tompkinson.

Tompkinson was equally devastated by the sudden death of his close friend and fellow Balllykissangel cast mate, Tony Doyle, who died just a few hours after the two had attended a London stage premier and first-night party.

"Tony was on very good form", said Tompkinson on learning of his friend's death. "As usual he was the life and soul of the party. We were laughing and joking at the party and he was full of life. I just can't take it in that he's gone."

Stephen Tompkinson
As DCI Banks.

This fall, Tompkinson can be seen in his first lead role in a feature film; Harrigan, the story of the real-life experiences of retired Tyneside policeman Arthur McKenzie. This isn't the first time Tompkinson has played a member of the Police Force. In 2010 he was cast as Chief Inspector Alan Banks in DCI Banks: Aftermath, a television adaptation of a Peter Robinson crime novel. The series was a huge success and a second series is due to be released in September of this year.

In addition to his acting work, Tompkinson also works extensively as a voice over recording artist for commercials, audio books and narration. In 2009, he filmed and narrated the documentary, Stephen Tompkinson's Great African Balloon Adventure, a three-part series about his adventures in a hot air balloon traveling from Tanzania to Namibia. According to Tompkinson, ballooning "is the most gorgeous mode of transport. In some places in Africa, as far as the eye could see, there wasn't any sign of man. I've never had that experience before. It was almost like time had stopped and we were the only people on the planet."

Stephen Tompkinson
With Elaine and Daisy.

The balloon Tompkinson travelled in was designed by his daughter Daisy. It bore the red and white colors of Middlesbrough Football Club, a team Tompkinson has supported since he was a child. As well as football, Tompkinson is an avid cricket fan and in what spare time he has, he also enjoys reading, taking long walks and watching movies. His favorite thing to do though is spend time with Daisy and even when they are apart because of Tompkinson's work schedule, they stay in contact via Skype.

As far as Tompkinson is concerned being a dad is "the most amazing thing" that ever happened to him, "Daisy is the complete core of my life", says Tompkinson. "She has made me feel so much more fulfilled and grounded. The worst thing that could happen to me is I would be parted from her."

You can see Tompkinson in Ballykissangel every weekday afternoon at 3:30pm on MPT's Afternoon Tea.

Don't forget if you've got an idea or a suggestion of someone you'd like to see featured on Tea Time Tidbits, we'd love to hear from you.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of June 18, 2012:
Jeremy Clyde

 

Jeremy Clyde
Chad & Jeremy.

It's amazing where the actors you've been watching in all the British programs we've aired on MPT for so many years now sometimes turn up! Take Jeremy Clyde for instance. He's appeared in all manner of British telly series; Old Guys, Downton Abbey, Midsommer Murders, Inspector Morse, Bergerac, Taggart, The Duchess of Duke Street, to name just a few. But it wasn't until a longtime Afternoon Tea viewer was watching British Beat (My Music) a few weeks ago, that he realized the Jeremy of the singing duo Chad & Jeremy was actually the same fellow he'd been seeing so often on MPT.

Clyde, who was born Michael Thomas Jeremy Clyde on March 22, 1941, has carved out an acting career playing aristocratic characters. Not surprising, considering he's the son of Lady Elizabeth Wellesley, and the grandson of the 7th Duke of Wellington. In fact, Clyde's first public appearance was as a pageboy at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Born in the village of Dorney in Buckinghamshire, Clyde was educated at Ludgrove School and at Eton College. He then attended the University of Grenoble in France. His was a far different upbringing to that of his musical partner, Chad Stuart, who was born in Windermere, and brought up in Hartlepool, where Stuart's father Frank worked in the lumber industry and his mother, Alice, was a nurse.

Jeremy Clyde
As a baby.

Stuart met Clyde when they were both students at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and they formed a lasting friendship that overcame the class barriers. Stuart had enrolled there in attempt to escape his working class roots, while Clyde was also looking for an escape.

"He felt he was suffocating in that 'upper crust' atmosphere," Stuart once told a reporter. "When he told his family he was going to become an actor...well, I'm sure there were some eyebrows raised."

Clyde and Stuart bonded over their love of music and formed a rock and roll band; The Jerks. Their rehearsal space was the music store run by the band's drummer and bass player and their performances largely limited to school dances; excepting for a one-off performance at the Coming-Out ball of Jeremy's cousin; the Duke of Wellington's niece.

The band broke up after Clyde graduated. Being older than Stuart, he'd left a year ahead of his friend and he took off to work at the Dundee Repertory Theatre in Scotland. Realizing that life at college wouldn't be the same without his pal, Stuart also left, aiming to break into the music business. When Clyde returned from Scotland and found he was unable to get acting work because of the Actor's Union strike, he teamed up as a duo with Stuart and they soon got work playing at a coffeehouse for £15 a week and free meals. Next stop America!

The timing of the duo's entry into the musical world could not have been better. It was the early 1960s and the British were about to "invade" the U.S. The unlikely paired couple soon became part of an elite group of British Invasion artists to cross the pond and from 1964 through 1966 had seven top 40s songs. Their biggest hit was "A Summer Song" released in August of 1964. It made it into the Top Ten and is still going strong, having been featured in the recent films, The Princess Diaries and Beverly Hills 90210. The song was also used in 2006, in an ESPN commercial for the Super Bowl.

Jeremy Clyde
Appearing on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

It wasn't long before the American entertainment industry capitalized on the duo's dramatic backgrounds by featuring them as guests on shows such as Batman, The Patty Duke Show, the western horse opera Laredo and The Dick Van Dyke Show. They capitalized on their success by undertaking concert tours of the US, but eventually the constant strain of crisscrossing of the country and making numerous guest appearances on shows such as The Andy Williams Show and The Danny Kaye Show, resulted in a Chad coming down with mononucleosis. While he recouped, Clyde accepted a role in a London musical called Passion Flower Hotel. Thus setting in motion the internal conflict he would experience over whether to be a musician or an actor.

In late 1965, the pair was presented with an opportunity by NBC that would satisfy Jeremy's desire to act and Chad's desire to record; the Chad & Jeremy TV show; a spin off from Laredo. The plot was about two British actors having to use their wits to survive being stranded in the Old West. Ultimately the show did not go forward – NBC deciding that it would be in competition with its new Monday night show, The Monkees. Fortunately the friends still had their recording careers to fall back on and continued to record and perform.

Jeremy Clyde
Chad & Jeremy,
"then and now".

Shortly after the release of their album "Cabbages and Kings" in 1967, Clyde once again took to the stage in the Peter Shaffer play, Black Comedy. He also appeared in an episode of My Three Sons. These acting conflicts resulted in Clyde having to miss concert dates which resulted in friction between the long-time friends and by the end of 1968, Chad & Jeremy was dissolved.

Clyde returned to the London stage where, despite a brief failed attempt at reforming the partnership with Stuart in the mid-70s, he carved out a successful career. As the 1970s came to an end, while Clyde's career on stage and screen flourished, with appearances on both sides of the Atlantic thanks to the arrival of Masterpiece Theater, Stuart's languished. Stuart eventually became a partner in a company which produced radio commercials.

Jeremy Clyde
Appearing in The Real Thing,
with Felicity Kendall.

Then in 1982, just when it seemed Chad & Jeremy would never be again, they were approached by an eccentric millionaire, "Rocky" Davis, who signed the duo to his new record label, Rocshire Records. With Clyde appearing in the first run of Tom Stoppard's play, The Real Thing, Stuart returned to England for the first time in years so that they could begin recording what would be their first album in 15 years. The release of the album in 1983 marked the dawning of a new era for Chad & Jeremy.

Although efforts to promote the album were stymied by the fact that Rocshire Records had gone into receivership, Clyde and Stuart remained a team as they starred together in the British version of the Broadway hit Pump Boys and Dinettes. Then in 1986, they toured the U.S. with other 1960s legendries, such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, Freddie and the Dreamers, and the Searchers. The six week tour ended in Los Angeles at the Universal Amphitheatre and the pair took advantage of their time in Los Angeles to meet with promoters. They managed to get a two week contract to appear at Harrah's Casino in Lake Tahoe, followed by a week at the Reno Hilton. That was in 1987, but when offers of more nightclub work weren't forthcoming, Clyde returned once again to acting, appearing in The Adventure of William Tell (named Crossbow here in the US), and in a minor film called Wilt.

Jeremy Clyde
In films.

The 1990s found Clyde's television career blossoming when in 1992 he starred in the 1930s adventure comedy The Mixer. His film work included the greatly acclaimed German film, Kaspar Hauser, and in 1995 he put his singing talents to work again in a revival of Cavalcade. More television work followed and in 2000 Clyde was in the major motion picture The Musketeer and in 2002, he appeared in The Falklands Play, a dramatization of the Falklands War.

Stuart meanwhile moved out of Los Angeles to live in Idaho, where he worked as a music teacher and raised his family. Then in 2003, Chad & Jeremy were reunited for a guest appearance on a 60s Pop-Rock Reunion special for PBS, the success of which prompted a tour the following year. Since then the duo have won over a whole new generation and in September of 2010, Chad and Jeremy marked 50 years of performing together with the release of a limited-edition CD called "Fifty Years On".

Clyde's return to the music world hasn't prevented him from enjoying his other great love – acting. In 2004, he was in the BBC drama series, The Alan Clark Diaries followed in 2008 by another BBC drama series, Ashes to Ashes. Recently, you may also have spotted Clyde in the film, The Iron Lady, which starred Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher.

If there's an actor you'd like to see featured in Tea Time Tidbits, let me know and I'll see what I can do.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of June 11, 2012:
'Allo, 'Allo's Carmen Silvera

 

Carmen Silvera
Carmen Silvera.

This week I thought we'd have a chin wag about Carmen Silvera, who plays Edith Artois in Afternoon Tea's 1pm Friday comedy, 'Allo, 'Allo.

Silvera was born on June, 1922 in Toronto, Canada. Her Jamaican-born father, Roland Silvera, had emigrated there from England as a ship hand, and had fought for the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War I. The family moved back to England when Silvera was still little, and they lived in Coventry, until World War II broke out, when Silvera was evacuated back to Montreal.

Carmen Silvera
Carmen Silvera.

As fortune would have it, the original troopship Silvera was due to cross the Atlantic on turned out to be full and at the last minute her name was taken off the list and she was put onto another ship. Tragically, the first ship was sunk by the enemy and all 350 children drown.

It was while living in Montreal that Silvera became interested in performing when she took classes with the Ballets Russes and appeared in three of its productions. On her return to London, it wasn't dance she took up but acting and, despite her father's opposition, she enrolled at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, earning bronze, silver and gold medals.

Carmen Silvera
In Dr. Who.

On leaving LAMDA, Silvera went to work in repertory theatre, before making a career for herself in television, beginning with a 1962 episode of the popular police drama Z-cars. That led to an assortment of British television shows, including Doctor Who and the comedy favorite, Dad's Army, which was written by David Croft.

Silvera had already worked on two other David Croft series, Hugh and I and Beggar My Neighbor, so she must have been the natural choice to play the long suffering wife of café owner René Artois in the Croft created series, 'Allo, 'Allo. The series, which ran for a total of 85 episodes from December 1982 to 1992, was one of the BBC's most popular comedies and over the decade that they worked together the cast became more than workmates; they were close friends.

According to Kim Hartman, who played the domineering Private Helga Geerhart, "We all got on so well and became such good friends that it really was a delight to go to work each day".

Carmen Silvera
Kaye & Silvera as M. & Mme. Artois
in 'Allo, 'Allo.

Gorden Kaye, who played Silvera's husband in the series, was in real life one of her best friends. "Carmen was a lovely lady; fun and she had a wicked sense of humour", said Kaye, who had seen Silvera just a couple of days before she died. On that occasion, he'd found his 5' 4" friend to be in sparkling form "as if she had all the time in the world".

Kaye's fondness for Silvera even extended to his friend's ditsyness. "She always left spectacles all over the place", he recalled fondly. Silvera was also renowned for being clumsy. At dinner parties, for instance, her excitement would sometimes get the better of her and her seatmates might find their dinners in their laps!

Carmen Silvera
Grand Order of Lady Ratlings at
the Royal Lancaster Hotel, London;
spring 1997.

Silvera's flamboyant personality was also accompanied by a huge amount of generosity. She was a long time member, for instance, of the Grand Order of Lady Ratlings, the women's version of the international show business charity and in 1997 was honored with the title of Queen Ratling.

Show business was Silvera's entire life. She wasn't married, although she had been for a short time when at just 19 years old she'd married a fellow actor she'd met when they were performing together in Tunbridge. Their marriage didn't survive the loss of a baby and they divorced seven years later. Although normally an extrovert, the subject of her marriage and her baby was something Silvera never discussed.

At the time of her death, on August 3rd, 2002, Silver was living at Denville Hall in Northwood, West London. Founded in 1925, the home is available to professional actors over the age of 70. It was there, just two months before she died, that she'd celebrated her 80th birthday surrounded by her friends and family. A couple of months before that milestone celebration, in April, Silvera had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and had made the decision to battle the disease without chemo or radiotherapy.

Although her friends knew Silvera was dying, her death still came as a shock. "We expected this," said Kaye, "but not quite so soon. It's going to be a difficult time ahead. She was a good friend."

Despite the conclusion of 'Allo, 'Allo, Silvera had continued to work well into her 70s. A year before her death she was touring the country in the comedy You Only Live Twice and at 75 had appeared in both a West End musical and a film, La Passione.

Even when "resting" her activities weren't necessarily sedate ones. When not reading, cooking, painting, or playing poker, Silvera was an avid traveler and enjoyed playing golf and tennis. She was also fond of horse racing. A life-long love initiated when she was six and had badgered her grandfather into giving her a shilling to bet on a horse she'd seen being unloaded from a horsebox. The horse had won seven to one and from then on, her grandfather had let his persuasive granddaughter pick out his horses.

You can see Silvera as Edith Artois in 'Allo, 'Allo every Friday at 1pm only on Afternoon Tea!

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of June 4, 2012:
Last of the Summer Wine's Sarah Thomas

 

Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas.

In response to a viewer's request, this week we're going to chat about Sarah Thomas, who plays Glenda Wilkinson in Last of The Summer Wine.

Thomas, who appeared in a total of 209 episodes of LOTSW from 1986-2009, was born in London on June 5, 1952. Her first television appearance was in 1970 as an au pair girl in a British crime series called Special Branch. After that she seemed to disappear for a few years until in 1975 she resurfaced in an episode of Rumpole of the Bailey when it was part of the long running Play for Today series. The same year, Thomas was cast in the drama series Within These Walls, which starred British actress and movie star Googie Withers.

Sarah Thomas
In the play Ladies in Retirement.

A year later, the young actress, who in real life is apparently nothing like Glenda, got her big theatrical break, when she performed in the Chekhov play The Seagull at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. Not long after, Thomas would become a familiar face to children in England, when she frequently appeared in the popular children's series, Worzel Gummidge. The series, which ran from 1979 to 1981 and starred former Doctor Who Jon Pertwee and Una Stubbs, who recently played Mrs. Hudson in the new Sherlock Holmes series, still remains Thomas's favorite work experience.

 

Sarah Thomas
As The Forest Fairy in
Robin Hood and the Babes
in the Wood
.

Following Worzel Gummidge, It would take another seven years before Thomas was to make her mark on adult British television viewers. In the meantime, she plugged along getting small parts here and there, including a 1983 episode of Black Adder called Witchsmeller Pursuivant.

Following her appearance in 1984 in the five part Inspector Dagliesh miniseries, Shroud for a Nightingale, Thomas finally hit upon the role for which she is best known: Glenda, a role Thomas was specially selected for after Dame Thora Hird joined the series as Edie, Glenda's mother.

 

Sarah Thomas
Thomas's very first LOTSW episode,
Uncle of the Bride.

Although Thomas would appear in every episode of LOTSW from when she joined until it ended in 2009, the show's filming schedule allowed her to also work on other projects. In 1995 for instance she played Crab Hunter in the comedy film Madagascar Skin and was also in the television film Moses, starring Ben Kingsley and Frank Langella.

Thomas was also able to indulge her passion for theatre. She trained at Rose Burford College and has appeared in theatres all over the U.K., where she's had the opportunity to play everything from Shakespearian tragedy, such as when she was Ophelia in Hamlet, to drawing room comedies such as The Importance of Being Ernest, in which she played Cecily.

Sarah Thomas
In a panto.

Thomas also regularly appears in British pantomimes, such as Cinderella, Aladdin, and Jack and The Beanstalk. A couple of years ago, Thomas was all set to appear as The Forest Fairy in Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood, for Thurrock Council at the Thameside Theatre in London, when shortly before it was due to open, she was forced to leave the show to care for her mother. One of the reason's Thomas had chosen to do that particular panto was because of its close proximity to her home in London and to her ailing elderly mother's home. As the show got close to opening, however, her mother's health rapidly deteriorated and as devastating a decision as it was, Thomas felt she he couldn't go through with the nightly performances worrying all the while about her mother.

The older generation, particularly those who live in residential nursing homes, or who are living alone, are important to Thomas. So much so that last fall, she helped launch an exhibition in Bristol of photographs by and about old people. Proceeds from the exhibition went to the Alzheimer Society.

If you've got a favorite Afternoon Tea actor you'd like to find out more about, feel free to drop me a line.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of May 28, 2012:
Sherlock's Martin Freeman

 

Martin Freeman
Martin Freeman.

If like me, you're still trying to get your head around the ending of Masterpiece Mystery's Sherlock, then maybe you've also been thinking a lot lately about Holmes' sidekick, John Watson. What an endearing character. It might come as no surprise to learn that Martin Freeman, who plays Watson, won a 2011 British Academy of Film and Television award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the good doctor.

Born on September 8, 1971 in Aldershot, Hampshire, Freeman was the youngest of five children. His parents, Geoffrey, a naval officer, and his mother Philomena separated when he was a child and he went to live with his father. When Freeman was just ten his father died of a heart attack and Freeman moved back in with his mother and his step-father James.

Martin Freeman
Cumberbatch and Freeman in Sherlock.

Like the character he would portray years later, the young Freeman had a "dodgy" leg, for which he had to undergo a hip operation. He was also asthmatic. These childhood setbacks, however, didn't prevent the youngster from being on the British junior national squash team from the age of nine until he was fourteen.

According to Freeman, he was "almost a champion". He never made it to the top though because in Freeman's opinion he "just didn't have the killer instinct. I always caught myself thinking, someone's got to lose and it would be such a shame if the other guy lost, so I never quite went the extra mile".

Instead, Freeman swapped out the squash court for the stage, joining the Teddington Youth Theatre when he was 15. A couple of years later he decided to take up acting professionally and after leaving his Catholic high school, enrolled at London's Central School of Speech and Drama.

Martin Freeman
As Tim in The Office.

Unlike many actors just starting out, Freeman was fortunate to get acting work immediately. Then in 2001, Freeman teamed up with Ricky Gervais, among others, to create what would become a cult favorite – the BBC2 Golden Globe winning comedy series, The Office.

Freeman played lovelorn sales rep Tim Canterbury. In real-life Freeman could not be more unlike the character he portrayed. For starters, he's fastidious about his appearance. According to his "wife", actress Amanda Abbington, Freeman won't even go to the shops unless he's ironed his trousers!

A self-described "mod", Freeman's preferred clothing style is vintage Levi's, Fred Perry shirts, velvet collared Sixties overcoats and penny loafers.

"Being a mod is about attention to detail and a love for clothes", says Freeman. "I like really versatile clothing that's not too showy, but I have to be careful, because in my mind I'm 6ft 1in, but really I'm quite short," says the 5' 7" actor, who can even remember the first outfit he bought with his own money.

Martin Freeman
Freeman and Abbington at home.

"I was 15," he says, "and it was a Prince of Wales three-button mod jacket bought from a local mod shop. I had matching trousers from Oxfam, a Ben Sherman shirt, loafers from Hobbs and an umbrella. People used to ask me, 'Why do you dress like that?' They were genuinely puzzled."

Freeman is equally obsessed with music. His vinyl record collection is immense with his preference being for music from the '60s and '70s. It takes up vast amounts of custom-built shelf space in the Hertfordshire home he shares with Abbington and their two children, six year old Joe and four year old Grace.

Freeman and Abbington, who call each other "husband" and "wife" but have never actually married, met when they were both appearing in a television film Men Only in 2000. It was love at first sight and the couple moved in together just two months after their first meeting.

Abbington, who played Isobel, the pregnant bridesmaid who goes into labor in Doc Martin, has starred alongside Freeman in several productions, but so far they've managed to avoid all the usual trappings that go along with celebrity. Instead of premier parties, or the London club scene, the couple prefers to stay home watching television. One of Freeman's favorite shows being The Antique Roadshow.

Martin Freeman
In The Hobbit.

Lately, however, Freeman hasn't been home much as he's been working in New Zealand on the first prequel to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, the two-part adaptation of The Hobbit. He plays the film's main character, Bilbo Baggins.

Freeman initially had to decline the part, as filming conflicted with the taping of the second Sherlock series. Jackson so wanted Freeman for the lead role of Baggins though that he juggled around his production schedule and Freeman was given time off to return to England to film Sherlock. As far as Jackson is concerned, adjusting to Freeman's schedule was well worth the trouble.

"He is fantastic", Jackson gushes, "I can't imagine anyone else doing Bilbo. He is Bilbo-esque. He has the essential features of this little English gent, this country gent who is slightly old-fashioned and has to go around in the world and try to cope with it."

Freeman's buddy Benedict Cumberbatch also has a part in the film. He supplies the voice of the dragon, Smaug. Part one of The Hobbit will open in December of this year with part two being released in 2013.

I'll be back next week with more tidbits about the actors you love to see on Afternoon Tea. If you've got a favorite actor you'd like to see featured, let me know.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of May 21, 2012:
Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch

 

Benedict Cumberbatch
Cumberbatch as Sherlock.

So how did you enjoy Masterpiece Mystery's Sherlock? Benedict Cumberbatch's interpretation of the great detective is certainly very different than what we've been used to.

Cumberbatch was born in London on July 19, 1976 and brought up in the affluent area of Kensington, west London. At the age of eight, his parents, television actors Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham, sent him to board at Brambletye Preparatory School in West Sussex. Then, with the help of Cumberbatch's grandmother, who helped fund the princely tuition fees of around $50,000 a year, Cumberbatch was enrolled as a boarder at Harrow.

As one of England's most prestigious private schools, Harrow's former students include eight prime ministers. It was there that Cumberbatch performed in his first play; Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. His role was Titania, Queen of the Fairies and as Harrow was an all-boy's school, Cumberbatch continued to play the girl parts until his voice broke and he could take on the male roles.

On leaving school, Cumberbatch took a gap year and taught English at a Tibetan monastery. When he returned to England, he attended the University of Manchester, where he studied drama and met his long-time girlfriend, Olivia Poulet. (The couple dated for twelve years, splitting up just last year).

Benedict Cumberbatch
Cumberbatch's parents, Wanda
Ventham and Timothy Carlton

After graduating, Cumberbatch was encouraged by his father to take up acting as a profession. He moved to London and enrolled in a one year course at the London Academy of Music Dramatic Arts, armed with the knowledge that his parents had confidence in his ability to succeed in the acting world. "It was always important to have their blessing," Cumberbatch says, "and one of the reasons I get up in the morning is to make them proud."

Just two years after completing his course at LAMDA, Cumberbatch wowed U.K. television audiences with his performance as Stephen Hawking in the 2004 BBC drama, Hawking. He was listed in the credits for the show under the name Ben Carlton, having dropped Cumberbatch in favor of his father's stage name. As Cumberbatch explains, "I just assumed I couldn't be called Benedict Cumberbatch. But then, one day, I told someone in the business what I was really called and they said, "That's great, that's something you can use to stand out." And stand out he did. His performance as Hawking earned him a Best Actor nomination from the British Film and Television Academy.

Benedict Cumberbatch
At Harrow.

The same year, 2004, Cumberbatch was cast as the protagonist Edmund Talbot in the miniseries To the Ends of the Earth. Filming took place in South Africa over a four month period and was a huge undertaking. It was also one that almost cost Cumberbatch his life.

One weekend, Cumberbatch and two friends took time out to learn scuba diving near the Mozambique border. Rather than stay the night and return in the morning, Cumberbatch, who had a cold at the time, persuaded his friends to break the rules and drive back at night. Two hours from home the front right tire got a puncture. They pulled up to fix it when out of the shadows of the brush six men appeared. The terrified trio was forced to stand facing the car with their hands on their heads while their assailants frisked them for valuables.

As the friends had spent all their ready cash and weren't carrying any weapons, the frustrated robbers bundled them back into the car. "I remember thinking that they wanted to shoot us in the car and then drive it off the road," recalls Cumberbatch. "Theo and Denise were in the back and I had to sit in the front passenger seat on the lap of one of the men, with my back to the windscreen and my head down. It seemed surreal."

Benedict Cumberbatch
As Stephen Hawkins.

Sure enough the car was driven off the road and into the bush. When Cumberbatch and his friends were dragged out and told to kneel with their hands on their heads, Cumberbatch feared his prediction was about to come true. "We were in the execution position with a duvet over our heads to silence the shots, beneath an underpass with HGVs thundering past above - the perfect cover for gunshots. They had driven us off-road to rob and shoot us, fix the car and drive off unobserved. 'This is it!' I thought."

Having by now changed the flat tire, the kidnappers decided they'd take their credit card carrying captives to a bank cash machine and force them to withdraw money. They were put back into the car, only this time Cumberbatch was ordered to get into the trunk. Through the closed lid he could hear his friends pleading with their kidnappers. "Please don't kill him."

"Christ they're going to kill me in the boot!" thought Cumberbatch. Suddenly the lid opened and Cumberbatch delivered the performance of his life. "Very calmly I told them I was claustrophobic and that while I had enough air to breathe, I could panic and die and be a problem for them. "Dead body in a boot, problem, not good!"

Benedict Cumberbatch
Cumberbatch with former girlfriend,
actress Olivia Poulet

The lid slammed shut again and after a lot of arguing, re-opened and Cumberbatch was ordered out. He was taken up a small hill away from the others falling over on the way up and cutting his head on the ground. Once again the men made him kneel, tied his hands behind his back and told him "we are not going to hurt you but make one mistake and we will kill you. Lie on the ground."

Cumberbatch remembers the situation vividly, "I could hear the others being brought up and Den talking calmly about being cold and needing to be tied to me for warmth. Theo had gone silent and I feared the worst but thankfully he was brought to the same spot and tied up. The car sounded like it was leaving and that we were being guarded by only a couple of the gang."

Cumberbatch lay in the freezing cold on his side with his eyes closed and his ear to the ground. "I could feel the blood on my face and hear the insects scratching around in the dark. I thought of home and how, despite being near other people, we all die utterly alone. I started a breathing meditation to recover calm, conserve energy and remain alert. "

Time passed and eventually the captives realized their captors had gone and weren't returning. They untied themselves and stumbled up the embankment onto the road. As cars and trucks passed them by, the wounded friends walked on. Finally they saw a shop that served as a truck stop at night. The owners provided comfort and warmth, until the police and the production company arrived on the scene. Cumberbatch recalls that the instant coffee he sipped and the cigarette he smoked that night while waiting to be taken home were "the best of my life".

Benedict Cumberbatch
Preparing for the role of the
Creature in Frankenstein at
the National Theatre, England.

Since his experience in South Africa, Cumberbatch has made the most of each and every day. A year after the kidnapping, he was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role for his performance as Tesman in Hedda Gabler. Last year, he and Jonny Lee Miller jointly won the Olivier Award for Best Actor for their portrayals in the Danny Boyle directed Frankenstein at the National Theatre. Both actors switched roles every night, alternating the roles of Victor Frankenstein and Creature.

2011 also found Cumberbatch becoming a hit with U.S. movie goers, when he appeared in the award winning films Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy, and the Steven Spielberg-directed War Horse. Next year Cumberbatch will be seen as Khan Noonien Singh, "the not-so-good-guy" in Star Trek 2. He got the role after submitting a videotaped audition, which was recorded in a friend's kitchen late at night, last December. Given that it was Christmas, Cumberbatch was "pretty strung out", which must have given him just the right kind of energy that director J.J. Abrams was looking for because the director later reported "it was one of the most compelling audition readings I'd ever seen."

Benedict Cumberbatch
At the UK premier of War Horse.

Cumberbatch's performance as Sherlock is equally compelling, so much so that there is now talk of a season 3 being in the works. Before that though rumor has it that Cumberbatch is tipped to replace Matt Smith as Dr. Who, when Smith leaves after the next series. Given that Cumberbatch turned down the role when David Tennant left, because of his commitment to Sherlock, the chances of him playing the Time Lord are pretty high. In fact, I'd bet my deerstalker on it!

I'd love to know what you think of the new Sherlock. Drop me a line and let me know.

 

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of May 14, 2012:
Judi Dench: Part Three

 

This week we wrap up our chat about Dame Judi Dench, who stars as Jean Pargetter in As Time Goes By.

Judi Dench
With daughter Finty at four
days old in 1972.

Following her marriage to actor Michael Williams in 1971, Judi continued to establish herself as one of British theatre's most noteworthy performers, while Michael also carved out a career mainly as a classical actor. The couple appeared together numerous times in stage productions such as Pack of Lies and Mr. & Mrs. Nobody. They also appeared together on screen in the movie Tea With Mussolini, although Williams admitted he only took the part to "hold Judi's hand" during filming in Italy.

In 1993 the couple's historic home in Hampstead was destroyed by fire, caused by a candle lit by their daughter Finty when she was home with a friend. All of their acting awards were wrecked along with the gifts they'd given to each other over the years. It was a devastating experience, but not as devastating as the tragedy that was to strike in 1999 when Williams was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Judi Dench
With husband Michael Williams at
the Oscars in 1999.

Cared for by his wife of thirty years, Williams continued to work. His final performance was in a two-part adaptation of Silas Marner for BBC radio, where he played the title role. The show, which also starred Williams' daughter Finty as Marner's adopted daughter Eppie, aired after he died in January, 2001 at the age of 66. A devout Catholic, Williams was a former President of the Roman Catholic Actors' Guild and shortly before his death he was recognized by the Catholic Church with a papal knighthood of St Gregory.

"It meant a huge amount to him", says his daughter, "huge - when you think of the awards that my mother's won. He held it up and said to Mummy, 'This is my award. Nobody else was up for this'."

Williams' Catholic faith was the second most important thing in his life - the first being his only grandchild, Sam. "Sam was the best thing that ever happened to him", says Finty, who despite the closeness of her relationship with her parents, had kept her pregnancy a secret until just two weeks before Sam's birth. "I thought Daddy would kill me," explains Finty, who has never revealed the identity of Sam's father, "but he and Sam loved each other so much."

Judi Dench
Dench, Finty and grandson Sammy.

Williams' intolerance of modern lifestyles also extended to his views on marriage. He was a product of his generation and his Liverpool upbringing. As Finty explains, "his mum did everything for his father, his brother and himself. He could do no wrong in her eyes and he was brought up to believe that men went out to work and brought the money in and women looked after the children and cooked the tea."

Williams himself admitted to some jealousy and once said "I am old-fashioned enough to think I should be providing the bread." Instead not only did he have to get used to his wife being the major bread winner of the family, but to also being called "Mr. Dench". He found the Oscar awards particularly difficult.

It had been Williams' choice, however, that Dench return to work after the birth of their only daughter in 1972. Dench would have been perfectly happy to stay at home and had more children. In fact, the couple had tried to adopt another child when Dench was 40, but were rejected because of their age and their differing religions.

Dench did, however, take on the role of housewife every Sunday. While Williams went off to the pub, where he believed women had no place, Dench would cook a traditional Sunday lunch. It'd be on the table by quarter to two every Sunday, regardless of whether she was performing eight times a week and regardless of whether Williams was back or not. One time when he hadn't come home, Dench locked him out and he had to climb into the house through a window.

That wasn't the first time Williams had felt the brunt of his wife's temper. She once threw a hot cup of tea at him. "Not just at Michael", confesses Dench, "but I threw it at my mother-in-law as well. Fortunately it missed."

As she has grown older, Dench admits to becoming angrier and more passionate about things. An example she gives is, "when I want to ring up about something and I get that recorded message which tells me to press one, two, three or four, and then you press four and there are two more recorded messages and YOU CANNOT TALK TO ANYBODY! It makes me absolutely mad."

Judi Dench
With daughter Fenty in 2006.

After Williams' death Dench and her daughter found different ways to deal with the loss. As Finty explains "our family was like a triangle. It was Mummy and me, and Daddy at the top, and when he went we didn't know where we were because we didn't have structure to our family. We were both floundering and we grieved in very different ways." While Dench threw herself into her work, Finty used drink to take the pain away. Eighteen months after her father's death she booked into the Priory Clinic. While she remained sober for a while, in 2005, she was given a suspended sentence following a car crash in which she was found to be more than three times the legal drink limit. While she received treatment she cut herself off from her son who was taken care of by his grandmother.

Dench on the other hand for whom grief produced energy, made three films in rapid succession. She continues to work at the same furious pace and has no intention of retiring. As she explains, "I intend to go on working as long as I can because I still have a huge amount of energy. I'm certainly not ready to be packed away somewhere and told to put my feet up and go to bed at a certain time."

Although she's "always been very, very insecure about where the next job is coming from", Dench is not ready to take on every role that might come along. For instance, a few years back when her good friend Sir Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, suggested that the time had come for her to play the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet for instance, she pushed his face into his dinner!

Judi Dench
The Queen invests Dame Judi
with the Insignia of a
Companion of Honour.

The one thing that might slow Dench down a bit though is her failing eyesight. Earlier this year she was diagnosed with a medical condition which can lead to blindness. Explains Dench, "I've got what my ma had, macular degeneration, which you get when you get old. I had wet in one eye and dry in the other and they had to do these injections, and I think it's arrested it. I hope so."

No longer able to read scripts, Dench has them read to her by her daughter or her agent. She is also unable to see faces in front of her - just their outline. "The most distressing thing is in a restaurant in the evening", she says "I can't see the person I'm having dinner with. But you get used to it. I've got lenses and glasses and things and very bright light helps. I can do a crossword if it's bright sunshine but if a cloud comes out the next minute I can't see anything."

Despite her deteriorating eye condition, Dench still considers herself to be extremely fortunate. "I'm very conscious that I'm in the minority in that I love what I do. How big is the number of people who are running to work to do a job that they like? And how lucky to be employed at it - how incredibly lucky,"

Judi Dench
Dame Judi and David Mills.

Adding to Dench's good fortunate lately is a new man in her life; the first since the death of Williams. While she's keeping pretty quiet on the subject, her friendship with conservationist David Mills is being talked about quite openly in theatrical circles and friends report that she is the happiest she has been for several years. The 69-year-old Mills runs a wildlife park near the home Dench shares with her daughter and grandson in Surrey.

Dench's latest project is called Better Living Through Chemistry. Filming is currently taking place in Annapolis. But before you jump in your car and head out that way in the hopes of seeing your favorite Dame, it's doubtful she'll be on hand for the filming as she's playing the role of "Narrator". Something she's probably able to record back in England. If we hear anything different, we'll let you know!

In the meantime, you can see Dench on the big screen in her latest film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, about a group of pensioners who decide to live out their years in India. Or you can just stay home, pop the kettle on and enjoy Afternoon Tea with a younger Dame Judi in As Time Goes By, on MPT every weekday afternoon at 2:30pm.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of May 7, 2012:
Judi Dench: Part Two

 

This week we continue our chat about the Grand Dame of Afternoon Tea, Judi Dench, who appears every weekday afternoon on MPT in As Time Goes By.

Judi Dench
With husband Michael Williams as
Laura and Mike in A Fine Romance.

Dame Judi's first Royal honor was in 1970 when she was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. More would follow after her marriage in 1971 to her Royal Shakespeare Company colleague, Michael Williams. Although the couple partnered up on stage several times it was their on-screen coupling as stars of the hit television series, A Fine Romance, that brought them to the public's attention. The series ran from 1981 to 1984 and Dench would later affirm that their real life 30-year-long marriage was in itself the finest romance of all, with her calling Williams, "my spoony old thing" and he in turn sending her a single red rose every Friday.

Judi Dench
A young Judi as Ophelia with
John Neville, during rehear-
sals for Hamlet in 1957.

By 1988, Dench had added the title of "director" to her list of credits, when she staged Much Ado About Nothing, for Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company's touring season. Branagh played Benedict to Samantha Bond's Beatrice. That same year found Dench paying another visit to Buckingham Palace, this time to receive a promotion, when she was made a Dame in honor of her contribution to the arts. In her usual unassuming way, Dench played it down, when she quipped, "it's a wonderful honor to be made a Dame but it makes it difficult for you when you go to America because there it is something different to be a dame."

In 1991 the writer of A Fine Romance, Bob Larbey, was asked to write six episodes of what was to be a one-season sitcom, starring Jean Simmons. When Simmons decided she didn't want to uproot herself from California, Dench auditioned and was cast as Jean Pargetter. Her co-star was veteran sitcom actor Geoffrey Palmer and the series of course was As Time Goes By. The six episodes turned into nine seasons and the show became a hit not just in the U.K., but the world over.

Throughout the 1990s Dench performed on television, stage and in films. Although her 1965 appearance as a young wife in the film Four in the Morning had earned Dench a British Academy of Film and Television award, it was a medium she had been put off of, when in her early 20s a director had told her "Miss Dench, you have every single thing wrong with your face."

Judi Dench
As "M" in James Bond.

Dench would go onto earn nine more BAFTA awards, numerous Academy Award nominations and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. She also became a hit with fans of James Bond films that enjoyed seeing her as Bond's tough boss "M", a character she will reprise this year for the seventh time when the latest James Bond film is released in October.

Somehow, despite recording episodes of As Time Goes By, making films, and doing voice over narrations for books on tape, Dench also found time in the 1990s to appear on stage, thereby adding more awards to her growing collection. In fact, in 1995 her stage performances in Absolute Hell and A Little Night Music made her the first person ever to receive two Olivier Best Actress Awards in the same year.

Judi Dench
With her Academy Award
for Shakespeare in Love.

Dench wrapped up her success in the '90s, when in 1999 she transferred from London's West End to Broadway in the play Amy's View, which earned her a Best Actress Tony Award for her portrayal of Esme Allen. Owing to the success of As Time Goes By on PBS, and her increased recognition, during her stay in New York, people would stop her in the streets and applaud her in restaurants.

The adulation only increased with the onset of the new millennium, but Dench's successful career would be offset with tragedy. That's something we'll talk about next week, as we continue this look at the prolific career of Dame Judi Dench.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of April 30, 2012:
Judi Dench: Part One

 

Judi Dench
Judi Dench.

The actress we're featuring this week came to prominence over fifty years ago playing Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet with the Old Vic Company. Her film work has ranged from action movies such as James Bond, to period films such as Her Majesty Mrs. Brown. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love and the other awards she has garnered for her stage and television work are too numerous to mention. Royalty has honored her three times, making her not only a Dame, but also giving her the equivalent of a Knighthood.

I'm talking of course about Dame Judi Dench, whom we get to spend company with each and every weekday on Afternoon Tea's As Time Goes By.

Judith Olivia Dench was born December 9, 1934 in Heworth, Yorkshire. Her mother Eleanora was from Dublin and she met Judi's father Reginald when he was studying medicine at Trinity College in Dublin. After they were married, her father became a physician in York and was the GP for the York Theatre, while her mother was the theatre's wardrobe mistress.

Judi Dench
In Cabaret in 1968.

The Dench family, which along with Judi included her two older brothers, Michael and Jeffrey, lived in a sprawling Victorian house, which often served as a lodging place for the touring actors working at the theatre. Like her father Judi had a great sense of humor. Her hot-temper though she got from her Irish mother. One day, she remembers how her mother throw a vacuum cleaner down the stairs, aiming it directly at the unwanted door to door sales man who had tried to sell it to her.

As a child Judi enjoyed drawing on the walls of her attic room, roller skating, dressing the family cat up in dolls clothes and making tin can phones. She also loved to dress up and join in the family sing-a-longs around the piano while her mother played. Given she grew up in such a "dramatic" environment, it wasn't surprising that Judi would become interested in drama.

While at The Mount School, a Quaker Independent Secondary school in York, Judi appeared in several school productions, but on leaving decided to train as a set designer. After about six months into her set design training, Judi switched courses and auditioned at London's Central School of Speech and Drama. Her brother Jeffrey, six years older than Judi, was already attending the school and much to Judi's surprise she was accepted. One of her classmates was Vanessa Redgrave, but it was Judi who graduated in 1957 with the Gold Medal as Outstanding Student.

Judi Dench
As Titania in A Midsummer
Night's Dream
.

It didn't take long for England's prominent theatre company the Old Vic to snatch Judi up and they gave her the part of Ophelia in a production of Hamlet. The reviews were lukewarm to the appearance of a "school girl" in a major role and when the company went on tour in the U.S. Judi was replaced in the part. Regardless, Judi stayed with the Old Vic until 1961, when she left to join the newly formed Royal Shakespeare Company. She then went on to take her talents as a Shakespearean actress to the Nottingham Playhouse and the Oxford Playhouse and performed with both companies until 1968, when she was offered the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret at the Palace Theatre in London. Never having been in a musical before, Judi was so scared of auditioning that she sang her audition piece from the wings of the stage.

Cabaret was a hit - and so was Judi. She stayed with the show for a year, before returning to the Royal Shakespeare Company, where she remained for the next two decades. It was while at the RSC that Judi met Liverpudlian Michael Williams, who would later become her husband. Michael had joined the RSC in 1963 and had first met Judi when she had recently finished dating actor Leonard Rossiter. It took several years though before for the couple's friendship blossomed into a romance.

Michael first proposed to Judi, while she was on tour in Australia. Hearing that a close friend of Judi's had died, he flew to Australia from England to comfort her. As Judi recalls, "I was doing The Winter's Tale in Australia. I thought he was in England but one night on stage I turned round during a dance to see an 'extra' who had never been there before!" It was Michael. While the surprise visit may have been a pleasant one, Judi felt that it wasn't the right time to accept Michael's proposal so she told him to ask her again when they got back to England. Finally on a rainy night in London's Battersea, Judi accepted Michael's proposal of marriage.

Judi Dench
Dame Judi Dench and
husband Michael Williams
on their wedding day.

The wedding took place on February 5, 1971, with the couple walking to the ceremony from Judi's home in Hampstead. A zoo served as the locale for the wedding reception. Their marriage was to last nearly 30 years until Michael's died of lung cancer in 2001. By the time they married, Judi was already making a name for herself and had been the recipient in 1970 of her first Royal Award; an OBE for services to acting.

In September, 1972, on the birth of their daughter Tara, who was nicknamed Finty, Judi offered to give up acting so she could take care of the baby. Knowing that Judi would be miserable if she wasn't acting, Michael encouraged her to continue and she managed to rework her schedule so she could act on stage at nights. When Finty started school, Judi restricted herself to day-time work on television.

Family has always been of upmost importance to Judi. She says "they have always been the most important thing in my life, and after that everything is secondary." After her father died, she had her mother move into their home near Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. Michael's parents also lived there and having three generations of her family living together appealed to Judi's Quaker upbringing.

Judi Dench
Judi, Michael, Finty and Judi's mother.

"It's the way they do things in the Mediterranean countries", says Judi "and, of course, in India, but by the very nature of what it is, it's not easy. However, the pluses outweigh the disadvantages by a considerable margin. For example, my daughter Finty now remembers her grandparents very vividly and fondly."

Caring for elderly relatives is something Judi feels strongly about. As she once told a magazine reporter "you just cannot put people into a care home, have them sit in a circle of chairs and watch television all day - it's inhumane."

During the 1970s Judi ventured into television and in 1978 she starred alongside Jeremy Irons in a BBC television film called Langrishe, Go Down. Her role was that of an Irish spinster. In real life Judi's marriage to Michael would become one of the most long lasting and enduring in show business.

We'll chat more about Dame Judi next week, in the meantime, feel free to drop me a line and let me know which actor you'd like to see featured in Tea Time Tidbits.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of April 23, 2012:
Roger Lloyd-Pack

 

Don't you just love it when an actor you've been seeing for years in a particular British show turns up in another? One such actor is Roger Lloyd-Pack. We got used to seeing him as Owen in The Vicar of Dibley, and now we see him Tuesdays at 1pm in The Old Guys, where he plays Tom. You might also, of course, have seen Lloyd-Pack in Inspector Morse, Doc Martin, Doctor Who and the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Roger Lloyd-Pack
Roger Lloyd-Pack.

Lloyd-Pack, who prefers not to use the hyphenated version of name professionally and occasionally also goes by the name Owen Lloyd Pack, was born in Islington, London on February 8, 1944. His mother, Ulrike was a travel agent and his father Charles Lloyd-Pack an actor.

As a youngster, Lloyd-Pack was educated at Bedales, a private boarding school in Hampshire. Although he played cricket and field hockey, and excelled academically in English, French and Latin (he also speaks German and Italian), it was the school's drama program that was to have the biggest impact on his life.

"Bedales had a lovely old arts and craft theatre", says Lloyd-Pack. "I loved the whole thing about acting and decided not to go to university but to go straight into acting. My dad was an actor so it seemed the normal thing to do."

Lloyd-Pack's relationship with his father was not a close one. Lloyd-Pack the elder found it hard to deal with his son's teenage energy. "He wasn't very good at being a dad to boys", says Lloyd-Pack. "He could be very remote and could get very angry. I remember a very big row between him and Mum which was very upsetting. I try not to be judgmental. But it's hard not to be."

Roger Lloyd-Pack
With daughter, Emily, and her
younger half brother.

After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, then the Royal Shakespeare Company, Lloyd-Pack found work in repertory theatre. In 1968, when he was just 24, he married his first wife, Sheila Hughes. It was a disaster. As Lloyd-Pack recalls, "I was a bit lost. My career was going nowhere. I was doing the odd movie or bit of TV. [Sheila] wanted to be married, and there was a pressure to join the grown-ups. I was trapped. I completely lost a sense of who I was. I shouldn't have got married."

To complicate matters, the young couple had a daughter, Emily, who was just two when Roger left. Although Lloyd-Pack tried to be there for his daughter, it was difficult. "To walk out on a marriage and leave a child was painful", he recalls. "I didn't feel good about leaving her. I tried to keep in touch as much as I could, but it wasn't always easy, partly because of the difficulties in the relationship with her mum and partly because I'd be away acting."

Roger Lloyd-Pack
Emily in the 1987 film
Wish You Were Here.

Emily also went into the acting business. At just 15, she achieved international success, under the name of Emily Lloyd, as the star of the award winning film, Wish You Were Here. In 1992, she was cast alongside Brad Pitt in the Robert Redford directed film, A River Runs Through It. The film, which garnered an Oscar for cinematography and was nominated in several other categories, was to be the youngster's last major hit. Not long after, she experienced severe mental health problems which have escalated over the years. Now in her 40s, she lives a reclusive life in Hackney, East London, having not acted in a decade.

"It would be great if she would go back to acting,' says Lloyd-Pack, who confesses to wondering if "certain things that have affected Emily wouldn't have happened if I had remained there."

Lloyd-Pack and his second wife, Jan Markham, who is a poet and dramatist, also worry about their eldest son, Spencer. He joined a religious community in Manchester and no longer sees very much of his family. Explains Lloyd-Pack, "he was doing a human ecology course at university at the time, which required him to speak to this person on the phone about how you free yourself from your parents by cutting the ties that bind, and this is how he was introduced to it. I think there is an element of brainwashing involved. It's almost like he's taken Holy Orders."

Roger Lloyd-Pack
Emily with her father.

Despite the troubles they have gone through with Emily and Spencer, the Lloyd-Pack/Markham relationship has thrived for forty years. They've known each other even longer, having first met when she was 12 and he was 17 and his family was on holiday at his uncle's cottage in Sussex. Jan lived nearby and Lloyd-Pack along with his brother would visit. Over the years, they'd run into each other from time to time, until the day came when they suddenly realized that there were more than friends - they were "soul mates".

The couple moved in together and raised three boys, Spencer, Hartley and Louis, but they didn't marry until 2000. Explains Lloyd-Pack, "I don't find marriage particularly romantic and I've never been comfortable with the phrase "my wife", it smacks too much of ownership. Even now, I don't like to introduce Jan as my wife; I prefer to call her my partner".

The pair married in Aberdeen 25 years to the day they started dating. "But even a happy marriage doesn't guarantee that your children are going to be secure and not go and do something outrageous that you feel responsible for," says Lloyd-Pack. "I think being an actor has been hard for my children. Although I was at home a lot, particularly when they were young, I think having a famous father is difficult. It can be embarrassing and annoying for the kids".

Home for the Lloyd-Pack family is in north Norfolk. Lloyd-Pack fell in love with the area in 1970 when he was working in the film The Go Between, which starred Julie Christie, Edward Fox and Alan Bates and was filmed at Melton Constable Hall. To accommodate Lloyd-Pack's acting schedule, especially when he was working for 25 years on the hit television series, Only Fools and Horses, in which he played road sweeper "Trigger", the family have a place in Kentish Town, North London as well.

Roger Lloyd-Pack
With wife, Jan.

Dividing his time between London and rural Norfolk has also given Lloyd-Pack the opportunity to become actively involved in the promotion of public transport. In a June 2008 appearance as a guest on BBC's The Politics Show Lloyd-Pack argued the case for better-integrated public transport, specifically railways, saying "we have a competitive, cutthroat system. Over charged and, thanks to privatization, not integrated. To get us out of our cars it needs to be reliable, cheap and efficient. You can't be sure if you're going to arrive anywhere on time, especially in rural areas. Sometimes there's one bus in a lifetime! The railways are underinvested, they're archaic. You have to book months ahead to get a reasonable price. The road lobby has a strong influence. The state of the economy is judged by the number of cars and number of roads. I drive as little as I need to."

As well as being a supporter of the railways, Lloyd-Pack is also a fan of Tottenham Hotspur soccer team and is honorary patron of the London children's charity Scene & Heard, a mentoring project for inner city youth. With so many interests and such a busy acting schedule, he doesn't find much time to relax, but when he does he likes to garden, sing, read and listen to music. His musical tastes are varied. "I like a whole range of music: rhythm and blues, country, folk, rock and roll; anything with a backbeat, anything with boogie woogie." He is also a keen lindy hopper, a good snooker player, and enjoys playing the piano and practicing yoga.

In the last two years, however, Lloyd-Pack has appeared in four films, and several television series. One of the films you might want to look out for is Made in Dagenham. It was nominated for four awards at the 2010 British Academy Film Awards and tells the story of the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car plant, where female workers walked out in protest against sexual discrimination. Lloyd-Pack stars as a World War II veteran suffering with mental difficulties. The film also stars Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson. If you see it be sure let me know what you think!

Also feel free to drop me a line and tell me if there's a favorite actor or actress you'd like to see featured in these weekly Tidbits.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of April 16, 2012:
Philip Bretherton

 

Philip Bretherton
Philip Bretherton.

Some actors seem to have been part of our weekday afternoons for so long now that it's hard to imagine they are not the characters they portray. One such actor is Philip Bretherton who plays Alistair in As Time Goes By.

Born on May 30, 1955, in Preston, Lancashire, Bretherton began acting at school when he was about 11 or 12. As the school he attended was an all-boys school, the younger boys usually had to play the female roles. According to Bretherton, "it was the only way to get into the school play. So we had to grit out teeth against the inevitable ribbing and take the plunge, knowing we'd graduate to male roles eventually".

While performing in one of his first plays, Bretherton started a tradition that he continues to this day. It was opening night and his mother was driving him to school and they both started to sing "I like a nice cup of tea in the morning". From then on every first night of a performance, Bretherton takes himself to a quiet place and sings the song to himself.

Philip Bretherton
As Detective Inspector Campbell
in the 1987 Agatha Christie Miss
Marple Mystery, At Bertram's Hotel.

Both of Bretherton's parents were supportive of Bretherton's decision to study drama when he left school and went to Manchester University. Although his mother was an English teacher and would have preferred he do something else, she never tried to persuade him against acting.

"I think they realized", says Bretherton, "that if, when I was 12, I was willing to put on a dress to play a woman in front of rugby-playing schoolboys, I must be serious!"

On leaving University in 1977, Bretherton decided to see if he could make a career out of what he loved doing best and he moved to London, planning on giving himself two years to see if he could make it in the acting world. Most of the time the only work Bretherton could find was temp work in offices, or working in kitchens. Eventually his patience paid off and he began to get bit parts on television and work in repertory theatres. He also did a stint in the 1980s touring around Germany as Brad in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Philip Bretherton
The cast of As Time Goes By.

It wasn't until the early 1990s that Bretherton's career really took off, with the success of As Time Goes By. He was 35 when the series began in 1992, having auditioned for the role of Alistair by reading with Geoffrey Palmer. It was his reading, more than his acting, that got him the role. The producers loved his accent, which while slightly "upper crust", was not public school posh.

One of the best things for Bretherton about working on ATGB was the opportunity to work with Dame Judi Dench. "She's the most fun to work with", recalls Bretherton. "There are no dark sides. There's no sort of going off into a corner being great on screen or great on stage then being awful off it. She's fun all the time and she's what we call a giggler. The least thing will send her off. And she's always got lots of practical jokes on the go."

Philip Bretherton
As Richard Greatham in Noel
Coward's Hay Fever, 2010.

Since ATGB ended, Bretherton has been kept busy with stage work and television. He was Henry Higgins in Pygmalion and Richard Greatham in the Noel Coward comedy Hay Fever. Bretherton also made guest appearances in a new UK series called Silk, and was in the long running Midsomer Murders episode "Made to Measure".

When not acting, Bretherton can often be found wandering around Hampstead Heath, near where he lives in London, birdwatching. Now there's something I can't imagine Alistair ever doing!

You can see Philip Bretherton as Alistair in As Time Goes By every weekday afternoon at 2:30pm on Afternoon Tea.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of April 9, 2012:
David Suchet

 

At the request of an Afternoon Tea viewer, this week we're going to take a look at actor David Suchet, who you may have recently seen as Jaggers in Masterpiece's Great Expectations.

David Suchet
David (right) and
brother John with their
photographer grandfather.

Suchet was born May 2, 1946 in London. His mother Joan was an actress and his father Jack an obstetrician. His maternal grandmother was a music hall performer and his maternal grandfather a famous Fleet Street photographer in the 20s and 30s. Suchet's paternal grandfather moved to France from Kiev in the Ukraine after the October revolution in Russia. The family's original name was Suchedowitz, which was eventually changed to Suchet when the family moved to Cape Town, South Africa.

Suchet was the middle of three boys, all who attended boarding school from the age of 8 to 13. Life for Suchet at Grenham House in Birchington, Kent, was miserable.

"I remember the maths teacher throwing things at me when I got any answers wrong", recalls Suchet, "and he'd also make me stand at the bottom of the line when he stood us all up to be quizzed on our mental arithmetic skills, saying 'You might as well start at the bottom, Suchet, because that's where you will remain for the whole class.' It was very cruel. Little wonder, then, that my confidence simply disappeared."

David Suchet
Suchet, bottom row left, at the age
of 18 with members of the
Wellington School Tennis team.

Sports were the only thing that Suchet excelled at and they got him through his days at Grenham.

"On match days, I would suddenly be called 'David' by the headmaster and the teachers. At all other times, it was just 'Suchet', the word delivered in a harsh way."

The school didn't believe in sparing the rod and Suchet remembers how both he and his brother John, who would go onto become a newscaster, were "both beaten on our bare bottoms with canes."

Once Suchet left the boarding school and started at Wellington, a private day school, things picked up. It was his sports skills that got him into the school.

"In rugby I was known as 'the wriggler' because I was quite small and I would duck down when people tried to tackle me, forcing them to tackle me high and giving me the chance to wriggle free of them. In tennis, I was a demon at the net. I wasn't so good at standing back and getting involved in long rallies with lots of ground strokes, but at the net I would leap across the court and put away smashes and volleys."

David Suchet
Suchet and Laurie Metcalf in
Long Day's Journey into Night.

Suchet's tennis skills took him to Wimbledon where he played in the junior tournament and made it through to the second round. He also played rugby briefly for Richmond and it was assumed that on leaving school, Suchet would either enter the sporting profession, or become a doctor like his father. He did neither. Instead, much to his father's disapproval, Suchet auditioned for and was accepted by The National Youth Theatre. He then studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art for three years before getting his first professional acting job, playing the role of Tybalt in Romeo & Juliet, at the Watermill Theatre, in Bagnor, Berkshire. In 1973, Suchet joined the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, where he played such roles as Caliban in The Tempest and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

Suchet's first television appearance was in 1970, but it wasn't until 1989, that he got to portray the television role he is most identified with, that of Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie's Poirot. Suchet's first brush with Poirot was in 1985, when he appeared as Inspector Japp in the film Thirteen at Dinner, an adaptation of Christie's Lord Edgware Dies. The role of Poirot in the film was played by Peter Ustinov. When ITV began its dramatization of the novels, it was Agatha Christie's family who recommended Suchet for the role of Poirot.

David Suchet
Suchet as Hercule Poirot.

Now over twenty years later, Suchet has completed the thirteenth and final Poirot series. This now means that, with the exception of one short story, Suchet will have played the role in adaptations of every novel and short story featuring the Belgian detective that was written by Dame Agatha Christie. A total of 65 episodes.

"It's been my life's ambition to bring this amazing canon of works to completion", says Suchet, who at 5'6" is 2" taller than the tiny detective.

"Poirot is a brilliant yet profoundly complicated character and I've always loved playing him. But he's so maddeningly frustrating to play as he's so vain and pedantic". It's a trait Suchet can well understand as like the character he plays, Suchet is obsessively immaculate and fastidious.

"I like things to be symmetrical. If I put two things on the mantelpiece, they have to be exactly evenly spaced. But I'm nowhere near as fanatical as Poirot," says Suchet. He does confess, however, that the second most important ritual in his home life is tidying up – the first is going to church. Although raised without religion, Suchet is now deeply religious, having become an Anglican after reaching a turning point in his life in while filming in the U.S. in the late 1980s.

As Suchet recalls the experience, "I was lying in a bath in my hotel, thinking about my grandfather. And I remember thinking 'Isn't it interesting that I feel my grandfather is with me and yet I don't believe in an afterlife?' So I went straight out and bought a Bible and read St Paul's letter to the Romans. He describes how to be as a Christian, and it slotted right into what I had been searching for: something beyond, something quite mystical, but also a way of being that I could relate to."

According to Suchet, "being an actor and a Christian in today's secular society is not easy". He tries, however, not to appear in programs or play characters that would cause undue offence. As Suchet sees it, "the media does have an influence on the public and I feel a real strong moral responsibility in that respect."

David Suchet
Suchet with his CBE.

The role of Hercule Poirot is a part that Suchet felt comfortable with both as an actor and a Christian. To prepare for the part, Suchet meticulously plowed through all the books and stories featuring the diminutive detective, jotting down characteristics until he had a file full of documentation of the character. He then set about not only knowing what Poirot was like, but to gradually become him. He worked particularly hard on finding the right voice. As Suchet recalls "I was desperate that he should sound French, because although he is Belgian, everybody believes that he is French. I wanted to move my voice from my own—which is rather bell-like and mellow and totally unlike Poirot. I wanted to raise that voice up into his head because that's where he works from. Everything comes from there. He's a brain, so that voice had to be raised up and perfected."

Suchet then had to learn how to think like Poirot and how to see the world through his eyes. "I had to make his mannerisms and eccentricities not as though they had been put on to be laughed at, but as if they had come absolutely from within that person. I had to make it look real for the audience, yet in a way so that they could find themselves smiling at this strange little man."

When filming the episodes, to add the poundage required for the role, Suchet, who is in real life is slim and very fit, wears a "fat suit", which he affectionately calls his "armadillo padding."

One of Poirot's biggest fans is the Queen, who awarded Suchet the title of OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2002 for services to drama and a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2011.

Despite devoting so much of his working life to the one role, Suchet has still found time to take on plenty of other work in both theatre and film. He starred, for instance, with Michael Douglas a couple of times, in the 1998 thriller A Perfect Murder and in the 2003 comedy The In-Laws.

David Suchet
The Suchets at a film premier.

Suchet's wife is actress Sheila Farris, who he married in 1976. Their two children, Robert, who is a Royal Marines captain, and Katherine, who is a physiotherapist, were born in 1981 and 1983 respectively. The Suchets currently live in Pinner, in a house once owned by Lord Nelson's daughter Horatia and, more recently, by Open All Hours actor Ronnie Barker.

Suchet is currently appearing in London's West End in the Eugene O'Neill masterpiece Long Day's Journey Into Night. In October there'll be a chance to see Suchet on the big screen in his latest film, Effie, about the mysterious relationship between Victorian art critic John Ruskin and his teenage bride Effie Gray. Suchet plays Ruskin and Dakota Fanning stars as Effie. The film also stars Derek Jacobi, James Fox, Julie Walters and Robbie Coltrane.

If there's an actor you see frequently on MPT that you'd like to learn more about, let me know.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of April 2, 2012:
Jane Freeman

 

Jane Freeman
Jane Freeman as Ivy in
Last of the Summer Wine.

I really enjoy receiving requests from Afternoon Tea viewers who want to find out more about the actors and actresses we've come to think of as "family" over the years. One such actress is Jane Freeman who plays café owner Ivy in Last of the Summer Wine.

Freeman is just one of only two people in the show (the other being Peter Sallis) to have been with the series since its pilot episode aired in 1973. Although her appearances in the show became less frequent in the later years, owing to poor health and insurance coverage which made filming on location restrictive, Freeman still totted up an incredible 274 episodes.

 

Jane Freeman
With LOTSW castmate Mike Grady
at the funeral of Kathy Staff, 2008.

Whether it's because Freeman was busy filming Last of the Summer Wine for so many years, or whether she is just a very private person, Freeman has tended to stay well out of the public eye. Even her exact age is hard to determine. One thing that might surprise you is that, despite her mastery of the Yorkshire dialect, Freeman is in fact Welsh. She was brought up in Merthyr Tydfil, where she attended Vaynor & Penderyn High School, a school that can trace its roots back three centuries. Although the school closed down in 2005, Freeman was a loyal supporter and would frequently attend her old school's annual Prize Days.

After training at the Cardiff College of Music and Drama Freeman embarked on a career in repertory theatre that lead to her performing all over England.

Jane Freeman
The Osiris Players.

Although Freeman is quiet about her personal life, the one subject she does warm up to is when talking about her days with a travelling theatre group called Osiris. The Osiris Players was Britain's first all-female professional theatre company. Founded in 1927 and led until the early 1960s by director Nancy Hewins, on whom Freeman party based the character of Ivy, Osiris was never larger than seven women, of which Freeman was one.

The group's "mission" was to take theatre to people who had no access to the arts and the women played all the parts. Even the male leads. "It was in touch with the tradition of strolling players", recalls Freeman. "It was theatre for the people. A lot of us were convent girls; we were used to playing fellers in school plays".

Jane Freeman
The Osiris Players.

As well as acting, Hewins' cast was responsible for props, for cooking and for changing tires. Before and after the war, the troupe travelled in style. They had two Rolls-Royces, one cream and white and one black. They were the only vehicles that Hewins felt capable of carrying the scenery and the costumes. During wartime Britain, when petrol was scarce, the troupe travelled by horse and covered dray. The war years found Osiris travelling tens of thousands of miles, putting on 1,545 performances of 33 plays - 16 of which were Shakespeare. "He became part of our lives", recalls Freeman. "He was like a friend of ours".

The "band of sisters" as they were nicknamed by Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, would sleep in barns, on school floors, or in park cafes. Being a single-sex company there were few complications. As Freeman recalls, "it was like a nunnery on wheels".

Jane Freeman
The Osiris Players.

The company closed down in 1963, but they created a passion for theatre among the young people who saw them perform, Judi Dench to name but one.

"The original girls were prosperous young women, taking education to the masses - doing their best for the people they saw as under-privileged", explains Freeman. "Osiris had nothing smart about it. It was kept going by loyalty, a sense of duty. We did make a difference, I think, to a lot of people's lives. But when the new secondary moderns and comprehensives started to open - all glass and light - we began to look a bit peculiar, a bit out of date".

If you've got an actor or actress you'd like me to find out more about, let me know.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of March 26, 2012:
Frank Thornton

 

This week at the request of an Afternoon Tea viewer we're going to take a look at actor Frank Thornton; better known as Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served?, or as Herbert "Truly" Truelove in Last of the Summer Wine.

Frank Thornton
Frank Thornton.

Thornton was born Frank Thornton Ball on January 15, 1921, in Dulwich, London. He would later drop his last name and use his middle name, which was his mother's maiden name. Although Thornton knew from an early age that he wanted to be an actor, his banker father insisted that he got a "proper" job. So by day, Thornton worked for an insurance company and confined his acting to evening classes at the London School of Dramatic Art. After two years Thornton managed to persuade his father to let him enroll in the acting school full-time and with his father's support, he quit the insurance company to become an actor in training.

The Second World War was an eventful time for Thornton; he got his first real acting work, touring four plays in Ireland. He also served as a Flying Officer for the Royal Air Force. His acting background made him an ideal choice for appearing in the RAF's propaganda films. As entertainment was considered essential to keeping up the morale of the servicemen, entertainers were enlisted from those serving in all three forces. The RAF had a group called the RAF Gang Show, for which Thornton became a talent spotter. Among those he saw as having huge potential in the entertainment field were Cpl Peter Sellers and Sgt Tony Hancock.

Frank Thornton
In Carry On Screaming, 1966.

In June of 1945, Thornton married actress Beryl Evans and they soon welcomed a daughter Jane. Thornton was demobilized in 1947, at which point he joined a repertory acting company.

The 1950s found Thornton working on both the stage and in film but it wasn't until he was well into his 40s that he became a familiar face to British television viewers. Thornton's particular specialty was comedy and he appeared in some of Britain's classic sitcoms. In 1974 Thornton made a rare appearance in a television drama, when he appeared as Prince Albert in the second episode of Fall of Eagles.

In 1972, Thornton was approached by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft to play the role of Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served? According to Thornton, "David always knew how to cast the right people. It meant they could write the scripts knowing that what they'd written would fit us".

Frank Thornton
In A Funny Thing Happened On
The Way To The Forum
, 1966.

Thornton appeared in each and every episode of Are You Being Served? which ran until 1985. Just prior to the show ending, Thornton appeared in the hit London musical, Me and My Girl, starring as Sir John Teymane. His performance earned him an Olivier Award nomination. In 1980, he had also joined John Cleese in the BBC Television Shakespeare production of The Taming of the Shrew. Thornton was no stranger to Shakespeare and as a young actor he'd been with the Donald Wolfit Shakespearean Company appearing as Lysander and Laertes in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Hamlet, among others.

Frank Thornton
The original cast of Are You Being Served?

To the British public, however, Thornton would always be Captain Peacock. He reprised the role in a short lived follow up to the series called Grace & Favour, known to U.S. viewers as Are You Being Served, Again? The series ran from 1992-1993.

In 1997, at the age when most are already well into their retirement, Thornton eagerly accepted the role of Herbert "Truly" Truelove in Last of the Summer Wine. He replaced actor Brian Wilde who had suggested him for the part. Thornton remained with LOTSW until it ended in 2010. Since it finished he's been enjoying pursuing his favorite recreational activities, which include music, photography, bird watching and wildlife conservation.

Frank Thornton
With wife, Beryl.

Despite having an acting career that spans over 70 years and being the recipient of numerous accolades, there's one that seems to have evaded Thornton. He has never been honored by the Queen for his services. It's an omission that before his death a short while ago David Croft said is long overdue. "[Frank] is a very worthy actor. He had leading roles in two of the greatest British sitcoms, so I think it is about time his turn came round."

Someone else who is hoping Thornton will soon get the recognition he deserves for his contribution to British television and comedy is his daughter, Jane Thornton Higgs. Making it even stranger for her to accept that her father has been overlooked is the fact that she herself was honored by the Queen in the Birthday Honors list of 2010, for her work in preserving the heritage of Eden Valley.

Frank Thornton
Thornton's daughter,
Jane Thornton Higgs MBE.

As curator of the Eden Valley Museum, Higgs has volunteered at the museum since 1997. In 2003, she took on the position of curator and has worked without pay since then in order to establish the museum and save costs. After learning she was being awarded an MBE, Higgs said "it is extraordinary, I can't quite believe it. I was forewarned that my name had been put forward, but I never thought it would actually happen." She added, however, that she does think it strange that she's receiving an honor from the Queen before her father.

Let's cross fingers that Thornton will be included among the recipients in the Queen's next Birthday Honors List, due out in June. If he is, we'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, if you have a favorite Afternoon Tea actor you'd like see to see featured in our weekly Tidbits, drop us a line.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of March 19, 2012:
Rufus Sewell

 

Rufus Sewell
Sewell as Aurelio Zen.

So how did you like the new Masterpiece Mystery! series, Zen? The star of the series, Rufus Sewell, who was born October 29, 1967, is no stranger to Masterpiece. You might recall seeing him in his first major television role; Will Ladislaw in Middlemarch.

Sewell, who was born in Twickenham in South West London, is the son of Willliam Sewell, the Australian animator who worked on the "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" segment of animation for The Beatles' Yellow Submarine film. His Welsh mother, Jo, was an artist. After his parent divorced when Sewell was five, he lived with his mother and older brother Casper. His father died suddenly of a heart attack when Sewell was just ten years old.

Life for the Sewell children wasn't easy. As Sewell recalls, "we were poor, but with a piano and an ostensibly posh name!" The family lived in council-assisted accommodation, his mother was on welfare benefits, and the children got free school lunches.

"My dad was useless with money so even before he died, Mum was used to fending for herself. She had a vegetable round and we would live on what was left. And we wore hand-me-down clothes. Our house was falling apart".

Rufus Sewell
As Will Ladislaw in Middlemarch.

After leaving school, Sewell attended West Thames College where he was encouraged by a drama teacher there to audition for the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. The £100 the teacher loaned Sewell so he could go to the audition proved a great investment. Up until then, Sewell hadn't had much success at anything he'd attempted; he'd been fired from his road sweeping job and had lasted just one day as a roofer's apprentice. At the Central School, however, Sewell finally found something he loved to do and could do well. It was there that he was directed in a play by Judi Dench who, recognizing Sewell's potential, found him his first agent. That led to Sewell eventually being cast in the 1994 BBC production, Middlemarch. Despite Sewell's success in the role, he feels it held him back career wise.

"When I played the part of Will Ladislaw in Middlemarch, it was an experiment for me to see if I could play a young romantic of my own age who didn't have a limp or a Latvian accent. But afterwards I found myself fighting not to play more brooding, period romantic roles."

Rufus Sewell
As Petruchio in the BBC's
The Taming of the Shrew.

Sewell prefers roles such as Petruchio, in the BBC's 2005 version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. The modern retelling of the 400 year old story earned him a Best Actor nomination at the 2006 BAFTA Television Awards. The adaptation of one of Shakespeare's best-loved plays called for Sewell to don a daring combination of fishnet stockings, a miniskirt and kinky boots.

"Some of my friends would say I don't look that different to how I did in 1987", says Sewell, recalling his days as a would-be rock star. "I was heavily into make-up and nail polish back then. I was very androgynous; I loved eye-liner and had huge feather earrings. I never actually wore kinky boots or a miniskirt but I wasn't far off it, believe me. I was also quite big though and in the rugby team, though, so I just about got away with it."

The Taming of the Shrew was the fourth time that Sewell had acted in a work based on a Shakespeare play, having played Hotspur in Henry IV, Part 1 in 1995 and Fortinbras in Hamlet in 1996 and the title role in Macbeth in 1999. That was also the year that Sewell married his long-term girlfriend, Australian fashion journalist Yasmin Abdallah. The marriage was a short one, and they separated the following year. It didn't take Sewell long to fall in love again and in 2002 he and scriptwriter and producer Amy Gardner had a son Billy. They married in 2004, but separated just two years later.

Rufus Sewell
In A Knight's Tale.

Sewell now spends his time shuttling back and forth between London, where his son lives, and Los Angeles where he rents a flat. Living the simple life is something that Sewell prefers to the lifestyle of a typical Hollywood celebrity. Once for instance, when he was working on the film The Holiday, Sewell had to stay for four months in the prestigious, outrageously expensive and glamorous Chateau Marmont hotel. It didn't sit well with his frugal upbringing.

"It was great at first", Sewell says, "but as soon as I realized I was paying for all the extras (and merely making a phone call can cost you a thousand bucks), I ended up scrounging. I bought myself a little toaster and coffee maker. I'd occasionally get a car to take me on set with the idea I was missing the showbiz banter, but really it was to raid the canteen and come back with lots of cakes!"

In an effort to counterbalance the energy he consumes as a constant airline traveler, Sewell is an avid recycler. He walks everywhere and when he can't he drives an energy efficient Prius.

For the filming of Zen, Sewell had to spend three months filming in Rome with most of the action being shot on the streets without the public realizing they were being filmed. One time, as Sewell's character was running through the streets, a little old lady wandered into his path. Without stopping he simply scooped her up in his arms, as if it was part of the story, and kept on running!

Rufus Sewell
With son Billy in 2009.

Finding yourself in the arms of Sewell would, for many, be a dream come true. Sewell, however, can't understand what the fuss is about.

"Given the choice between someone saying I was handsome in a role or ugly but good, I know which I'd choose. In Middlemarch, I felt I was only impersonating an attractive person. I couldn't even get girls at school, as I was fat and not at all attractive. It's nice when women fancy me, but I think I will only disappoint them so I prefer it if they don't know who I am."

Sewell admits though that he and Aurelio Zen share some similar characteristics. "He's got his flaws and is a bit of an outsider" says Sewell. "In fact, Zen isn't a million miles from the real me".

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of March 12, 2012:
James Bolam

 

One of my favorite British series is New Tricks. The show stars James Bolam who I remember watching on the 'telly' when I was a kid in a series called The Likely Lads. He was much younger then - by almost 50 years! In New Tricks, Bolam plays widower Jack Halford.

James Bolam
James Bolam and Rodney Bewes in
the first episode of The Likely Lads.

Born in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, June 16, 1935, Bolam is a true Geordie. His father Robert was from Northumberland and his mother Marion from County Durham. After attending Bede Grammar School, in Sunderland, Bolam went to Bemrose School in Derby then onto the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. His first television work was in the early 1960s, when he also appeared in the films A Kind of Loving and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.

It was The Likely Lads though that made Bolam a star. It ran just two years from 1964 to 1966, after which Bolam adapted the show for radio. The series returned in 1973 under the new title What Happened to the Likely Lads? and ran until 1975, when it was again adapted for BBC Radio. In 1976, Bolam appeared in a feature film of the series. Sadly, that film marked the end of Bolam's friendship with his Likely Lads co-star, Rodney Bewes and they have not spoken for over 30 years.

James Bolam
Second time around when the series
aired again in the early 1970s.

According to Bewes, the rift developed after he told a journalist that when Bolam's wife had told him she was pregnant, Bolam had been so startled he'd almost crashed the car. Bewes had thought it a funny story. Bolam, however, was furious that the fact he was to become a father had been revealed.

Bolam is known for guarding his private life and once commented "I'm having a man fix the track rods on my car. I don't want to know anything about him; why should he want to know anything about me?" As one of British televisions highest paid stars, Bolam can afford to be cranky.

Life for Bolam's old buddy Bewes, however, hasn't been so successful. Now 72 years old he's having to tour one man shows and can barely make ends meet. To make things worse, Bolam refused to sign a waiver for the BBC to run repeats of The Likely Lads, so Bewes and the rest of The Likely Lads cast can no longer count on residuals from the show.

It seems that Bolam doesn't believe in living in the past, saying "you do one job and then move on. You wipe everything else out - you have to."

James Bolam
Bolam and his wife, Sarah Jameson.

Wiping out the past is a creed also adhered to by Bolam's long-time partner actress Susan Jameson, who appears with Bolam in New Tricks, as Edith Lane (wife of Brian Lane, played by Alun Armstrong). Jameson was in the news last year when the son she had put up for adoption as a young teenage actress talked to the press.

After years of speculating as to who his real parents were, Nigel Williams finally got to meet Jameson, along with his half-sister, Lucy Bolam. It was Lucy who had persuaded her mother to respond to Williams' requests to meet. After she first heard from Williams, Jameson had written back to him saying she had "no sense of being your mother" and that "the events of 1959-60 seem to have happened to another person entirely".

Eventually, two years after he'd initially made contact, Williams, Jameson and Lucy met up for lunch in a hotel on the Isle of Man where Williams played piano. Although amicable, the lunch did nothing to forge a bond between Williams and Jameson and she has not contacted him since. Like Bolam, Jameson is immensely private.

James Bolam
Bolam and Jameson in
When The Boat Comes In.

Bolam and Jameson have been together since the mid-1970s when they both appeared in the period drama, When The Boat Comes In. They'd initially met during the filming of an episode of The Likely Lads, but according to Jameson, they didn't hit it off. "I thought he was too loud", says Jameson in a rare interview, and he thought I was stuck up! You could say nothing has changed".

In 2009, Bolam received an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honors List for his services to drama. We'll never know what it felt like for Bolam to be lauded at Buckingham Palace, because in typical Bolam fashion he declined to comment on his honor.

James Bolam
Being honoured by Queen Elizabeth II for
a career that has spanned over 50 years.

Last fall however, Bolam did open up to the press about the fact he'd be retiring from New Tricks. His announcement took the BBC completely by surprise as they'd just commissioned two new series. They have now added a new character to the show, Detective Inspector Steve McAllister, who will be played by 64 year old Denis Lawson.

Lawson, who is actor Ewan McGregor's uncle - and fellow Star Wars alumni - joins the cast this year for the show's ninth series. Expect his character to be the kind of man who although warm and witty has a tendency to rub people up the wrong way with what Lawson describes is an "unorthodox and sometimes unprofessional approach to policing".

New Tricks airs on MPT2 Sundays at 3pm and Mondays at 8pm. Don't forget to drop me a line if you've got a favorite actor you'd like to see featured in Tea Time Tidbits.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of March 5, 2012:
June Whitfield

 

One of my favorite Afternoon Tea series is Last of the Summer Wine. The setting, the situations and most importantly the wonderful characters are so compelling. One of my favorites is Nelly, played by June Whitfield.

Born in Streatham, south London on November 11, 1925, Whitfield has been a familiar face to British television viewers since the 1950s. Whitfield's career started in the 1940s in radio; a medium she's continued to work in to this day.

June Whitfield
With daughter Suzy Aitchison,
receiving a CBE in 1998.

It wasn't surprising that Whitfield would go into the acting profession. Her own mother, "Muff", was a keen amateur actress and would have loved to have made a career of it. Muff's father though had different ideas. According to Whitfield her grandfather believed that the theatrical profession was "full of rogues and vagabonds". So instead, Whitfield's mother dedicated the rest of her life to amateur dramatics. "Sadly", says Whitfield, "when she had to stop, that hastened the end, because then she hadn't a lot left to live for. That was her life."

Whitfield was far more fortunate than her mother. She was enrolled at the tender age of three-and-a-half at the Robinson School of Dancing, Elocution, Pianoforte and Singing. During World War II she was evacuated to Bognor Regis and to Penzance in Cornwall. Later the family moved to Huddersfield in West Yorkshire where Whitfield not only picked up her North Country dialect, but also learnt shorthand and typing. She continued to study secretarial skills at Pitman's College in Brixton Hill. Her love of performing would win out and she was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

June Whitfield
As Meg in Carry On Nurse (1958).

After graduating in 1944, Whitfield was cast by Noel Coward in his show Ace of Clubs. Coward was already theatrical royalty, and Whitfield recalls that every time he would enter a room she would "feel like curtseying"! Once Whitfield threw a party at her parents' apartment and was surprised when Coward not only attended but also played the family piano. Whitfield still thinks she was "immensely fortunate to have not only worked but also socialized with Noel. He was a true genius."

Not long after, Whitfield was making a name for herself as a first rate comedic actress. The popular radio sitcom sketch series, "The Glums" ran from 1951 until 1960. Whitefield also performed in the West End and was in South Pacific in 1951. The show starred American actor, Larry Hagman, who Whitfield recalls was "very handsome. All the girls were mad about him. All I seem to remember though is that he played the piano very well."

June Whitfield
Terry and June: June and Terry Scott.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Whitfield appeared in numerous sketch and variety shows. Her best known role was as the wife of Terry Scott, in the show Terry and June, which ran from 1979 to 1987 and was a follow up to the series Happy Ever After, which ran from 1974-1979. Before that Whitfield had also appeared in Scott's series Scott On... which ran from 1964-1974. The pair were so well known in England for playing a married couple that people often thought they were married in real life!

Whitfield's real-life husband was Tim Aitchison, who died in 2001. Their daughter is the actress Suzy Aitchison. Aitchison and Whitfield were married for 46 years. Having a celebrity for a wife was a bit of shock for Aitchison at first. He was a chartered surveyor by profession, and according to Whitfield while he ended up enjoying his wife's acting, he "found luvvie-land a bit much."

June Whitfield
With daughter and husband.

In the 1990s, Whitfield's career was reinvigorated when she was cast as Jennifer Saunders' mother in Absolutely Fabulous. Since Terry and June, her main television appearances had been presenting a healthy lifestyle series and appearing in a quiz show based on the board game Clue. Absolutely Fabulous ran from 1992 to 2004 and being personally chosen for the role by Saunders is something for which Whitfield will be "eternally grateful".

Whitfield received an OBE in 1985 and a CBE in 1998, as well as the British Comedy Awards Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.

In 2005 Whitfield joined the cast of Last of the Summer Wine and in 2010 like so many of her acting colleagues appeared in Doctor Who. The two part-episode, "The End of Time", aired over the Christmas/New Year period of 2009-10, when Whitfield was 85.

If there's an Afternoon Tea actor you'd like to see featured in our weekly Tea Time Tidbits, be sure to let us know.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of February 27, 2012:
Downton Abbey writer, Julian Fellowes

 

If you're a fan of Downton Abbey (who isn't!), this week I thought you might be interested in learning about the man who created and wrote the series; Julian Fellowes.

Fellowes is no stranger to life among the upper crust. The youngest son of Peregrine Edward Fellowes, a diplomat, Fellowes was born on August 17, 1949 in Cairo, Egypt and educated at a number of private schools in Britain. He attended the University of Cambridge, and after graduating went on to study at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

Julian Fellowes
Julian Fellowes, at home
in Dorset.

In 1981, Fellowes moved to Los Angeles where he had bit parts in a number of television shows. He returned to England two years later but it would take him several years before he made he would become an "overnight success" with his Oscar winning screenplay for Gosford Park in 2002. Other screenwriting successes would follow with The Young Victoria, The Tourist and From Time to Time, which Fellowes also directed. In 2000, Fellowes became a well-known face to British and PBS viewers when he portrayed Kilwillie in Monarch of the Glen, which ran from 2000-2005. In 2004 he added "Producer" to his list of credits, when he produced a new series for the BBC called Julian Fellowes Investigates: A Most Mysterious Murder, which he wrote and introduced on screen.

In his 50s, Fellowes managed to combine producing, acting and writing. He wrote the script for the hit musical Mary Poppins, which opened on Broadway in 2006 and continues to run. He also penned two novels; Snobs and Past Imperfect, about life among the upper crust. Then in 2010 Fellowes moved over to ITV and created Downton Abbey, a lot of which was inspired by Fellowes' own experiences.

Fellowes' great-aunt for instance was the inspiration for Downton's acid-tongued Dowager Duchess Violet, played by Maggie Smith. According to Fellowes his aunt would "judge a house on whether they supplied homemade jams. If they ran out, it meant the mistress of the house was no good."

Julian Fellowes
As Kilwillie in Monarch of
the Glen
.

Another incident based on reality that Fellowes put into the Downton script was when, in the third episode of the first series, one of the male house guests dies while sneaking into a lady's bedroom and has to be carried back to his room by the lady and her mother. According to Fellowes "the whole spinal plot of the Grantham family is based on one friend's history, who will hopefully never recognize himself!"

As for the dramatic ending to the first series; that was, according to Fellowes, his father's first memory. Three years old at the time, his father recalls being at a party, when the announcement was made that his father had died, leaving behind a widow of twenty five and an only son.

While not living on such a grand style as the Granthams, Fellowes does enjoy being Lord of his very own Manor. He was created a life peer as Baron Fellowes of West Stafford in 2010 and introduced into the House of Lords, where he sits on the Conservative bench. In 2002 he purchased a manor house on fifty acres of land in Dorset, where he lives with his wife, Emma Kitchener.

Julian Fellowes
Julian and Emma with Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

Fellowes met Kitchener, who is a descendent to Earl Kitchener and was a long-time lady-in-waiting to Princess Michael of Kent, at a party in the 1980s. Within 20 minutes of their meeting, Fellowes asked for her hand in marriage. Despite the fact she refused to even give him her phone number, Fellowes pursued the 6ft brunette relentlessly. His persistence eventually paid off when they married in 1990. Together with their son, Peregrine, now 20, they divide their time between their homes in London and Dorset.

Fellowes is well known throughout England for being a "bit of a toff", but it's a reputation he fosters willingly. He loves house parties, big English breakfasts, and proper teas with sandwiches and cakes. Unless they are hosting guests. Then, he and his wife "retire to our rooms at about 6 or 6.30 and won't be back on parade until 8." A pet peeve of Fellowes is people "who don't change for dinner as they used to."

Fellowes is also superstitious. So much so that he refuses to host a dinner party with 13 round the table. Once, his son Peregrine, who is the godson of Princess Michael and Sir Anthony Hopkins arrived home unexpectedly and as he would've made the 13th guest, Fellowes insisted the boy eat in his room.

Julian Fellowes
With his wife, Emma.

Being a guest at the Fellowes-Kitchener Manor house sounds like it could be quite daunting. He insists that people never arrive early and black tie is rarely optional. If you ever find yourself on the guest list of Lord Fellowes, be warned. Don't do as two Americans once did, when having being told by Fellowes "we are dressing up", turned up as Frankenstein's monster and a sexy nurse! It hadn't occurred to Fellowes to explain that "dressing up" meant it was a black tie event and not a costume party! I'll be curious to see how Fellowes works that situation in the next Downton series!

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of February 20, 2012:
Penelope Keith

 

Penelope Keith
Keith at Buckingham Palace
in 2007 after receiving
her CBE.

Penelope Keith, who plays posh Audrey fforbes-Hamilton in To the Manor Born, is our subject this week. She was born Penelope Anne Constance Hatfield in Sutton on April 2, 1940 and her magnificent command of the Queen's English belies her humble beginnings.

Keith was born in London, but when she was two her father walked out on the family, leaving her mother to raise her alone. Her early years were spent in the town I grew up in, Clacton-on-Sea, where her mother, Connie, worked at a local hotel organizing games and activities for children. Then when she was six, Keith was sent away to a Catholic boarding school in Seaford, to be educated by French nuns. It was there that Keith first became interested in acting and would frequently be picked up by her mother and taken to London's West End to see matinees.

Penelope Keith
As a young actress.

Connie remarried when Keith was eight and Keith adopted her stepfather's surname. Although she didn't get on with her stepfather, she describes her mother as being her "rock of love". Her step-father, however, she still to this day refuses to discuss.

After leaving school Keith auditioned for London's Central School of Speech and Drama but was rejected for being too tall (5' 10"). Instead she was accepted at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and for the two years she was there, she supported herself by working a night job at the Hyde Park Hotel. After graduating, Keith got work in repertory theatres across the U.K., until 1963, when she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. Keith credits her work in repertory theatre for her vocal prowess. "It was great training for the voice, going into different theatres, each with a different acoustic," she explains. "If the audience can't hear you, you might as well go home. So you learn very quickly to speak clearly."

Penelope Keith
Keith and Felicity Kendal in
The Norman Conquests.

In 1974, Keith and actress Felicity Kendal were appearing in a 1974 production of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests, when they were spotted by the director and producer of a new soon to be produced BBC comedy series, The Good Life (Good Neighbors). Keith had already been in a number of television shows, her first being in 1950, but it was her role as Margo Leadbetter in The Good Life that was to make her a household name.

The year The Good Life finished, 1978, was also the year Keith married. Rodney Timson was a twice married policeman and eight years Keith's junior. The couple met while he was on duty as the theatre security guard at the Chichester Theatre where Keith was performing. Timson, who was searching the theatre for possible security breaches, misinterpreted Keith's big friendly grin as an invitation that she liked him. As Keith recalls "he couldn't have known that I am just a smiley person. I believe that one should set out to be friendly and trustful towards others." Timson asked her out on a date and they were married shortly afterwards.

Penelope Keith
Mr. & Mrs. Rodney Timson.

After the wedding, Timson left the force to become Keith's manager and a decade later, with no children of their own, the couple adopted two brothers. At the time of their marriage, people were skeptical saying it wouldn't last. Keith happily points out that "lots of the people who said I was making a mistake have divorced in the time we've been married, and we are still very happy."

After the success of The Good Life, a number of ideas for a spin-off series were proposed. Keith rejected them all. A year after the series finished though, Keith was performing a BBC radio play which she thought might make a good television show. The BBC did as well, and To the Manor Born was born, with Keith as the lead character. The show ran from 1979-1981 and Keith followed it up with six other lead roles in an assortment of sitcoms.

Penelope Keith
Keith as Lady Bracknell.

As well as television, Keith has worked regularly on stages throughout the U.K, performing in roles such as Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit and Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest and most recently, Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals. Keith has also used her highly recognizable voice for a variety of television commercials such as Pimm's, The Parker Penn Company and Tesco supermarkets. Keith's was also the voice for a while as the narrator in the tots program, Teletubbies.

In 2002, Keith took on another kind of role altogether, becoming High Sheriff of Surrey, where she lives in a 17th century manor house in Milford. She was only the third woman ever assigned to the post. Keith has also served as President of the Actor's Benevolent Fund and as pro-chancellor of the University of Surrey. In 1990, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's New Year's Honours list and in 2007 she was promoted to Commander (CBE) for "charitable services".

Penelope Keith
Keith in The Avengers in 1969.

As well as her charity work, Keith's biggest passion is for gardening, describing herself as "a gardener who acts". In 1984, she even had a rose named after her. While she enjoys her life as lady of her very own Manor, Keith has no plans to retire. "I can't understand why anyone would want to," she says, "but then, I suppose, one of the nice things about getting older is being able to admit that you don't understand things."

One of the things Keith couldn't understand was why there was so much opposition to her and her husband wanting to turn a disused gas station they'd purchased in the village of Avoch, near Inverness, into a tearoom. It divided the local community. So much so that after the "signature" of at least one person who had died appeared on a petition opposing the plans, the police had to be called in to investigate. Only then was it discovered that names of residents who were in favor of the plans had been added to the opposing petition. Last year, six years after their plans were initially rejected Keith and Timson finally won their appeal. Keith's persistence in the face of adversary sounds a lot like Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, who you can see battling out her latest crisis in To the Manor Born, Wednesdays at 1pm on Afternoon Tea.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of February 13, 2012:
Peter Bowles

 

Peter Bowles
Bowles at home in Barnes.

One of the most "stately" programs airing on Afternoon Tea is To the Manor Born. Peter Bowles, who stars as Richard DeVere in the show, was born in London on October 16, 1926. If you think he seems quite at home in Grantley Manor, it's probably because as a child he grew up in a stately home; the Margessons, in Warwickshire. His parents didn't own it though, instead his father worked there as a chauffeur and a butler and the Bowles family lived not in the home itself, but in a cottage in the grounds. They left at the outbreak of World War II, when his father was sent to do war work as on Rolls-Royce engines in Nottingham. It was a very different living situation. The street they lived on was cobbled and the houses row houses. As Bowles describes it, "it was a Coronation Street setting, but there was no feeling of deprivation or envy."

Growing up in the world of service and being around people outside of his own "class" enabled Bowles to mix with anybody. Although, Bowles' parents were working-class, they had learned to speak well and developed what Bowles calls "a middle-class routine". An experience later in life, however, made him realize his working class roots. He had been invited to an exhibition of paintings by someone who had once hired his mother to be nanny to her child. He took his mother along and was horrified when she quickly reverted to her servant persona and went into a deep curtsey before her former employer!

Peter Bowles
Bowles and Penelope Keith in
To the Manor Born.

After leaving school, Bowles moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and that was the start of his acting career. It was while living in London in the early 1960s as a struggling bit-part actor at the Bristol Old Vic, that Bowles had a run in with one of England's most notorious criminals. He had spent an evening drinking and idling the night away with a beautiful woman in an East End club. When she suggested they adjourn to another club, he was about to comply when a shady figure beckoned him outside.

In the alleyway "Mr. Shady", as Bowles calls him, asked him menacingly if he'd ever heard of the Kray twins. It turned out that the lady Bowles had been "chatting up" all night was the girlfriend of Reggie Kray, who was due to stop by any minute and would be "very angry"! Bowles got the message and slinked off into the night. Later he learned that the club was none other than Esmerelda's Barn, the notorious gambling den owned by Reggie and Ronnie! According to Bowles, his first "lesson in true terror" never left him, and he credits the experience with the rave reviews he received when he played the role of "Gangster" in the play Gangster No. 1. He just copied the behavior of Mr. Shady!

Peter Bowles
Bowles in The Avengers.

Bowles' television career began in the era of live television, including an episode of Armchair Theatre in 1958 during which another actor suffered a fatal heart attack. After appearing in three episodes of The Avengers in the 1960s. Bowles became well known for portraying upper class characters and when he was offered the role of DeVere he promptly accepted. He wasn't going to make the same mistake he'd made in 1975. At that time he was out of work, living on the dole, in hock to the bank and feeling that his career would never take off. He was becoming more and more depressed. Although not a deeply religious man, Bowles prayed for help. "Please help me, I think I'm going mad," he prayed.

The next day, to Bowles' astonishment, he was offered two roles: that of Jerry Ledbetter in The Good Life, or Good Neighbors, as we call it here, with his good friend Richard Briars and another in Alan Ayckbourne's play Absent Friends. Bowles chose the West End play, which also starred Briers. On the first day Briers asked Bowles why he had turned down the television sitcom. "Because it clashes with this," Bowles told him. To his shock, Briers told him he was doing both. Bowles had failed to realize that The Good Life was recorded on a Sunday! The role of Jerry, husband to Penelope Keith's Margo, would eventually go to Paul Eddington.

Bowles would eventually get to work with Keith in To the Manor Born, which ran in the UK from 1979-81. He was hired at the princely sum of £250 a week, which by the time the series finished had doubled to £500. The role of the self-made immigrant DeVere is probably still Bowles' best known role, but his relationship with the BBC soured after the series was cancelled. Bowles couldn't understand why they stopped making it after just three series, especially when it had recorded viewing figures of 20 million. When the series ended, the BBC suggested a celebration party to mark its success.

As Bowles' recalls, "This BBC bloke turned to us and said: 'If Penny and Peter could supply the drinks, we, the BBC, will supply the sandwiches.' So Penny and I forked out for the wine, the cast clubbed together for a present for the director and the sarnies came courtesy of the BBC. And I wasn't offered another job by the BBC for 26 years!"

Peter Bowles
Bowles and Keith in The Rivals in 2010.

Bowles was reunited with Keith in 2010 when they appeared on stage together in Sheridan's The Rivals. Classical theatre is Bowles' real passion and he has worked numerous times with the Royal Shakespeare Company. His wife of over fifty years, Susan was offered a role in the company long before Bowles. She was a young up-and-coming actress and it would have been a great opportunity, but she turned it down to marry Bowles and raise a family.

 

Peter Bowles
Mrs. and Mrs. Peter Bowles.

None of the couple's three children went into the acting business. Guy, 49, was a mathematician, his Adam, 47, was sporty, and his daughter Sasha, 45, became a painter. As to the secret of the Bowles' long, successful marriage, he puts it down to "love". "I can't define it", says Bowles. "There's a great honesty between us and I have never taken my wife for granted. We're still courting. When I come home, Sue will be there, hair done and high heels on, to welcome her man. We also have weekends away. We used to like putting on our best and going to a hotel to have just one drink. When there was more money knocking about, we would check into the Dorchester for a couple of days. We still do it. It's very romantic and I'm bloody lucky."

That sounds like something that the debonair DeVere would say, don't you think?! You can see To the Manor Born Wednesdays at 1pm on Afternoon Tea.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of February 6, 2012:
Clive Swift

Clive Swift
Roger Lloyd-Pack and Clive Swift
in The Old Guys.

This week I thought we'd take a break from chatting about Downton Abbey and turn instead to an actor who appears not once but twice a week on Afternoon Tea. I'm talking of course about Clive Swift, who stars as Roy in The Old Guys, at 1pm on Tuesdays and as Richard Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances Mondays through Fridays at 2pm.

This week, Swift celebrates his 76th birthday, having been born on February 9, 1936, in Liverpool, where he was, according to Swift, "virtually brought up in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall". Swift studied piano and trombone at school and on leaving went onto study English literature at Cambridge University, and got what he called "a middling degree". Swift was much more involved with acting at Cambridge than academics and it was while there, in 1960, that he was seen by Peter Hall, who offered him a job with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford. Swift's father, Abram, who had a furniture business had already told him there was no way he was hiring him because he was such a dreamer he'd ruin him in two weeks, so he accepted Hall's offer and became a member of the RSC.

Clive Swift
Margaret Drabble, the former
Mrs. Clive Swift.

As well as introducing Swift to his future career, Cambridge was also responsible for introducing Swift to his wife, acclaimed novelist Margaret Drabble. It was 1958, and both Swift and Drabble were cast in the Ibsen play Pillars of the Community. According to Drabble, "I watched everything he did with amazement and admiration". She also fell madly in love. The following year, Swift directed Drabble in the highlight of what she calls her "brief theatrical career"; it was his first - and last - attempt at directing. The couple married 1960 (they would divorce amicably in 1975) and while Drabble gave up acting to rear their children, daughter Rebecca, and sons Adam and Joe and to focus on her writing, Swift's acting career flourished.

Clive Swift
Swift with Patrick Stewart.

Swift's acting resume is one of the most extensive in the business. He's appeared on stage, television and film (A Passage to India, Frenzy and Excalibur) and his passion for performing seems endless. As well as acting, Swift is also a songwriter. In 2007, he performed in a one man show that featured his songs; "Richard Bucket Overflows: An Audience with Clive Swift", which toured the UK and in 2009, he toured another show "Clive Swift Entertains", performing his own music and lyrics. Just last year, Swift recorded a radio play for the BBC's Radio 4, where he played Alfred Hitchcock alongside Patrick Stewart as Raymond Chandler, about the pair's famous collaboration on the 1950 film Strangers on a Train.

Clive Swift
With Anna Massey in Alfred
Hitchcock's 1972 film, Frenzy.

Despite Swift's lengthy and highly successful acting career, it's a half hour television sitcom that brought him worldwide fame. Keeping Up Appearances was a hit from the get go. As Swift tells it "the director said that 'whatever happens in the first series we'll make another series', which was nice - thank you very much. But by episode three or four of the first series we had audiences of 14 million, which was extraordinary." In all the years the series aired the cast only ever saw Roy Clark, the show's writer, once when they were rehearsing the first episode.

Clive Swift
As Ector in the 1981 film, Excalibur.

"We were all allowed to ask him one question", recalls Swift and I said 'what does Richard do?'. He had a moment's thought and said 'something very proper, something very respectable'. So I said 'that isn't much help - it could be a million things'. He said 'well I actually don't know'".

It was Swift's decision to make the meek and submissive Richard fight back, or protest occasionally. "I know I used to lose 98 per cent of the time and there was no conflict really but I had to put up a show or otherwise it's simply not interesting. If you play a mouse it's no good playing the mouse. You've got to play the potential rat. Another way of looking at it is it's like Tom and Jerry and if I had walked away there'd be no show."

Although the last episode of Keeping Up Appearances was taped 16 years ago, Swift continues to work. It's his life's blood. His ambition, in fact, is to "go on acting as long as I can and still stand up all day".

Happy birthday, Clive!

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of January 30, 2012:
Brendan Coyle

Last week we were chatting about the actress Joanne Froggatt, who plays kindly housemaid Anna Smith in Downton Abbey, so it seems only fair that this week it's the turn of her love interest, Mr. Bates, played by Brendan Coyle.

Brendan Coyle
As Robert Timmins, with wife Emma
(Claudie Blakley), in Lark Rise to
Candleford
.

Coyle, who also appears in Lark Rise to Candleford, where he played Laura's father, Robert Timmins, is - thanks to Downton - currently enjoying heartthrob status. He jokingly laughs off his image as a sex symbol though and confesses it came as something of a shock. "I saw Bates as a really interesting, really well written and a very honorable character", says Coyle, "but I don't understand him being thought of as a sex symbol. Every woman I know finds it hilarious."

Born, David Coyle on December 2, 1963 in Corby, Northamptonshire, to an Irish mother and a Scottish father, Coyle is the great-nephew of the legendary Manchester United football manager Sir Matt Busby.

"Because of who I was, I had a false sense that everybody loved me as a kid", recalls Coyle. "Sir Matt used to take me to Old Trafford to watch the match and I would always go round to his house first for a drink. It was a real treat. Being a 12-year-old in the players' lounge was dazzling. And I remember him coming down to Corby to open my father's butcher shop and also to open the town sports centre. He encouraged me to play, but I was never much good at it."

Brendan Coyle
At a charity event, July 2011.

After leaving school, Coyle followed in his father's footsteps and went to work as a trimmer in his father's shop, but he hated the job and only stayed a year. "Cows would come in at one end and go out in boxes at the other", recalls Coyle, who not surprisingly is now a vegetarian.

When after going bankrupt and never fully recovering, Coyle's father died at the age of just 42. Coyle grew disillusioned and felt the need for something different in his life and decided to enter into the acting profession.

Coyle didn't have far to look when choosing where he should do his actor training. He'd heard of a relative living in Dublin who ran a theatre that trained actors at weekends. He called her up and promptly enrolled. After finishing his training, Coyle toured Ireland as a stage manager. He also had a few walk on parts in the shows. The first time Coyle stepped on stage was as a waiter in a P.G. Wodehouse play, where he had to walk on carrying a tray with a glass of port on it. It's was an experience Coyle will never forget. "I was so nervous I nearly spilt it", recalls Coyle. "I became a comedy shaking waiter. I think the audience thought it was part of the play!"

Brendan Coyle
As John Bates, and Maria
Doyle Kennedy as Vera
Bates, in Downton Abbey.

In 1983, Brendan got a scholarship to go to the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London and his first big break came four years later when he was cast in a play called The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. He had to wait for over a decade, however, before becoming a well-known name in London's theatre world.

It was 1999, when Coyle was cast as the Irish barman Brendan in the multi-award winning play The Weir that his acting career really took off. His performance won him a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor and after the play transferred to New York Coyle won a New York Critics Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut.

Now another decade on, Coyle's is receiving international recognition for his performance as Bates in Downton Abbey. The role was especially written for Coyle by series creator, Julian Fellows after he saw him in the 2004 BBC series North and South. "I knew he had the capacity to suggest a character's bitter and painful past without doing much to indicate it", says Fellows. The idea to make Bates lame, however, came from Fellows' wife, Emma Kitchener.

Brendan Coyle
At home in Norfolk, England.

As for Coyle's marital status, the 47 year old is still footloose and fancy free, but not he hopes for long. As he told a reporter at the end of last year, "the right person, time and place just hasn't happened - yet. It's something I want. Through my 30s into my 40s, I've gone from one long-term relationship to another, so I've spent the last few years taking stock. I don't know if it's a good or bad thing, but only now am I truly ready for a relationship."

Let us know what you think of Brendan Coyle by dropping us a line.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of January 23, 2012:
Joanne Froggatt

Continuing our look at the actors who appear in Downton Abbey, this week we feature head housemaid, Anna, played by one of England's leading young actresses, 30 year old Joanne Froggatt.

Joanne Froggatt
As housemaid Anna
in Downton Abbey.

Froggatt is a genuine Yorkshire lass having been born on August 23, 1980, in Scarborough where her father ran a confectioners business. At the age of four, her parents, who Froggatt lovingly describes as "freethinkers", sold up shop (literally!) to go "live off the land" on a 10 acre farm near Whitby. As Froggatt recalls "it was a lovely life, we'd make treehouses all day – and my parents worked from home. They've always gone their own way and they've always taught me and my brother [an antiques dealer four years older than Froggatt] to be open-minded and go for the things we want." The young Froggatt did exactly that.

Before she could barely start talking, Froggatt had asked for ballet lessons, and at 11 had joined a Scarborough drama society. It was there that she picked up an issue of The Stage magazine and saw ads for what seemed like paradise on earth – a stage school. Two years later, after much badgering and cajoling, she'd persuaded her parents to enroll her in the Berkshire theatre school, Redroofs.

Joanne Froggatt
As single mom Zoe
in Coronation Street.

By the age of 15, Froggatt had got her first television role – playing a teenage prostitute in the police drama The Bill. As Froggatt tells it, "I was so excited to be playing a proper part on TV. I called my parents and shouted down the phone, "I've got a job! I'm playing an underage prostitute." They went, "Erm, that's brilliant, darling. Well done!"

After leaving school when she was 17, Froggatt got a job at WH Smith book store while she continued to look for acting work. It didn't take long before Froggatt landed herself an 18 month contract with England's longest running nighttime soap opera, Coronation Street, playing teenage single mom, Zoe Tattersall.

Joanne Froggatt
As Suzie in her debut film In Our Name.

When her contract expired Froggatt didn't have long to wait before moving onto a string of television work, including Lorna Doone and A Touch of Frost. It was her starring role, five years later though, in Danielle Cable: Eyewitness that earned Froggatt a prestigious Royal Television Society best actress. Then came Downton Abbey.

To have landed a role in what has turned out to be the most successful period drama since Brideshead Revisited is a thrill beyond belief for the diminutive 5' 2" actress who is even far tinier in real life than she appears on our screens. The only complaint she has is the clothes she has to wear. It's not that she minds her head housemaid's limited wardrobe, it's just that most everyone else gets to be dressed in stunning Edwardian gowns, leaving Froggatt with what she calls "costume envy". So much so that while filming, Froggatt would joke with the script writers "can we not write a scene where Anna raids Lady Mary's wardrobe, or Lady Mary goes, 'Anna, just try what you want, just take it, honestly!'"

Joanne Froggatt
Downton Abbey actresses Elizabeth
McGovern, Froggatt and Michelle
Dockery at the Primetime Emmy
Awards in 2011.

Anna's housemaid uniform is glamorous compared to what she wore in her debut film role, In Our Name. As a soldier returning from a tour in Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Froggatt's character, Suzie, spends most of her time in Army fatigues.

As well as her desire to be clad in a beautiful frock once in a while, Froggatt is also hoping that she gets at some point to have a speaking scene with Dame Maggie Smith, who plays the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Now that's something for us to keep an eye out for as we enjoy the second series of Downton Abbey, airing Sunday nights at 9pm.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of January 16, 2012:
Elizabeth McGovern

Elizabeth McGovern
Elizabeth McGovern as
Lady Cora.

This week we continue celebrating the return of Downton Abbey, with a look at Elizabeth McGovern who plays Lady Cora in the series.

McGovern, who was nominated for an Oscar at the tender age of 20 for her role in Ragtime and who just prior, at the age of 19, had had a major role in Robert Redford's Oscar winning film Ordinary People, swapped Hollywood glamour for life in England in the early 1990s. There she and her British husband, Simon Curtis, who recently directed My Week With Marilyn, raised their two children, managing to stay out of the public eye as much as possible.

Now an unbelievable 50 years old, McGovern was born in Evanston, IL, but raised in north Hollywood, where she attended North Hollywood High School. With both her parents being educators - her father teaching law at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and her mother teaching high school English - McGovern was encouraged to shy away from the "Valley Girl" fever that seemed so popular among her peers. Instead "we always read stories aloud" says McGovern, crediting the family's love of books to her own love of acting.

Elizabeth McGovern
In the 1981 film Ragtime,
with Donald O'Connor.

It was while acting in a school play, Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth, that McGovern was seen by an agent who told her to call if she ever needed work. When McGovern moved to New York and needed money to attend Julliard, she called the agent who got her a "cattle call" for a new movie. The movie was Ordinary People. After filming was completed, McGovern went onto Julliard - now well above to afford the tuition - but left after a year when Milos Forman cast her in Ragtime. After that she made movie after movie with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Sometimes, McGovern feels her being on the fast track to fame at such a young age was not an entirely good thing, wishing that she'd "had a chance to grow and develop as an actor in a little bit more of an anonymous fashion."

Elizabeth McGovern
With former fiancé actor Sean Penn.

After breaking off her engagement to Sean Penn when she was 23, McGovern disappeared from the public eye. McGovern and Penn had met on the set of Racing The Moon. Penn, who was McGovern's first real boyfriend, was of a similar age, and was an equal match professionally. But that it seems is where the similarities ended. As McGovern tells it, "there's a drama to the way Sean lives every bit of his life. That's what he's all about. I'm not someone who breathes drama every minute of the day and he really, genuinely does - it's what he thrives on." Eventually McGovern found that being with Penn was simply "too exhausting." That and the fact that Penn preferred to live in Los Angeles, while McGovern's love of performing on stage meant she kept on having to go to New York.

Elizabeth McGovern
With husband director Simon
Curtis at the world premier of
his film My Week With Marilyn.

It was in Hollywood though that McGovern met her husband, whom she married in 1992. Curtis was a producer on Tales from Hollywood, a wartime drama which starred McGovern, alongside Jeremy Irons and Sir Alec Guinness. After McGovern became pregnant, the pair moved out of Hollywood to Chiswick, West London, where they still live today. Their eldest daughter, Matilda, is now 17, and their second child Gracie, 13. McGovern confesses that initially she "wasn't too ecstatic about being pregnant", in fact, she didn't really want children. She was also none too fond of the adjustments she had to make to life in England. Plus, with the exception of Curtis, McGovern, knew no one else in England. After the arrival of baby Matilda, McGovern finally began to feel settled.

Elizabeth McGovern
Elizabeth McGovern and Joanne Froggatt
prepare for a scene in Downton Abbey.

Once McGovern returned to work, she quickly built up a successful career in film and television in Britain. When the role of Lady Cora in Downton Abbey came up McGovern wrote to the series' creator Julian Fellows, begging for the role. After putting her through the agonies of auditioning, Fellows cast McGovern and she is still pinching herself. Compared to working in Hollywood, McGovern finds that working on a British set a "breath of fresh air". The cast are "always laughing" says McGovern. "There was always someone at the elegant dining table who would ask the butler for a bottle of ketchup and send everyone into hysterics." Now that's certainly something to think about next time we see a dinner table scene in Downton Abbey, which you can see on Sundays at 9pm.

We'll look at another Downton actor next week. If you've got someone you'd like to see featured write and let us know.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of January 9, 2012:
Hugh Bonneville

Greetings, Downton Abbey fans. This week we're going to take a look at Hugh Bonneville who plays Robert, Earl of Grantham in the series, a role that was specifically written with the actor in mind.

Hugh Bonneville
Hugh Bonneville.

Bonneville, who was born in Blackheath, south-east London in 1963 and educated at Sherborne School in Dorset, now lives in West Sussex with his wife, Lulu Williams and nine year old son, Felix. Like Bonneville's mother, who gave up her job as a nurse after he was born, Lulu is a full-time mother. It's a job that Bonneville is obviously overwhelming proud. "Lulu's priority has been to be a bedrock for Felix and me and I'm completely indebted to her," says Bonneville.

Bonneville's father was a surgeon and both parents, who are now in their 80s, continue to be "fantastic role models" to Bonneville. "They always put the needs of others before their own. They are truly remarkable people", says Bonneville of his parents.

Hugh Bonneville
With wife Lulu and son Felix.

The youngest of three children by six years, Bonneville always felt something of an "outsider", but writing his own plays to perform with friends was a huge comfort. He usually played the lead. In his teens, Bonneville auditioned for and was accepted into the UK's prestigious National Youth Theatre. Despite knowing at the back of his mind that he'd end up an actor, on leaving school Bonneville went to Corpus Christi College at the University of Cambridge, where he read Theology. Then it was on to the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London after which he made his professional debut in 1986 as an understudy to Ralph Fiennes' Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. The next year he joined the National Theatre where he stayed until in 1991 he became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Bonneville's time at the RSC was, according to Bonneville, "probably the happiest I've been as an actor".

Hugh Bonneville
In Notting Hill.

When Bonneville's contract at the RSC wasn't renewed the young actor was devastated. "I thought I would never work again," he says. The world of film and television awaited and Bonneville made his feature film debut in 1994 in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The film was directed by Kenneth Branagh, with whom Bonneville had worked at the RSC, when he had played Laertes to Branagh's Hamlet. Since then, Bonneville has appeared in more than a dozen films, including Notting Hill and Mansfield Park.

Hugh Bonneville
In Downton Abbey.

It's Downton Abbey though that has made Hugh Bonneville a recognized name the world over. The actor believes the reason for the show's success is because of "the writing". That and the fact "the casting was immaculate". Bonneville also lauds the production quality. As he told a reporter from the Guardian newspaper "every department took such incredible care. I remember one of the props guys adjusting a fern on a centrepiece on the dinner table between takes. He wasn't happy with it. I remember watching him, even on the 10th take, still worrying away at it. I love that attention to detail. They spent thousands shooting the hunt scenes at the right time of year, to make sure there wouldn't be leaves on the trees because people would have written in to complain if there were."

As for the reason why the themes of the Edwardian drama have resonated so strongly, Bonneville feels that it is to do with the "fragile, uncertain, neurotic times" we live in. "Downton is a world of self-confidence as a nation. We want that, we miss it and yearn for it, without necessarily admiring the social structure. There is also something about glimpsing an era that you know is about to change but until then was an era of certainty". He also feels it has a lot to do with the characters. "You want to be in a room with them", says Bonneville. "That's not to say you necessarily like them, but you are interested in the way they interact with each other".

If there's a favorite actor in Downton Abbey that you'd enjoy being in a room with, write and let us know. Tell me how you're enjoying the second series of Downton, which airs Sunday nights at 9pm on MPT.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of January 2, 2012:
Dame Maggie Smith

Happy New Year! There may be over 300 shopping days until next Christmas, but there's less than a week until the return of Downton Abbey, which returns to MPT Sunday, January 8th at 9pm. As promised, Dame Maggie Smith, who plays Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham in the series, is the subject of this week's chinwag.

Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith.

Smith, who celebrated her 77th birthday just last week on December 28, was born, Margaret Natalie Smith in Ilford, Essex, on December 28, 1934. Her father, Newcastle-upon-Tyne born Nathanial, was a pathologist. Her Scottish born mother, Margaret Hutton Little, was a secretary, and she had two older brothers, twins Ian and Alistair.

At the age of four, in the summer of 1939, under threat of severe bombing during World War II, the Smith family moved from London to Oxford, where Nathaniel found work at Oxford University. Later the young Maggie attended the Oxford High School for Girls, but realizing that an academic education was not for her, she left school at 16, and joined the Oxford Playhouse School. While there Smith not only got to appear on stage, but also took a turn back stage, working as assistant stage manager.

Maggie Smith
As "Viola" in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

It was Oxford University though that provided Smith with her first "serious" stage debut, when she performed in the Oxford University Dramatic Society's production of Twelfth Night in 1952. Her London stage debut was in a revue called Oxford Accents at the New Watergate theatre. That same year, 1956, Smith made her Broadway debut - not in a play, but as a "singing-comedienne" in the New Faces '56 Revue at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

After returning to London, Smith got regular acting work, appearing on stages all over the West End. It didn't take long before she was getting lead roles, and in 1963 Smith became a charter member of Laurence Olivier's new Royal National Theatre Company. Smith also expanded on her film career and played Richard Burton's love hungry Personal Assistant, Miss Mead, in The VIPs.

Maggie Smith
In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

In 1965, Smith appeared as Desdemona to Olivier's Othello. The production was made into a film and Smith was nominated for an Academy Award. More films followed; The Honeypot in 1967, and Hot Millions in 1968, but Smith's true passion was theatre. It was while acting on stage that Smith met her first husband, Robert Stephens, who had appeared with her in several productions, including the Franco Zeffirelli directed Much Ado About Nothing and Noel Coward's Hay Fever. Given that Stephens was still married the couple's love affair caused a minor scandal, which escalated when Smith gave birth to their first child Christopher in June 1967. They married ten days after Christopher's birth and continued to appear together on stage and screen. After the arrival of second son, Toby, Smith cut down on her workload. She did not, however, cut back on the quality of the work she produced and in 1969, appeared as the lead in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which also starred her husband. That role gave Smith her first Oscar. Oh, What A Lovely War followed, then Travels with My Aunt in 1972 which garnered Smith another Oscar nomination.

Maggie Smith
With first husband, Robert
Stephens, and children.

It was then that Smith's seemingly perfect life began to crumble. Troubled by Smith's career success and Stephen's alcoholism and bouts of depression, while touring the U.S. in a production of Noel Coward's Private Lives, directed by John Gielgud, the marriage fell apart. Eventually Stephens left the tour and the marriage was over. That was in 1974. A year later, Smith would find love again with an old flame, playwright Beverley Cross. The couple had first become romantically involved in the early 1950s, when they had been engaged, but had separated in the mid-60s after Smith met Stephens. The couple married on June 23, 1975.

In 1978, Smith won a second Oscar for her portrayal of Diana Barrie in the Neal Simon comedy California Suite and two more Oscar nominations followed during the 1980s. The first for her portrayal of Charlotte Bartlett in A Room With a View and as Constance, Countess of Trentham in the costume drama Gosford Park.

Maggie Smith
With second husband
Beverley Cross.

The 1990s were not so cheery. In 1998, Cross died from an aneurysm. He was 66. Smith who regarded Cross as her "rock" continues to grieve his passing, once telling a reporter, "I still miss him so much it's ridiculous. People say it gets better but it doesn't. It just gets different, that's all. Even in my dream I kept saying to him, 'You are dead. You can't be here'."

Throwing herself into her work, Smith became a familiar face to fans of the Harry Potter films, with her portrayal of Professor Minerva McGonagall. Smith and Robbie Coltrane, who played Hagrid, are said to be the only actors in the films personally cast by author JK Rowling. It was while working on the sixth Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in 2008 that Smith had found a lump on her breast.

As Smith tells it, "I had been feeling a little rum and didn't know why. I was never nervous, well I was, but I didn't think it was anything serious because years ago I felt one before and had been hurled into hospital. It was benign and assumed this one would be too. It was a bit unnerving when it wasn't. But treatment is so swift you don't have time to think about anything."

Maggie Smith
As Professor Minerva
McGonagall in Harry Potter.

Smith continued to film Harry Potter mid-treatment. "I was hairless. At least I had no problem getting the wig on! I was like a boiled egg". Smith was not so jocular in her recollection about the chemotherapy treatment. "It was very peculiar, something that makes you feel much worse than the cancer itself, a very nasty thing. I used to go to treatment on my own, and nearly everybody else was with somebody. I wouldn't have liked that. Why would you want to make anybody sit in those places? Oh, it's awful. You really do feel horribly sick. I was staggering around [the supermarket] and felt ghastly. I was holding on to railings, thinking, 'I can't do this'."

She did do it though, and continues to act. The prospect of doing stage work, however, frightens her. "I feel a great lack of confidence", Smith told a reporter last year. "Being unwell and having withdrawn...I haven't been in London for so long, it's quite scary up here." Fortunately for us Smith's bout of stage fright has not extended itself to films and television and we can look forward to seeing her this coming weekend in series two of Masterpiece's Downton Abbey.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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Week of December 26, 2011:
Downton Abbey, Season II-coming in January!

Let the countdown begin! Not just to welcoming in a New Year, but to the return of Downton Abbey, which returns January 8th.

If you somehow missed season one of what is the most successful British costume drama since Brideshead Revisited, here's a brief synopsis:

Downton Abbey
An interior shot of Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey.

The series is set in the fictional Downton Abbey, the Yorkshire country house of the Earl and Countess of Grantham. The series commenced with news of the sinking of the Titanic. That event signified many changes afoot at Downton; along with the introduction of electric lights and a telephone, a crisis of inheritance threatens to displace the resident Crawley family, in spite of the best efforts of the noble and compassionate Earl, Robert Crawley; his American heiress wife, Cora; his mother, and his eldest daughter, Mary.

Reluctantly, the family is forced to welcome its heir apparent, the self-made and proudly modern Matthew Crawley, himself none too happy about the new arrangements. As Matthew's bristly relationship with Mary begins to crackle with electricity, hope for the future of Downton's dynasty takes shape. But when petty jealousies and ambitions grow among the family and the staff, scheming and secrets threaten to derail the scramble to preserve Downton Abbey.

Downton Abbey
Highclere Castle.

While Downton Abbey is fictional, the location where the filming of the series took place is most definitely real. Highclere Castle in Hampshire was used not just for the exterior shots of the series, but also for the majority of the interior filming.

Home to the Carnarvon family since 1679 Highclere was built on an ancient site, and the original house was recorded in the Domesday Book. The Castle's history also includes a connection dating back even further. The 5th Earl of Highclere was Howard Carter, the man who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. An exhibition featuring a number of rare antiquities from the 5th Earl's earlier Egyptian excavations is housed at Highclere. The outdoor scenes in Downton Abbey were filmed in the village of Bampton, Oxfordshire.

Downton Abbey
Dame Maggie Smith,
Downton Abbey matriarch.

Heading up the cast of Downton Abbey is Dame Maggie Smith, who plays Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham. As Robert, Earl of Grantham's mother, Violet is keenly loyal to her son. Her American daughter-in-law, however, is treated with disdain. The role of Cora is played by Elizabeth McGovern, who is no stranger to PBS, having appeared in David Copperfield, Memento Mori, All for Love and All the King's Men.

We'll be chatting a lot more about Dame Maggie next week. Until then, TTFN!

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 

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