Tea Time Tidbits: 2013

Tea Time Tidbits

Week of December 30, 2013:
Call the Midwife Holiday Special

 

So how did you enjoy the Call the Midwife Holiday Special? What is it about that program that always seems to bring on the tears? I thought the special was especially poignant.

Call the Midwife
St. Joseph's College.

The storyline behind the nuns having to move out of Nonnatus House came about out of necessity, when the site that had previously been used was sold for re-development as a set of 45 luxury apartments. That meant the series producers had to move to a dilapidated Gothic mansion which was formerly an officers mess at an RAF base just off the M25 motorway outside London.

Nonnatus House in reality was St Joseph's Missionary College, in Mill Hill, north London. It was established by Father Herbert Vaughan in 1866 as Britain's first Catholic missionary college and in the 1930s and '50s was expanded. At one time evangelists from the college were sent to preach all over the world.

Call the Midwife Holiday Special

The seven-acre site and listed building has changed hands several times over the years and was put up for sale for around £25m three years ago. In May of this year it was acquired by the Berkeley Group who set about redeveloping the site. The chapel, where in the last series Sister Bernadette struggled to reconcile her vocation with her love for widowed GP Dr Turner, for instance is being turned into a spectacular four-bedroom, four-bathroom flat.

New sets were built at Longcross Studios in Chertsey, Surrey. Series creator and writer Heidi Thomas who is married to actor Stephen McGann, who plays Dr. Turner in the series, welcomed the location change as St. Joseph's was semi-derelict and extremely uncomfortable.

Call the Midwife Holiday Special

"It was rather chilly and there was no electricity", explained Thomas. "We had to bring in everything. At least you know you can go to a switch and turn the lights on."

Most of the street scenes in the series will continue to be filmed at the historic Chatham dockyard. For the trademark exterior shots of grimy terrace homes, opening directly on to the street, the team use a small area around Theed Street in Waterloo, close to the Old and Young Vic theatres.

We can look forward to seeing a brand new series of Call the Midwife when it returns in the spring.

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 23, 2013:
Call the Midwife Holiday Special

 

Call the Midwife Holiday Special

If you want to make the holiday season last a little longer, tune into MPT on Sunday, December 29 for the Call the Midwife Holiday Special. In the over one hour long show, which will have aired on Christmas Day in England, the nuns and midwives of Nonnatus House are forced to flee their home just before Christmas when an unexploded bomb from World War II threatens their neighbourhood in Poplar.

The special was actually filmed this past June, when England was going through a bit of a heatwave. As well as having to get used to the heavy clothing they wear in the Christmas Special, the first day back at work after an absence of six months was a big adjustment. Jessica Raine, who plays Jenny in the series, for instance confesses she'd forgotten just how posh her character is. Fortunately accents come easy to Raine. Having grown up in Herefordshire which borders with Wales, her own accent is difficult to detect. At school she was always told she was "posh", but when she moved to London, everyone thought she had a country accent.

Call the Midwife Holiday Special

For Helen George who plays Trixie the first day back at work filming the Christmas special felt like returning to school after a long vacation. Putting on the nurse's uniform though helped her acclimatize. George confesses to being "obsessed with Christmas", so much so that she watches seasonal films in May, so she was in her element getting to celebrate Christmas in June.

Pam Ferris is another "midwife" who enjoys the opportunity of celebrating two Christmases. She's also come up with a way to manage the stress that comes with the December holiday.

"I think Christmas is horribly stressful for women", says Ferris, who plays Sister Evangelina, "and I've made a real effort in my life to say 'a good enough Christmas is good enough.' Since I stopped trying to make it perfect my Christmases are so much better. The food is better, and if I'm too busy to get the decorations up, well, that's OK!"

Call the Midwife Holiday Special

The Holiday Special will hopefully tide us over until a brand new series begins at the end of March. The first two series were based on the memoirs of retired nurse Jennifer Worth, who died in 2011 before the first show was broadcast. Screenwriter Heidi Thomas adapted the series and although she's run out of original source material, she hasn't run out of storylines for the characters. Worth has, however, had to keep the show's scripts hidden away from her husband, actor Stephen McGanna, who plays GP Dr. Turner in the show.

"If he comes into my study while I'm working on them, I cover the screen," said Thomas. "But it's wonderful having a project that you can mull over with your partner."

The new series begins in 1959 and will take us into the swinging '60s. In the meantime, remember to tune in to MPT at 7:30pm on Thursday December 29th, for the Call the Midwife Holiday Special - as usual it's bound to be an emotional step back in time, so don't forget to have your hanky at the ready.

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 16, 2013:
Downton Abbey, Season 4

 

Let the countdown begin! I'm not referring to Christmas of course, but to the start of a brand new series of Downton Abbey. Season 4 kicks off January 5th and it picks up a few months after the death of Matthew Crawley, played by Dan Stevens.

Downton Abbey Season 4
Twins Cole (left) and Logan (right)
Weston who play baby George.

Several newcomers have joined the cast of Downton, including a double act that never actually appears on screen together. Identical twins Logan and Cole Weston both play little George Crowley, the son of Mary and Matthew. The twins, who are now fifteen months old, live in the village of Meathop in Cumbria with their parents, Charlotte and David, who signed them up with an agent when they were just two months old.

"Somebody had said to me that they are always looking for twins in TV", said the boys' 23 year old mum, "and they are very cute with their big blue eyes and mass of hair, so we thought we would give it a go."

Downton Abbey Season 4
Widow Lady Mary and widower Tom Branson
with babies George and Sybie.

The couple was shocked when they found out their sons were cast to play baby George and the first thing that crossed their mother's mind was what might happen if her sons ended up ruining all the lovely costumes!

"The whole set of Highclere was so pristine and everyone was in such lovely dresses that my main worry was, 'Oh please don't let them be sick on the clothes or the carpet!'", said Charlotte. "But they weren't. They were so good."

On the days the twins filmed, their schedule wasn't much different to most babies. Their breakfast feeding would be at 7am, then they'd nap between 10am and 11am and have their lunch at noon. Another nap and tea would be at 4pm and they'd be in bed by 7pm. So as not to disrupt their schedule, their scenes were filmed between 11am and noon or between 3pm and 4pm, when they weren't napping or feeding. Each of the scenes they appeared in lasted no more than 20 or 30 minutes.

The twins were on set for 11 days and it was Cole who got the most screen time, as little Logan was teething which made him very grumpy during a lot of the taping. The boys are so identical that cast members couldn't tell them apart, with the exception of Michelle Dockery who plays their mother, Lady Mary.

Downton Abbey Season 4
Allen Leech as Tom
Branson with Ava Mann
who plays Sybie.

Although the young "actors" didn't wear any make-up, they had an extensive wardrobe collection, which included their own little baby George romper suit, three sets of clothes, and some bonnets. New clothes had to be made constantly to keep up with their growth spurts. They also had their own trailer, with "Baby George" clipped to the outside. Inside were toys, a crib, a television set and a sofa.

Also getting her own trailer was their older co-star, Ava Mann, who plays Sybie, the daughter of Lady Sybil who died in childbirth. The bubbly two-year old is the daughter of 28-year-old school dance instructor Chané Mann. She and her civil servant husband were encouraged by friends to sign their daughter up just a few months before she won the role in Britain's top rated drama series, which returns to MPT at 9pm on Sunday, January 5.

By the way, if you'd like to be the first among your friends to see the first hour of episode one of Season 4, MPT is holding two very special events. On January 3rd at The Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda and on January 4th at The Gordon Center for the Performing Arts in Owings Mills, MPT will be previewing the first hour of the new series. Tickets are FREE and attendees are encouraged to come dressed as their favorite Downton character and compete for prizes. To reserve your seats and for more information go to mpt.org/downtonpreview.

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 9, 2013:
Doc Martin's Ian McNeice

 

As promised, this week we're going to take a look at actor Ian McNeice, who appears as Bert Large in Doc Martin.

Ian McNeice
McNeice in Doc Martin.

McNeice was born in Basingstoke in Hampshire but spent his teenage years in Somerset, where he attended a posh boarding school in Taunton. When he was just seven McNeice's older brother, Alistair, was killed when a car ran him over outside their home. Although McNeice wasn't present to witness the tragic accident, he was nevertheless traumatized by it, and it changed his life forever. Not only did he develop a stutter, but he piled on the pounds when his mother, in an attempt to spoil her now only child, gave him everything he wanted - including food. His father, who was a very successful businessman, on the other hand, worried that his son was becoming spoiled and packed him off to boarding school. McNeice hated it there; he was the fat boy with a stutter, a perfect target for bullies.

"I gained the nickname Toto", recalls the almost 300lb actor, "because whenever I tried to say the word tomorrow I would begin with 'to-to' before, eventually, if I was lucky, getting the word out in full."

Although the memories of his time in Taunton are painful to recall, McNeice does give the problems he experienced there credit for kick starting his career as an entertainer.

"To deal with the bullies, I would make them laugh," says McNeice "and gradually the bullying stopped when the other boys saw me more as class joker than as someone to be picked on."

Ian McNeice
A young Ian McNeice.

On leaving school, McNeice trained as an actor at the renowned London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), which was followed by a two year stint at the Salisbury Playhouse. McNeice then spent several years as a theatrical performer, including four years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, during which time he appeared on Broadway in a production of Nicholas Nickleby. Unfortunately his parents died before they could see him become a success.

McNiece's first came to television viewers attention in the series Edge of Darkness where he played Harcourt. To MPT viewers, though, the larger than life actor is probably more recognizable from the comedy series Chef! in which he played the alcoholic sous chef Gustave. McNeice has been with Doc Martin from when the show first aired, and you may have also caught him in the third episode of the second series of Lewis and in an episode of New Tricks. McNeice was also the recurring minor character of Forum crier ("Newsreader") in the joint HBO/BBC production Rome.

Ian McNeice
As Winston Churchill in Doctor Who.

McNeice's film credits include 84 Charing Cross Road, Day of the Dead, No Escape, From Hell, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. In 2010 and 2011, he appeared as Winston Churchill in four episodes of Doctor Who, having previously played the character on stage in the play Never So Good. He played Churchill again in 2012 in the stage version of The King's Speech.

The actor has certainly come a long way from his first television appearance, in the BBC drama Warship, in which he only had two lines. Unfortunately one of them included the word "lieutenant", a word McNeice found impossible given his stutter.

"The director suggested I changed it to the character's nickname, 'Jimmy', but I stammered over that too."

Eventually, McNeice told the producers they could pay him half his fee - for the one line he was able to deliver – and the other line should be said over the ship's Tannoy. It was, as they say, an offer they couldn't refuse.

Over the years, McNeice's stammering has become less and less, but his weight has remained a constant problem. In fact, after he almost reached 400lbs. and was suffering from high blood pressure, the job offers stopped coming in. When he asked his agent if it was because of his weight he confirmed what McNeice had suspected. McNeice joined a Weight Watchers class in the town where he lives; Brentford, in West London, and he managed to shed almost 60lbs. Although it's started to creep up a bit, he is determined to get down to his goal weight of 225lbs, which is what he weighed when he made the film The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne in 1984.

Working on Doc Martin, which is filmed in the Cornish town of Port Isaac, with all the Cornish pasties and ice cream around doesn't make losing weight an easy task. Although, the cottage McNeice rents is halfway up a hill, so getting to and from the quay where they film is good exercise.

Although McNeice probably couldn't imagine being anything other than an actor, he's glad his children didn't take up the profession. He has two boys and a girl all from his relationship with his former wife actress Kate Nicholls, to whom he was married for 18 years. Their divorce was amicable and came about when McNeice decided to move to Los Angeles while Nicholls preferred to stay in the U.K.

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 2, 2013:
Doc Martin Revealed

 

Doc Martin Revealed
Port Isaac in Cornwall, aka Portwenn in Doc Martin.

If you're a fan of Doc Martin, you won't want to miss a special program airing on MPT Thursday, December 5th at 9pm - Doc Martin Revealed; a behind the scenes look at the making of the series. Knowing how much MPT viewers enjoy Doc Martin, I was very excited when I was asked to host the show, which takes you to Port Isaac in Cornwall, the real location of fictional Portwenn where the good doctor has his practice. Actors and producers from the series share with you everything, from the challenges of shooting the series no matter the weather, to the unique Cornish accent.

Doc Martin Revealed
Martin Clunes and his wife
Philippa Braithwaite.

One of the most surprising things the makers of Doc Martin Revealed discovered during their time in Cornwall was that unlike the character he plays in the series, actor Martin Clunes is a dog lover. So much so that his dogs even accompany him to the filming. Clunes is also nothing at all like the grumpy, scowling Martin Ellingham. In fact, he's quite the opposite and it's the good cheer spread around by he and his wife Philippa Braithwaite, who is Executive Producer of Doc Martin, that makes working on the series so enjoyable. Everyone gets along really well, which is good as each series takes about five months to make with the entire cast and crew taking over every possible Port Isaac lodging facility. On weekends there's usually a mass exodus back to London but in order to do that, filming lasts 12 hours a day, 7am to 7pm, five days a week.

Doc Martin Revealed
Clunes breaking out of his dour
Martin Ellingham mode.

Base camp for the cast and some of the crew is a farm 15 miles outside of Port Isaac. Trailers for actors, make-up, costume, editing, production offices are set up all over the farm. There's even a "breakfast trailer" where you can get a full English breakfast. Once in make-up and costume, the cast are taken into Port Isaac to shoot their scenes. A lot of the interior shots, however, including Doc Martin's Portwenn surgery, are filmed in a giant barn that's been converted to an indoor studio.

Doc Martin Revealed
Ian McNeice who plays Bert Large.

Owing to the popularity of the series, Port Isaac has become quite the tourist attraction, but visitors are often disappointed to find that they can't book a table at "Large's Restaurant", because it doesn't exist. It's actually a private residence, with the outdoor restaurant structure being built and decorated the day before filming starts. All of the filming takes place outside – not even the crew is allowed indoors.

As you'll find out in Doc Martin Revealed, Ian McNeice who plays Bert Large is a big fan of public television and I'll talk more about the actor next week. If you've got an actor you'd like 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 November 25, 2013:
After You've Gone's Amanda Abbington

 

Amanda Abbington
Abbington with the cast of After You've
Gone
in the Christmas Special.

I hope you're enjoying having Are You Being Served? back in our Afternoon Tea line up. While it was off the air we replaced it with a series that seems to have really grown on a lot of viewers; After You've Gone – and in case you missed the news, we'll be bringing back the series, on January 7th at 1pm.

January of course is also when Downton Abbey returns with Season 4; that'll be on Sunday nights, beginning January 5th. Also in January, we finally get to see the first episode of the third series of Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

Amanda Abbington
Amanda Abbington with partner
Martin Freeman.

Freeman by the way is the longtime partner of After You've Gone actress, Amanda Abbington, who plays Siobhan. The couple team up in the new Sherlock series, where Abbington plays the character of Mary Morstan; John Watson's wife. They met on the set of the film Men Only in 2000, but Abbington had first noticed Freeman when she'd seen him on a TV sketch show and had been instantly smitten. A couple of months later she was moaning to the make-up girl on the set of the film Men Only that she hadn't got a boyfriend, and the girl told her there was a guy on the same job who'd been saying the same thing; that he was looking for a nice girl.

Amanda Abbington
Freeman and Abbington on the
set of Sherlock.

"At that minute Martin walked in", recalls Abbington, "and I just had a thunderbolt. It dawned on me: 'Oh, God it's him!' We flirted with each other all day and when I went home he texted me, saying 'You left and I wasn't done flirting with you. That's a bit rude', which I thought was really smooth." The next night Freeman invited Abbington out for a drink and two months later she moved in with him. Home now for the pair is in Hertfordshire where they live with their two children, Joe and Grace.

If you've got a favorite Afternoon Tea show or actor you'd like to find out more about, let me 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 18, 2013:
Felicity Kendal, part two

 

This week we continue "chatting" about Felicity Kendal, who is familiar to MPT viewers through her starring roles in Rosemary & Thyme and Good Neighbors. As good as she is in those shows, Kendal's real talent is in the delivery of Shakespeare's language - hardly surprising considering she grew up touring around India with her parents' Shakespeare troupe, Shakespeareana.

Felicity Kendal
With eldest son Charley, left, "boyfriend" Michael
Rudman and their son, Jacob.

When Kendal turned 17, she rebelled. Going against her parents' wishes she bowed out of the troupe, in which she'd been a member since a baby, and she returned to England. Her father was furious.

"You stupid little b****r. You'll marry the first clot you meet and end up in hell with mortgages and misery," recalls Kendall. "He just couldn't understand why I would want to opt out of this bohemian lifestyle he had created for his family and go back to England where I would have to fight for every role."

For the first year Kendal was back in Britain, it seemed her father was right. She struggled to get work and was almost on the point of admitting defeat and returning to England. Instead she decided to accept whatever job she was offered - it turned out to be a terrible West End play that closed after just seven days. Kendal eventually managed to get work in a two person television play called The Mayfly and the Frog, appearing opposite John Gielgud. Another flop followed; the role of a lesbian in a West End play in which the bikini clad Kendal had to mud wrestle! At least her reviews were good!

Felicity Kendal
Kendal's first husband, Drewe Henley.

In the meantime, while striving to make it as an actress, Kendal married. She was just 21 years old. Her husband, Drewe Henley, was older, had been married before and was in Kendal's eyes much more sophisticated. Just months after they married though, Henley, began suffering from bouts of manic depression.

"We went from bliss and glamour to total horror," says Kendal.

Henley's illness, which came on immediately after he concluded filming Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977 in which he played Garven Dreis, was terrifying. He was violent against himself and deeply troubled.

Felicity Kendal
"Tom and Barbara" in The Good Life.

"One of the most difficult things is accepting the person you love has a problem, and you can't do anything to help," says Kendal. "You try and reason, if we had another baby, if we moved house, if we went on holiday, it will make a difference. So you join in this half lie. You do your bit and it doesn't make any difference. It was very dark, and some of that darkness attaches itself to you."

The marriage lasted 11 years, during which time the couple had a son, Charlie, and Kendal became a public figure when she was cast in The Good Life (Good Neighbors).

"It was really hard doing The Good Life while my first marriage was disintegrating. The show was the very opposite of what was going on in my home life," remembers Kendal.

Felicity Kendal
Kendal with Tom Stoppard.

Kendal's second marriage was to American theatre director Michael Rudman, with whom she had a son, Jacob. The marriage broke up in 1991 when Kendal had an affair with playwright Tom Stoppard, who left his wife for her. The relationship lasted seven years. Then in 1998, Kendal went back to Rudman and although they never remarried the couple is still together.

Not long after Kendal and Rudman married, her beloved sister, Jenifer died, at age 51, leaving a 16-year-old, an 18-year-old and a 20-year-old. Jennifer had remained in India after marrying the Indian actor, Shashi Kapoor. Her death had a profound effect on Kendal. Despite their 13 year age gap, the two were extremely close. Not a day of their lives went by that they weren't in communication, if not in person then either by letter or phone.

Felicity Kendal
Felicity with her sister Jennifer in 1982,
who was only 51 when she died of cancer.

"It changed me," says Kendal of her sister's death. "She was all my friends, my sister and mother in a way because she was older than me and looked after me a lot of the time."

Now it's Kendal who is doing the looking after. Along with her own children, and grandchildren, Kendal is a surrogate mom and grandmom to her sister's children and grandchildren. It's a role she revels in and Kendal does as much as she can for the children, including at least two school runs a week.

"I love being available to help," says the family matriarch, "but when I am working I can disappear for months." Hopefully Kendal won't disappear from our scenes for too long!

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 11, 2013:
Felicity Kendal

 

Felicity Kendal
Felicity Kendal at the stage door.

Recently I received a terrific photograph of Felicity Kendal, taken by a friend of mine who met Ms. Kendal at the stage door following a performance of her latest West End show, Relatively Speaking.

As you can see in the photograph, Kendal wasn't shy to pose for my friend's camera; in fact quite the opposite. My friend said Kendal seemed thrilled that she was finally on the receiving end of a bit of attention, for appearing at the theatre next door was none other than Dame Judi Dench! Who of course was inundated with fans. Meanwhile, according to my friend, Kendal was quite a solitary figure and was recognized by no one.

 

Felicity Kendal
Judi Dench, signing autographs.

Maybe if, like Dench, Kendal had embarked on a film career, she might have elicited more attention. Instead she prefers to work in the theatre. There's a reason for Kendal's lack of film roles, though, as the 66 year old actress explains, "I am very bad at auditions. I went to my first one when I was 19, but they never secured me a part. I finally stopped doing them ten years ago because I didn't want to continue being upset. I think my talent is more suited to the stage."

It's no surprise that Kendal feels more at home in a theatre; she had her first role at the age of 9 months as the "changeling boy" in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was the start of a long association with the Bard. Kendal has performed his plays on stage, in film, and on television. She has even narrated a 30 minute animated version of Romeo & Juliet.

Felicity Kendal
Baby Felicity with her mother on tour in central India.

Although thought of as quintessentially English, the 66 year old Kendal's acting career actual began in India. It was there that her parents had toured entertaining troops during the second World War. They'd returned to England when the war was over, but went back to India in 1953. Joining them were Kendal and her sister, Jennifer, and a handful of men and women, aged 19-76. Together they made up a small troupe of travelling players who toured the country performing Shakespeare "to whoever would watch". They called themselves Shakespeareana and their audiences ranged from royalty to rural communities. It made for an unusual childhood for Kendal.

"We travelled all the time and weren't at all well off", says Kendal, "so it was all hands to work – even when I was tired."

The company traveled by train, always in third class, crammed into cramped carriages, wedged against chickens and boxes. Kendal recalls that "on one occasion, space was so tight that two of the company had to cling to the side of the train as it pulled out of the station, fastening themselves to the rails on the door by their belts."

Felicity Kendal
Felicity with her father
Geoffrey at Bombay Harbour.

With every change of time came a different school for Kendal, until she was 13 when her father pulled her out of school altogether. He figured that everything his daughter needed to learn could be found within the language of Shakespeare's plays. By the time Kendal was 17, she'd played a number of major Shakespeare roles, from Twelfth Night's Viola to The Merchant of Venice's Portia and could "rattle off any soliloquy you might care to name". She had never, however, "been near a pair of stockings, owned a coat or worn gloves." She decided to return to England.

I'll have more on Kendal next week, including how her father reacted when she told him she was retiring from his beloved Shakespeareana troupe.

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 4, 2013:
Are You Being Served?'s Nicholas Smith

 

Nicholas Smith
Nicholas Smith.

In celebration of the return of Are You Being Served? to Afternoon Tea and at the suggestion of a viewer, this week we look at the only surviving original cast member of the series; Nicholas Smith, who played old jug-ears, Cuthbert Rumbold.

Smith was born March 5th 1934 to a middle class family. His father was a chartered surveyor and Smith was educated at a number of different private schools. His love of theatre began at the age of seven, when he was encouraged by his mother, who had been an actress before giving it up to raise a family, persuaded him to sing a song in a show she was putting on. Smith still can recall the feeling he got performing in front of 700 people. "It was like coming home", he says. "It was like a flower opening".

Nicholas Smith
In a 1967 episode of The Avengers.

After serving in the army for two years, he decided to audition for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. Although an enthusiastic theatre goer, his father most definitely didn't want his son to become an actor. Smith, however, was determined. His father made a deal with him that if he got accepted into RADA he'd pay for it, if not then he'd give up the notion of being an actor and would embark on a more sensible profession. Smith agreed to the deal and subsequently got accepted. It was money well spent as after leaving the 6'ft 2" tall Smith was rarely without a job. He worked in repertory theatres, on the West End Stage, at the Bristol Old Vic and even on Broadway, where he appeared in 1965 in the play Portrait of a Queen.

Smith is equipped with a broad range of skills. He plays the trumpet, trombone, piano, glockenspiel, harpsichord, guitar - anything in fact that has anything to do with a keyboard. As well as playing music, Smith is also a composer and has written 13 string quarters. He also writes poetry and sings. Some of his favorite shows include The Mikado, Pirates of Penzance, Me & My Girl and My Fair Lady.

Nicholas Smith
As Mr. Rumbold.

Smith's first speaking role in a television show was in 1964 when he appeared in Doctor Who. He was initially only contracted to appear in one or two episodes of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, but he persuaded the director to expand his role and appeared in three of the serial's six episodes. In 1972 Smith was cast in the pilot episode of Are You Being Served? According to Smith, the role of Mr. Rumbold is as much like him in appearance and sound as anyone he's ever played. He'd initially wanted to do the role in a high pitched voice, but Jeremy Lloyd insisted he just use his own voice and keep it "natural".

Smith remained with Are You Being Served? until its conclusion in 1985. While making it he didn't let other opportunities pass. For three years, for instance, from 1972-75, Smith had a small recurring role in the television police series Z-Cars. He also had a small cameo role in the film The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, where he played Holmes' servant and in the popular children's series Worzel Gummidge.

Nicholas Smith
Smith's daughter, Catherine Russell.

Following the conclusion of Are You Being Served? Smith seemed to be constantly popping up in a variety of television series, including Martin Chuzzlewit, and Last of the Summer Wine. In 2005, he had a supporting role in the Oscar winning film, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. His last role was in a 2011 remake of Charlie's Angels. Since then Smith seems to have been in retirement, probably taking a well-deserved break and enjoying time with his wife Mary and their grandchildren Sam and Poppy. Their mother, Catherine Russell, is Smith's only daughter and is also an actress. You might recall seeing her as Hugh Bonneville's sister, Rachel Cazalet, in The Cazalets. As a child, she attended the filming of practically every episode of Are You Being Served? and would constantly badger her father to let her be in the show.

You can see Smith weekday afternoons at 3pm on Afternoon Tea in Are You Being Served? If there's an actor you'd like to know more about, 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 October 28, 2013:
The return of Are You Being Served?

 

In celebration of Are You Being Served? returning to Afternoon Tea next week I thought we'd "chat" about how the show originally came about.

Are You Being Served?
Jeremy Lloyd - back row - with the cast, including
Joanna Lumley (seated 2nd from right) of
It's Awfully Bad For Your Eyes Darling.

The concept for the show was pitched to comedy producer David Croft by Jeremy Lloyd when the two met while Lloyd was working on the comedy series It's Awfully Bad For Your Eyes Darling, which starred his ex-wife Joanna Lumley. Lloyd was actively looking for more work and thought his experiences in the early 1950s working as a junior assistant in a large clothing department store called Simpsons of Piccadilly would make a great sitcom. Simpsons of Piccadilly traded for over 60 years, finally closing its doors in 1999.

Croft thought Lloyd's idea had potential and agreed to create a pilot show as part of Comedy Playhouse in 1972. His one stipulation was that Lloyd be brought in as co-writer. The BBC didn't think much of the initial pilot and refused to air it. The episode eventually aired on September 8, 1972 when the BBC needed a filler show after the Munich massacre during the Olympic Games. The public loved it and on March 14, 1973 the pilot was reshown to kick of the first full series of the show.

Are You Being Served?
Messrs. Lucas, Grainger and Humphries.

Unfortunately, BBC programmers had scheduled the first series to air in the exact same timeslot as Britain's number one night time soap opera, Coronation Street, which aired on their competitor's channel, ITV. The series received low ratings, but the BBC persisted and repeated it later in the year. This time is was a huge success with viewers. Additional series were made which at their peak attracted up to 22 million viewers. Grace Brothers eventually closed its doors to the British television viewing public on April 1, 1985, after 10 series, 69 episodes and a 13-year run.

Only five of the original cast members of the series appeared in all 69 episodes; Frank Thornton, Mollie Sugden, John Inman, Wendy Richard and Nicholas Smith. All five were also featured in the sequel sitcom, Grace & Favor (Are You Being Served? Again!).

Are You Being Served?
The very first peek we ever got
of Grace Brothers in the pilot episode
(originally filmed in color).

Although the initial pilot for Are You Being Served? was produced in color, the videotape got wiped out, leaving only a 16mm black-and-white film tele-recording. In 2009, the pilot was restored to full color and it aired on January 1st, 2010 as part of an Are You Being Served? special night, which aired alongside several tribute shows to the late actors who appeared in the series.

Nicholas Smith is the only surviving member of the original cast and we'll be chatting about him next week. In the meantime, be sure to tune in on Monday, November 4th to welcome the return of Are You Being Served? to 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 21, 2013:
After You've Gone's
Celia Imrie, part two

 

Celia Imrie
Celia Imrie and son Angus.

This week we continue to look at the life of Celia Imrie who appears as Diana Neal in After You've Gone. Imrie has to be one of the hardest working actresses in the U.K., but her work load has been curtailed the last few years since she suffered two pulmonary embolisms.

 

Celia Imrie
With Helen Mirran and Julie
Walters in Calendar Girls.

In 2005 Imrie had just returned home after a two-month stint in New York when she began to feel ill. Having just lost her brother, she put it down to stress and grief over his death. Only when she collapsed in the street and was rushed to hospital did she discover she'd had her first pulmonary embolism; a blood clot on the lung and a frequent cause of sudden death. Imrie returned to work just six weeks later and less than a year later she collapsed again. It was another pulmonary embolism. After that scare, Imrie took better care of herself, spending half a year working and the other half resting. Nowadays she also restricts her airplane travel because of the risk of a blood clot at high altitude.

 

Celia Imrie
As Corinne Perigo in
The Darling Buds of May.

Imrie's son Angus remains her pride and joy and is her number one priority. He too has entered the acting profession and has worked a couple of times with his mother. The first time was when Angus made his screen debut at the age of five in the television drama Station Jim. When Imrie played Gloria, Stephen Fry's secretary in Kingdom, Angus landed the role of her son. Filming took place in the village of Swaffham in Norfolk, and Imrie rented a small cottage for her and Angus to live in, making sure to take advantage of the nearby seaside for picnics on the beach during the rare day off.

 

Celia Imrie
Judy Dench and Celia Imrie in
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Imrie's last film project was in 2011 when she starred alongside several other members of what she calls "the over-sixties club", including Dame Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

You can see Celia Imrie in After You've Gone which airs on Afternoon Tea weekday afternoons at 3pm.

 

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 14, 2013:
After You've Gone's Celia Imrie

 

Celia Imrie
Celia Imrie.

It's good to see actress Celia Imrie back on our screens as Diana Neal in After You've Gone. She's like family, having appeared in all sorts of shows that have aired on MPT. The list seems endless; Inspector Lewis, Poirot, Miss Marple, Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders, Hettie Wainthropp, Cranford, Love in a Cold Climate, Gormanghast, The Canterville Ghost, Bergerac, Upstairs Downstairs. Imrie's large screen credits are equally abundant and include Nanny McPhee, The Borrowers, Bridget Jones's Diary, Calendar Girls, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Born on July 15, 1952, in Guildford, Surrey, Imrie was the fourth of five siblings. Her Scottish father was a radiologist and her stay-at-home mother was from an aristocratic family, whose family tree featured a number of Barons going back to William the Conqueror's son.

Imrie recalls her childhood as being idyllic with a Virginia-creeper-covered home, nanny, nursery, ponies and beach holidays. Like most middle-class girls she longed to "become a prima ballerina and marry Rudolf Nureyev." But after applying, at the age of 11, to the Royal Ballet School, their rejection notice, which Imrie recalls was along the lines of "Your daughter is very talented and advanced but I'm afraid she is going to be too big and there is no point", caused her to become anorexic. Not realizing that the school had been referring to her height, Imrie thought the school was rejecting her because of her weight, so she simply stopped eating.

Celia Imrie
Celia, aged 5.

"She so wanted good husbands for us", recalls Imrie. "My mother rather thought I would marry a nice man with a title and a stately home, but I always was much too bossy and contrary for that kind of thing."

The youngster was first sent to Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital to treat her illness, but by the age of 14 Imrie was admitted to the psychiatric wing of St. Thomas's Hospital in London where she was treated by a controversial psychiatrist called William Sargant. According to Imrie he was "a total maniac", who submitted her to electric shock therapy and administered large doses of the anti-psychotic drug Largactil. She would be put into a coma for weeks, while Sargant played tape recordings of subliminal messages. To this day Imrie still has no idea what was on the tapes and Sargant still features largely in her nightmares.

Imrie was eventually released from hospital and returned to her private high school in Guilford, but left at the age of 15. She then attended the Guildford School of Acting, where she trained as a dance teacher - not an actress - specializing in Greek Dancing. Her first job was as a chorus girl in the pantomime Dick Whittington in Colchester. She was just 16 years old and got the part by calling the director daily to see if anyone had dropped out. Her persistence eventually paid off, when she was cast as a rat and a sausage!

Imrie's father died when she was 20. He was 60 when she was born and would often be mistaken for her grandfather. Her mother, who was 60 when her husband died, remarried a man to whom she'd been engaged previously. Getting her four daughters married off was of prime importance to Imrie's mother. So much so that they nicknamed her Mrs. Bennet after the character in Pride and Prejudice.

Celia Imrie
Angus' father Benjamin Whitrow
as Davidson in the TV series
Harry's Game in 1982.

"She so wanted good husbands for us", recalls Imrie. "My mother rather thought I would marry a nice man with a title and a stately home, but I always was much too bossy and contrary for that kind of thing."

At the age of six or seven, Imrie decided she would never marry. She was too afraid that if she was with one person all her life they'd run out of things to talk about and it'd be very boring. Imrie did, however, want children and never more so than when she was nearing 40 and her doctor informed her if she didn't have a baby within the next couple of years she'd have little chance of conceiving.

Then one day, while on a break from recording a radio play at the BBC, she met actor Benjamin Whitrow, who was best known for his portrayal of Mr. Bennet in the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Ben asked if Imrie if she was married and Imrie explained how she'd never wanted to be tied to any one person, but desperately wanted a baby. Over time the couple got to know each other and grew close enough that Whitrow offered to fulfill Imrie's wish for a child. Imrie laid out her terms.

"As long as he understood I would not ask for anything, I wouldn't want to live with him, or marry him, would never ask for money for the child and I would be responsible for choosing and paying for the child's education, accommodation, clothing - everything."

Celia Imrie
Celia with baby Angus and her mother.

Whitrow, who already had a grown up family agreed and baby Angus Imrie was born in August of 1994, when Imrie was 41.

"He has proved to be a marvelous father to Angus. And his whole family has been very welcoming," says Imrie who has continued to bring her son up as a single mother, dividing her time between a place she owns in Cowes on the Isle of Wight and her main home in Notting Hill. The latter was left to Imrie in 2000 by the writer Hammond Ines, who had met her through her mother. Despite the 40 year age difference, Imrie's mother and her friends tried desperately to get Imrie and Hammond to marry, but the friendship always remained platonic.

In his will, Hammond stated that his "greatest wish" was for Celia to stage some of the plays his wife had written. In 2009 Imrie fulfilled her obligation to Hammond by staging a reading of one of them in aid of Alzheimer's charities. Richard Eyre directed it and it starred Jim Broadbent and Hugh Bonneville.

I'll have more on Celia Imrie next week, in the meantime, you can see her on Afternoon Tea weekday afternoons at 3pm.

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 7, 2013:
Scott & Bailey

 

I'm really enjoying Scott & Bailey - it's nice to see a female duo instead of the usual male detective pairings.

Scott & Bailey
Scott & Bailey.

Suranne Jones, who plays Rachel Bailey in the series, came up with the idea for the show when she and actress Sally Lindsay, with whom she appeared in Coronation Street, were chatting in a pub one night about the lack of programs about the lives of professional women. After getting the right people interested in their idea, a former Detective Inspector from Greater Manchester Police, Diane Taylor, was brought on board to help create the show. The role of DCI Murray, played by Amelia Bullmore, was loosely based on Taylor.

After Jones was cast as Bailey, Lesley Sharp was given the role of Scott. The role was originally meant to have been played by Lindsay, but after she became pregnant with twins she was given the smaller role of playing Bailey's sister Alison instead. Sharp's husband, actor Nicholas Gleaves, was cast in the role of Scott's lover, DS Andy Roper. According to Sharp, "there aren't too many people who can go to work and have an affair with their husband"!

The series was filmed on location in and around Greater Manchester. The headquarters of the fictional Major Incident Team of the Manchester Metropolitan Police is actually an old Barclays Bank building on Silver Street in Bury, Lancashire. Great attention to detail is paid to making the series authentic, but in the episode we saw last week the authenticity was real.

"We were in a place where a real raid was happening on the same street that we were filming," explains Jones. "You could see real police vans around but the crew just ushered us to get on with filming as we had our own job to do."

Scott & Bailey
Lisa Riley & Suranne Jones.

In the same episode, Jones' character Bailey had to be punched in the face and then throttled by the murder suspect, Nadia Hicks, played by Lisa Riley. Jones and Riley last acted together when they were teenagers at a Manchester area Theatre Workshop. The scene took about a day a half to film, mainly because the old friends kept dissolving into fits of giggles and had to do take after take before they could get it right. By the end Jones was absolutely black and blue.

Despite the authenticity of the series, Jones is quick to point out that she'd never compare her experiences filming the show to those of a detective on the street. "That's real danger", says Jones.

You can see Scott & Bailey again on Tuesday night 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 September 30, 2013:
After You've Gone's Nicholas Lyndhurst

 

Nicholas Lyndhurst
Nicholas Lyndhurst.

I hope you're enjoying our new Afternoon Tea series, After You've Gone starring Nicholas Lyndhurst. Seeing Mr. Lyndhurst in an adult role is always a bit strange for me, as I remember watching him on telly when I was a teenager when he too was a teen, playing Adam in the sitcom Butterflies.

Lyndhurst, who was born on April 20, 1961 and grew up in the coastal village of East Wittering, has only ever known life as a working actor. As a child he attended Corona Theatre School, which was also the school of choice for his own would-be-actor son, Archie. Unlike his son, however, Lyndhurst's childhood was nowhere near as stable - financially, or paternally.

His mother, Liz Long, was a 17 year old dancer at a holiday camp when she became pregnant - the father was her boss's son. As a single mother Long struggled to make ends meet and Lyndhurst can still remember having to hide from the electricity man because they didn't have enough money to pay the bill. He also remembers finding the equivalent of seven cents down the side of an armchair one day.

Nicholas Lyndhurst
With Amanda Redman, filming New Tricks.

"We almost tore the chair apart to see what other bits of small change had slipped down over the years," recalls Lyndhurst.

So when, at the age of eight, Lyndhurst started badgering his mother to send him to theatre boarding school, you can imagine her dilemma. Not only could she not afford it, but giving up her only child with whom she was very close was a huge sacrifice. She held out for two years, then when Lyndhurst was ten Long relented and somehow scraped enough money to fund the first half-term of fees, which at the time was sixty pounds (about $100). Lyndhurst ended up staying at the school for the remainder of his education, funding his own tuition by getting paid work on television. He appeared in Anne of Avonlea, Heidi, and Peter Pan.

Nicholas Lyndhurst
As Rodney Trotter in Only Fools & Horses.

It was Butterflies though in 1978 that would bring the gangly youth to the attention of British television viewers. Then in 1981 he appeared as Rodney Trotter in Only Fools & Horses, which starred David Jason, who plays Granville in Open All Hours. Lyndhurst was 19 when the show first aired and it ran for 22 years, earning for itself the reputation of being Britain's favorite comedy.

Lyndhurst appeared in a number of other sitcoms, but none could duplicate the success of Only Fools & Horses. He also turned his hand to dramatic works; namely when he played Uriah Heep in Masterpiece's David Copperfield, which also starred Daniel Radcliffe and Maggie Smith. Lyndhurst's stage performances include Norman in The Dresser and Trinculo in Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Nicholas Lyndhurst
With wife, Lucy, on their wedding day.

In 1992 when Lyndhurst was performing at a theatre in London's West End, he met his wife Lucy. She was 12 years his junior and a dancer with the English National Ballet. On a night off, she and a friend attended Lyndhurst's performance. After the show they sent the cast champagne, chocolates and a note that said "Thank you for the laugh. You've no idea how much you cheered us up!" Lyndhurst still has the note as a memento of the day the couple first met.

"Lucy came to see the show several times with various friends after that. I would stand in the spotlight and look out, and there in the front row was Lucy. I was talking to this huge pair of blue eyes that our son has inherited."

The couple married in 1999 and made a home in West Sussex, not far from Lyndhurst's childhood home where his mother continues to live. After the birth of Archie, Lyndhurst gave up acting for three and a half years, choosing instead to be a stay-at-home dad. Lyndhurst didn't miss the acting world a bit.

Nicholas Lyndhurst
Lyndhurst and his son, Archie.

"Having a child knocked everything into perspective. Being an actor? That's lovely, but not as important as being a father."

Before the birth of his son, Lyndhurst considered getting his pilot's license his finest achievement, having started taking flying lessons when he was just 17. He now owns two planes. His passion for outdoor activities also includes surfing and deep sea diving. Since 1994, Lyndhurst has also been a member of the British Beekeepers Association and he keeps bees at his Sussex home.

After You've Gone, which first aired in England in 2007, was Lyndhurst's return to situation comedy, after a 13 year absence. Most recently he has been working on New Tricks as new veteran detective Dan Griffin. You can see Lyndhurst in After You've Gone weekday afternoons at 3pm 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 September 23, 2013:
Are You Being Served?'s Stephanie Gathercole

 

Fans of Are You Being Served? have been on a bit of a roller coaster ride the last couple of weeks. First came the news that the longest running British sitcom airing on MPT was going away, when the BBC announced they no longer had the rights to the show. Then just last week came word that the rights situation had been resolved and Grace Brothers' doors were once again being opened up to American viewers.

Stephanie Gathercole
Stephanie Gathercole as Mr. Rumbold's
unnamed secretary.

Although AYBS? will be taking a brief hiatus from the Afternoon Tea schedule, it will return in November and once again you'll be hearing the familiar "Ground Floor, Perfumery..." theme song. In case you've ever wondered, the lyrics to the song were penned by AYBS? co-creator David Croft and the musical arrangement was arranged by composer and conductor Ronnie Hazelhurst, who was the BBCs Light Entertainment Music Director. Hazelhurst also composed the tunes to some other popular British sitcoms you might recognize, including Yes, Minister, To the Manor Born, and Last of the Summer Wine.

That AYBS? theme song is sung by the "lift girl", former actress Stephanie Gathercole, who also appeared in the show as Mr. Rumbold's unnamed first secretary for the first few episodes. Are You Being Served? was Gathercole's first break into television - it was also her last. Born in Croydon, near London, Gathercole was a teacher at a girl's school before she decided to embark on an acting career. Her original choice of stage name was Stephanie Cole, but that name, of course, was already taken by the actress who appears in a variety of shows you see on MPT such as Doc Martin and Waiting for God.

Stephanie Gathercole
Stephanie Gathercole in 2007.

After giving up acting, Gathercole returned to teaching using her married name Reeve. She has only returned to the BBC once. That was back in 2007, when she was invited onto a BBC Radio Kent talk show to discuss her involvement with the charitable organization The Big Issue Foundation, which through a variety of services raises money to help the homeless.

Once again a reminder that Are You Being Served? will return to Afternoon Tea in November. Thank you for your patience and understanding. I'll have more "tidbits" about Are You Being Served? next week. In the meantime, if there's an actor you'd like to see featured in these weekly tidbits 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 September 16, 2013:
Mr. Bean's Rowan Atkinson

 

Rowan Atkinson
Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean.

Recently we welcomed a new face to our Friday Afternoon Tea line up of comedies - and what a face it is!

Rowan Sebastian Atkinson CBE, who stars in Mr. Bean on Fridays at 1pm, was born on January 6th, 1955 in Consett, County Durham. The youngest of four boys, one of whom died as an infant, Atkinson boarded at Durham Choristers School from the age of nine to eleven. He then attended the school as a dayboy until 1968, his time there overlapping with the two years younger, future Prime Minister Tony Blair, who left in 1966.

Rowan Atkinson
Tony Blair as a child at
The Chorister's School.

Atkinson's appearance and his stuttering led to his being bullied at the school; something that Prime Minister Blair has said he vaguely remembers. As a Chorister, Atkinson received a first class musical education and also gained performing experience through the Choir's participation in the daily services at Durham Cathedral and the Choir's concerts and tours.

After leaving The Chorister School when he turned 13, Atkinson became a boarder at another Anglican Church school; St. Bees, where he is remembered by the Canon as being "shy with a slight stutter and a slightly rubbery face". His old physics teacher also recalls that Atkinson was "a quiet lad, who walked his own path". Until he discovered drama. Then Atkinson was "exceptional". Even his stammer "vanished whenever the young Atkinson stepped onto the stage", recalls another former St. Bees faculty member.

Rowan Atkinson
A young Rowan Atkinson.

Despite his performing talents, on leaving school, Atkinson attended Newcastle University, where he received a degree in Electrical Engineering. Following in his father's footsteps he then earned an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from The Queen's College at Oxford and embarked on a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. After joining the Experimental Theatre Club and the Oxford University Dramatic Society, where he met Richard Curtis with whom he'd later collaborate, Atkinson decided to give up his studies and focus on acting. Curtis first noticed Atkinson in early 1976 when he attended a series of workshops held to discuss sketch material for the summer review. According to Curtis, in the final meeting, the quite shy Atkinson, stood up and overcoming his stutter "did a monologue about driving followed by the thing he still does now, where he mimes and talks at the same time. It was unlike anything else I had ever seen. It was pure genius."

Rowan Atkinson
Atkinson as Black Adder.

Curtis would eventually become one of Britain's most successful comedy screenwriters, known primarily for his romantic comedy films, such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones' Diary, and Notting Hill. Atkinson and Curtis's first collaboration though was a series of BBC radio comedy shows called The Atkinson People, which consisted of a series of satirical interviews with fictional great men, who were played by Atkinson himself. More satire followed the following year, when Atkinson appeared in the popular television series Not the Nine O'Clock News. In 1983, Atkinson and Curtis reunited to co-write The Black Adder, the immensely popular medieval sitcom featuring Atkinson in the title role. Blackadder, consisting of four series and numerous spin-offs, became one of the most successful of all BBC sitcoms.

Atkinson and Curtis also collaborated on Mr. Bean, which first aired in the UK on commercial television on New Year's Day in 1990. The character of Mr. Bean was around a decade before he was even given a name and the series went on to become the highest-rating comedy show on commercial TV in the 90s. The success of the series, which has won numerous awards, including an Emmy and a Gold Rose of Montreaux award, has brought Atkinson unimaginable wealth. I'll be back next week with more on Rowan Atkinson, in the meantime, don't forget you can see Atkinson in Mr. Bean Fridays 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 September 9, 2013:
Downton Abbey news

 

Last week, Downton Abbey fans in the U.K. received the news they'd been anxiously awaiting; that season four will start airing on September 22nd. By the time the show airs on PBS, it will have finished in the U.K., so be sure to stay away from newspapers and the internet to avoid any "spoilers"!

Downton Abbey Season 4
The cast of Downton Abbey, Season Four

This time we won't be losing any major characters. In fact, when announcing the air date, Gareth Neame, the show's executive producer, also reported that they had "signed up the main cast members until series five, so there won't be any more shock exits for a while." Those key characters include Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Cora), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith) and Lily James (Lady Rose) and - thank heavens - Maggie Smith (the Dowager Countess of Grantham).

Series creator Julian Fellowes also confirmed that Maggie Smith would be appearing in every episode of season four, including the eagerly anticipated Christmas Day episode. He said: "I am afraid that she is like Mark Twain: reports of her death have been greatly exaggerated."

Downton Abbey Season 4
Season Four filming.

It seems that Fellowes was as upset as we were at the departure of Dan Stevens, who played Matthew Crawley. The episode in which Matthew died aired on Christmas Day in the U.K. and Fellowes got a lot of flack from the British public for ruining their Christmas celebrations. It wasn't Fellowes fault though. He'd meant for the final episode in season three to end on a light note, with the news that Matthew and Mary had become parents.

When Stevens told Fellowes he was leaving, just as filming was about to begin on the third series, Fellowes had already written five scripts for the series, including the episode devoted to Lady Sybil's death. The departure of that character had been planned way in advance to accommodate Jessica Brown Findlay, who played the much loved Sybil, to leave the show after three years.

Downton Abbey Season 4
Lord and Lady Grantham in Season Four.

As Fellowes explained, "Jessica had said for ages, "I just want to do three years." We knew she would die in episode five and we knew we would have another three episodes to get over it. But Dan didn't decide to leave until the point where we were beginning series three and we couldn't have another episode which was all about his death."

To accommodate Stevens taking a break from the show so he could pursue other projects, Fellowes also tried to create an alternate ending for Matthew. One idea was that Matthew would have been sent to Washington and would only have to appear in few episodes of season four. When that idea wasn't acceptable, Fellowes tried to postpone Matthew's death.

"We asked Dan if he'd come back at the beginning of series four and die in the first episode", explained Fellowes, "but Dan was set on a clean break at the end of series three and he said, "I really feel it's right for me to go and finish now." Which left Fellowes with no choice.

Downton Abbey Season 4
Mary, brother-in-law Tom,
and their respective children.

"You have a character who is happily married with a new baby and is heir to the estate but is not willing ever to be seen again. There is only one option - the Grim Reaper", said Fellowes.

So as not to be, as he put it, "caught on the hop" again, Fellowes locked the Downton stars into watertight contracts, and is now able to protect viewers from another unexpected exit.

The first episode of the new series, which begins six months after Matthew Crawley's death, won rave reviews at a recent press screening and it will air on PBS, January 5th, 2014.

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 2, 2013:
Silk's Rupert Penry-Jones

 

Rupert Penry-Jones
Penry-Jones at Wimbledon earlier
this summer, joined by Antiques
Roadshow
's Fiona Bruce.

So how are you enjoying Masterpiece Mystery's Silk? It's good to see actor Rupert Penry-Jones back on our screens. If you recall he was in the first series of MI-5 where he played Adam Carter, and he was also in Casanova as the Duke of Grimani. He also played the dashing naval officer Captain Frederick Wentworth in another Masterpiece series, Persuasion.

Penry-Jones was born on September 22, 1970 to Welsh actor, Peter Penry-Jones and Angela Thorne, who you probably know better as Marjory Frobisher in To The Manor Born. His wife, Dervla Kirwan is another familiar face to Afternoon Tea viewers, having starred as the much-loved Assumpta Fitzgerald in Ballykissangel. Brother Laurence and his wife, Polly Walker are also actors.

Rupert Penry-Jones
As a boy.

Although Penry-Jones was born and grew up in London, he still considers "home" to be the stone cottage farmhouse, near the beach near Llanddona in North Wales. The house has been in his family for more than a century, having been built by his great grandfather, a dentist in the city, who wanted to use it as a home for relatives. His grandfather, David Penry-Jones was a vicar in the Welsh non-conformist church, and his other great-grandfather was a revivalist from Maerdy, Rhondda.

As soon as he learned to drive, at age 17, the handsome Londoner with the "posh" accent, started to drive his girlfriends down to the cottage, from London. He was soon discouraged, however, by his father who told him it was a special place and should be kept for "special girls". Years later, Penry-Jones would propose to the love of his life, Kirwan, on the beach at the bottom of the steps that lead up to the cottage's garden.

Rupert Penry-Jones
Dervla Kirwan and Penry-Jones.

Like many dyslexics, school for Penry-Jones was a struggle. He left when he was 17 with no qualifications and enrolled at the Old Vic Theatre School. Things didn't go much better there though and he was expelled during his second year for being a "bad influence". Something he puts down to being the result of a broken relationship. Although he confesses he was "disruptive", the actor still feels "a bit robbed. The third year is when you do all the plays", he says. "They don't invite me to any of the reunions. I'm completely cut out."

As an unemployed actor, Penry-Jones turned to modeling. He strolled the runways of Paris and Milan and was briefly, the lips of Lypsyl lip balm. Although not as important as they once were, his looks are still something of a concern to Penry-Jones; especially his hair and his weight.

"I'm worried about losing my hair", says the blonde, blue-eyed actor. "I think if I lost my hair, I'd lose a lot of parts. And I don't want to get fat. I'm always worried about that."

Rupert Penry-Jones
Mother Angela Thorne, Penry-Jones
and Kirwan.

Penry-Jones' acting career finally got underway in 1995, when he appeared alongside his mother on television in Cold Comfort Farm. The same year he made his London stage debut playing Fortinbras to Ralph Fiennes's Hamlet. In 1999, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, and in 2001, he was cast in the thriller Dangerous Corner at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. Performing opposite him was Dervla Kirwan. At the time they started dating, Kirwan was the more well known, through her role in Ballykissangel. Then in 2004, Penry-Jones began his four year stint in MI5 and their roles in the popularity stakes were reversed.

Following a three year engagement the couple married in 2007. They promptly started a family and had two children; Florence, 9 and Peter, 7. Becoming a father was a lot more challenging than Penry- Jones ever imagined. "There's more to my life than my acting career", he explains. "Before, it was everything. You have to be quite selfish as an actor to be really successful."

Rupert Penry-Jones
The Penry-Jones family.

When he first became a father, Penry-Jones confesses he still also wanted a social life. "I didn't want to sit in a room with other parents talking about children", he says. "I'm not interested in other people's children whatsoever. There's nothing more boring."

Decidedly un-boring, of course, is watching Penry-Jones in Masterpiece Mystery's Silk and you can see whether his scheming character makes QC in the third and final episode of the series which airs next Sunday night at 8pm 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 August 26, 2013:
Changes coming to the program schedule

 

As summer winds down, so too does one of Afternoon Tea's longest running comedies; the much loved and highly entertaining, Are You Being Served?

Unfortunately the BBC was unable to secure additional rights to sell the series to PBS and - along with other stations around the country - MPT is no longer able to air the show.

schedule change
Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean.

We're really hoping that the BBC will be able to come to terms with the agents for the show and Are You Being Served? will be back on the air one day. For now though we have to say goodbye to Grace Brothers Department store and just be thankful for the many, many hours of laughter we've had in the company of Mr. Grace's salespeople.

Another show MPT, and other PBS stations, won't be able to air come September, for the exact same reason, is 'Allo 'Allo, which was also created by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft. Replacing 'Allo 'Allo in the 1pm Afternoon Tea slot on Fridays is Mr. Bean, written by and starring Rowan Atkinson as the title character.

schedule change
Members of the cast of After You've Gone.

You might recall that "Mr. Bean" made an appearance at the London 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, and we welcome him to Afternoon Tea.

Replacing Are You Being Served? beginning Sept 23 (M-F 3pm and Sat at 11:30pm on HD & Sun at 8:30pm on MPT2) is another new comedy series, After You've Gone.

I'd love to know what you think about our new shows. 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 August 19, 2013:
Judi Dench

 

Judi Dench
Dame Judi and Ben Whishaw in Peter & Alice.

Sometimes I have to wonder if Dame Judi Dench is quite human. With the stamina of someone over half her age, the 78 year old actress seems to run on Energizer batteries, only she never seems to take the time to recharge.

This past June, Dench wrapped up a two and a half month stint in London's West End, performing alongside Ben Whishaw, in Peter & Alice, by American playwright John Logan, who co-wrote the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall, which also starred Whishaw. Rehearsals for the play came directly on the heels of Dench's wrapping up filming of Philomena. In it she plays a woman who has never stopped searching for her son, after giving him up decades before, after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent. The film is due to be released here in the U.S. in November and many are saying Dench's performance is Oscar worthy.

Judi Dench
On site in Maryland filming "Philomena."

While most of the filming took place in Ireland and the UK, it also shot for a couple of days closer to home; in Poolesville and Potomac, Maryland. Dench was present for both days filming, which took place at St. Paul's Community Church on Sugarland Road in Poolesville and Sts. Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Potomac.

Apart from the age factor - Dench turns 79 on December 9th - Dench is also battling deteriorating eyesight. She suffers from macular degeneration, for which she is treated with injections into the eye.

"It's amazing how she carried on stage with her eye problem", says Whishaw, "you would never know she had it. She never talked about it. She is such a trouper and so professional."

Judi Dench
Dame Judi and David Mills.

Whishaw and other Peter & Alice cast members were recently taken by Dench to visit the British Wildlife Center, which is run by 70 year old conservationist David Mills, who Dench has been courting for three years. Friends of the actress say she may now be ready for a second wedding. Dench's first husband of 30 years, Michael Williams died of lung cancer in 2001 at the age of 65.

You can see Judi Dench weekday afternoons on Afternoon Tea at 2:30pm. If you've got an actor you'd like to find out more about 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 August 12, 2013:
Death in Paradise

 

Death in Paradise
Ben Miller, sweltering in the
Guadeloupe heat.

If you're a longtime MPT viewer you probably already know that Afternoon Tea isn't the only place you can find British telly shows. This Thursday night for instance we have three hours of programs from across the Pond.

Doc Martin kicks things off at 8:58pm and we'll be airing two back-to-back episodes. The evening wraps up with Priceless Antiques Roadshow at 11:30pm and sandwiched in-between is Death in Paradise. This is one of just a handful of series you can see on MPT that is also still being seen in the U.K. Filming of the third series is currently underway, however, it is minus the talents of actor Ben Miller, who plays DI Richard Poole.

Death in Paradise
Peter Davison, as Tristan in
All Creatures Great and Small.

Miller decided not to return to season three of the show and replacing him is a new lead detective, the bright, but rather disorganized and gawky DI Humphrey Goodman, played by Kris Marshall. Joining Marshall on the third series is a long-time MPT favorite, Peter Davison, who played Tristan in All Creatures Great and Small.

Death in Paradise is quite a bit different from the Mysteries we're used to seeing. Its location for starters is a far cry from the bucolic British countryside we see in shows such as Midsomer Murders, which by the way we'll be having two back-to-back episodes of this Friday night beginning at 7:56pm. Death in Paradise on the other hand was filmed in Deshaies on the northwest corner of the Caribbean island, Guadeloupe. Each series takes five months to make and the cast and crew locate to the deep tropics for the duration.

Death in Paradise
Filming in Guadeloupe.

While working in the tropics may be just fine for the actors who get to wear climate appropriate clothing, Miller's character refuses to wear anything but a grey woolen suit. The temperatures got so hot when filming of series one was underway that Miller suffered heatstroke and filming had to be halted temporarily until he'd recovered. The series producers were more cautious when planning for the second series. To cool Miller down, they provided him with a piece of clothing fitted out with icepacks, which was kept in a picnic-style freezer box. Whenever there was a break in filming, Miller was able to put it on to cool down. On top of the icebox, was a handwritten note that said "Ben's Cold Vest".

As well as the "vest", Miller's shirt, which is underneath what looks like a wool suit but isn't, had a hole where the back should be. Also, whenever Miller got a chance he was allowed to take off his character's sensible black leather brogues, roll his trousers up to his knee and walk around barefoot.

Death in Paradise
Kris Marshall as newcomer
DI Richard Poole.

Apart from the heat, Guadeloupe seems a veritable paradise. The butterfly-shaped island is awash in vibrant primary colours – deep blue sea, yellow sand, red bougainvillea, luminous green palm tree fronds. Also, unlike the fictional town of Saint-Marie, where there's at least one murder a week, Guadeloupe is virtually crime free. In fact, when filming was once taking place at a beautiful villa in a neighboring town, the owner told Miller that she didn't sleep inside the house, but in a hammock in the garden. When asked by Miller whether it was safe, she replied "Well, there is one burglar. But everybody knows him. And when he comes I just give him chocolate."

On that sweet note, I'll remind you to tune into Death in Paradise this Thursday evening at 10:33pm.

If you'd like to find out more about the locations of the shows you love to watch on MPT, 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 August 5, 2013:
Fancy meeting you here!

 

Heather's visit to England
Cavendish Park.

Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Merry Ol' England. It was a gem of a trip that took me the length and breadth of the country. I didn't get to spend much time in London, but when I did I certainly hit the jackpot!

I was leaving a building opposite Cavendish Square - a lovely park across from the esteemed John Lewis Department Store - when who should I run into but none other than Lord Grantham himself - Hugh Bonneville! The timing couldn't have been more perfect - a minute later and he'd have been down the street with his back to me, unrecognizable from the many other smartly dressed London gents strolling along. A minute sooner, I'd have been across the street enjoying time in the park with my family.

Heather's visit to England
Heather with Hugh Bonneville.

Resisting the temptation to bow, I approached Mr. Bonneville who graciously chatted about the show he has become so associated with: Downton Abbey. He explained that he was currently busy working on taping the Season 4 finale, known in the UK as the "Christmas Special". Bonneville said that just the day before, the cast had welcomed American actor Paul Giamatti who was appearing in the finale as Cora's playboy brother, Harold. Bonneville seemed very excited about the opportunity of working with Giamatti, who he said seemed a natural addition given Cora's American roots.

Bonneville also expressed his great delight in just how popular Downton Abbey has become this side of the pond. He only wishes, he said, that American viewers could see the series at the same time as their British counterparts and didn't have to wait until after the series had aired in the U.K.

Heather's visit to England
Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham.

I took the opportunity of asking Bonneville if there was any truth to the rumor that a prequel to the series was in the works. Bonneville - who I should mention seemed to have lost quite a bit of weight and was dressed in a smart, dark blue jacket - laughed and said it was just a rumor. He went onto explain that during a press tour, series creator Julian Fellowes had been asked if there might be a prequel and he had agreed it seemed like a good idea. His off the cuff response was immediately picked up by enthusiastic reporters and reported as fact. In reality, however, Bonneville said there are no plans for a prequel. Or for our seeing Downton on the Big Screen - although he said a movie of the series is quite a "nice idea". But let's not start any rumors!

Heather's visit to England
Daisy Lewis, who is playing a new character of interest to
Tom, and Paul Giamatti who plays Cora's brother Harold,
on the set of the Season 4 Downton Abbey finale.

Not wanting to take up any more of Bonneville's time I thanked him on behalf of all MPT viewers and he in turn thanks you for your support of the series. Downton Abbey will be returning to MPT on January 5th, in the meantime, there's a chance for you to savor the greatest moments from seasons 1, 2 and 3 this Sunday night, August 4, at 7:30pm when we air Downton Revisited; a behind-the-scenes look at the show, featuring interviews with the producers and cast members. The show is hosted by Angela Lansbury and will repeat on Monday, August 5th at 4:30pm.

IF you can't wait until January to return to Highclere Castle, where the series is filmed, perhaps you'd like to visit the castle in person in December! MPT and Virgin Vacations have collaborated on a very special holiday, which features five nights at first-class hotels in London and Bracknell, tours of Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London and the London Eye and an MPT exclusive dinner and Christmas Ball at Highclere Castle. The trip runs December 11-17, 2013 and reservations must be made by August 23. For details go to: mpt.virgin-vacations.com or call 855-552-8580.

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 29, 2013:
Downton Abbey's David Robb

 

Tragedy recently struck David Robb, who plays Doctor Clarkson in the hit series Downton Abbey, when his wife, 56 year old Briony McRoberts, took her life by throwing herself in front of a London Tube train. Her body was found by Police on the tracks of the Fulham Broadway station just after 8.30am on Wednesday, July 17.

David Robb
Robb with wife Briony McRoberts.

McRoberts' suicide came as a shock to all who knew the actress, who has appeared in such popular shows as EastEnders and the Scottish soap opera Take The High Road. In 1976, she played Wendy Darling in a musical adaptation of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan starring Mia Farrow and Danny Kaye and the same year also starred as Margo Fassbender in The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

According to McRoberts' agent Kate Threlfall, Robb is "beside himself with grief. He lost the love of his life".

Robb who was born in London, but brought up in Edinburgh, played Germanicus in the 1976 BBC production of I, Claudius. He was also Robert Grant, in the 1981 series The Flame Trees of Thika. His voice, which is devoid of any Scottish accent in real life, has been heard extensively on the BBC over the years in their radio dramas. It has also been used in several Star Wars video games.

David Robb
McRoberts as Wendy in Peter Pan.

Ironically for the last 25 years, Robb has volunteered his time on behalf of The Samaritans, a British charity that provides support to those in emotional distress or at risk of suicide. Robb was such an active member in the organization that his becoming a popular face to the public through his role in Downton Abbey became a major drawback. Before Downton the actor was able to provide face-to-face support to those visiting the Samaritan Center he worked out of, but the success of the series has meant that he is now only able to offer support over the phone.

"They'll want to talk about that [Downton Abbey], not themselves so I can't carry on - the contact is compromised", explained Robb to a reporter a couple of years ago. "It's no good if someone comes in and says, 'Oh, I saw you on the telly'."

Robb's involvement with The Samaritans began more than two decades ago, when he was found himself with time on his hands before he started filming the movie The Deceivers. He saw an ad for the organization on a poster in a Tube station and had what he calls a "volunteering epiphany".

"I was doing rather well at the time", explained Robb "and I had that wonderful feeling you occasionally get when you think every day is sunny. I saw the advert and thought - just like that - that would be a good thing to do."

David Robb
McRoberts and Robb.

Training to be a Samaritan is rigorous and according to Robb it's the kind of job that not everyone is suited to. "Some people can't deal with not giving advice and some find it upsetting," warns Robb. "Some callers will be abusive and swear like troopers. Some [potential volunteers] just think: 'My God, I thought it would just be cheering people up.' Well, it isn't."

Most of the time the volunteers are required to simply listen; a skill that Robb believes he has improved on over the years. "It makes you more interested in life", admits Robb. "A friend used to say that the phone room was working perfectly when she could come in and hear nothing - just volunteers on the phone listening."

In addition to being a volunteer for The Samaritans, Robb and his late wife have run the Edinburgh Marathon every year since 2004, to raise money for leukemia research.

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 22, 2013:
The garments of Call the Midwife

 

Call the Midwife garments
Jessica Raine wheels her bicycle
through the streets of an East End
market during the festive holiday
season - in June!

Britain is going through a heatwave right now, which doesn't make it easy for the actors hard at work in series such as Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife. While we can try to cool down by discarding unnecessary outer garments, those poor actors are busy filming scenes that are meant to take place during the winter weeks. Putting up Christmas decorations and singing carols for the Christmas Special might not be too taxing, but try doing it in winter woolies, when the weather outside is in the 90s!

The person who is responsible for ensuring the authenticity of the costumes we see in Call the Midwife in season three is costume designer Ralph Wheeler-Holes, whose work was also on display in Upstairs Downstairs. According to Wheeler-Holes, the secret to keeping his actors cool in the heat of summer is "layers". He uses lightweight clothing under heavier coats and jackets to stop them sweating too much.

Call the Midwife garments

"It was important for me that the Poplar Market be frequented by all kinds of people, from different classes and backgrounds, joining together in their preparations for the Christmas festivities", explained Wheeler-Holes when asked about his approach to designing the costumes for the scene which took place in a busy East End market.

"I wanted to have bright accents of color on clothing dotted throughout, echoing the kitsch brightness of baubles on a Christmas tree yet still, hopefully, maintaining a 'reality' within our scenes."

It's not just the outer garments that are authentic, but careful attention is also given to items of clothing we don't see.

"Underwear is a key part of the Call the Midwife costume experience, just as it was vital to real women at the time", explains series two costume designer, Amy Roberts. "The girls in the show love it! It is like putting on a fifties skin. They say it makes them feel absolutely right for the part."

Some of the underwear used in the show dates back sixty years, although the designers also source high quality replica costume pieces. So why the attention to garments that we'll never see?

"You have got to get the bosoms in the right place", explains Roberts. "In the fifties, they were high up and cone shaped, due to the invention of the bullet bra."

Call the Midwife garments
Jessica Raine (Jenny) and Helen
George (Trixie) during the first
week of filming season three of
Call the Midwife.

Smooth bras didn't become popular until after 1959, with the introduction of Lycra. Roberts did, however, manage to source a very plain, soft cotton brassiere for Sister Bernadette, played by Laura Main. It became a huge hit with the actress. "I love my plain bra and my big pants", confesses the actress. "It says so much to me about Bernadette, how her whole life was about work and service, and not at all to do with vanity or even being especially feminine."

Helen George, who plays nurse Trixie in the series, also loves the clothes she gets to wear, but admits they have a downside.

"It's a period that really accentuates a woman's curves. They hold you in in all the right places, so it's quite flattering", says George. "It's tough to eat on set sometimes though, because I'm sewn into my dresses and trousers because they are so tight. I'm thinking 'I can't even sit down properly, so eating pasta probably wasn't a good idea!'"

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 15, 2013:
Midsomer Murders's Jane Wymark

 

When John Nettles decided to leave Midsomer Murders, one of the first people he told was Jane Wymark, his on-screen wife of 13 years.

Jane Wymark
Jane Wymark.

Wymark, who was born on October 31, 1951 in Paddington, London, grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, where her father actor Patrick Wymark worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Through her father, who died of a heart attack while in Australia at just 44 years old, Wymark met not just stage actors, but film stars such as Clint Eastwood, who worked with her father on Where Eagles Dare and pop stars, such as the Beatles. Wymark's mother was the American born dramatist Olwen Wymark, who let her husband take her family name when he became a professional actor. After her husband's death, Wymark raised their four children single handed. All of the children would eventually go into the performing arts business.

After getting her degree in Drama from Birmingham University, Jane Wymark first went into television, appearing in an early 1970s drama series called Rooms. Not long after, she was appearing at the Old Vic in London, acting with Derek Jacobi in Hamlet, where she appeared as Ophelia.

Jane Wymark
As Morwenna in Poldark.

In 1977, Wymark was cast as Morwenna in the 1970s BBC television period drama Poldark. Shortly after the series ended, Wymark met and married Paul Howson, who was in the diplomatic service and now works for the British Council. Twenty years and two children later, Wymark found herself partnered up with John Nettles, playing his wife Joyce Barnaby in Midsomer Murders. Wymark's characterization of Joyce was drawn from her own aunt, also named Joyce. She describes her aunt, who is the mother of six children, as being "the most wonderful woman in the world."

Over the years, Wymark has seen her character's relationship with her husband change. She explains, "At the beginning we were such a happy family, but that became quite boring. The marriage has evolved; we are a bit sparkier now. Joyce is not afraid to put her foot down or speak her mind." Playing the role of a housewife going about her wifely duties isn't as easy as it looks, especially when you have to say lines at the same time. "The art of the 'bustle' is an underrated skill," says Wymark, "but I always notice when it's done badly. It drives me mad when I'm watching TV and I notice there's no coffee in the cup."

Jane Wymark
With John Nettles.

As Nettles gave a year's notice before leaving the series, it gave the series producer, Brian True-May, ample opportunity to organize numerous leaving parties. The first was at True-May's home, to which were invited cast members from over the years. It was a huge, outdoor barbeque bash. To commemorate their very last day together though, True-May kept it simple. He bought champagne to the set, presented Wymark with a bouquet of flowers and gave her and Nettles a specially-made clapperboard showing Midsomer Murders' last slate. It was tears all round as Wymark said her goodbyes to the cast and crew.

Although Wymark was sad to leave the show and misses Nettles and Laura Howard who played their daughter Cully, she's relieved that she no longer has to be "the nicest person in the world anymore." Wymark also has time to take on other roles, and is especially looking forward to playing "an evil character with no redeeming features or play someone who's a great cook, as Joyce is so awful."

Jane Wymark
With on-screen daughter Laura Howard.

Wymark is also planning on joining her real-life husband on his travels as a diplomat for the British Council. She's particularly excited about returning to Shanghai, as she hasn't been there since 1979, when she was performing with the first theatre company allowed in after the Cultural Revolution.

When not travelling Wymark and her husband, who have two grown-up sons, live in London where in her spare time Wymark enjoys singing and yoga. She also teaches drama workshops. One of her most famous students was Orlando Bloom, who she taught at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama when he was first getting into acting. He subsequently was cast in an episode of Midsomer Murders and rumor has it that Wymark was privately hoping he'd find a role for her in Pirates of the Caribbean.

"I'd love to play a female pirate", jokes Wymark "I do yoga and could easily climb the ships rigging!"

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 8, 2013:
Are You Being Served?'s Kenneth Waller

 

Last week we were chatting about Harold Bennett who played "Young Mr. Grace" in Are You Being Served?, so it seems only right that this week we spend some time talking about "Old Mr. Grace".

Kenneth Waller
As "Old Mr. Grace".

Kenneth Waller was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, on Bonfire Night - November 5th - 1927. Waller served in the RAF for his National Service and then worked in the accounts department of an auctioneering firm. One of his colleagues was a young woman called Thelma Barlow, who Waller would act with 40 years later in England's longest running evening serial drama, Coronation Street, where she played Mavis Riley.

Once Waller decided to become an actor, he went straight into repertory theatre at the Oxford Playhouse, where he appeared in musicals as well as straight plays. He was also an accomplished pianist and played with leading orchestras in Peter and the Wolf. Opera was another passion of Waller's and he was a loyal supporter of the Huddersfield Choral Society.

Waller made his West End stage debut at the Savoy Theatre in 1957, when he was thirty years old, appearing in the musical Free As Air. He went onto appear in over 20 London productions, including Anne of Green Gables, The Importance of Being Ernest and Salad Days. Waller also travelled the world performing Shakespeare, which he took to India, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt.

Kenneth Waller
As an inventor in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Waller's first television appearance was in a show starring popular British comedian Terry Scott and after that he had small roles in numerous hit series, including All Creatures Great and Small and Dr. Who. Finally in 1981, at 53 years old, Waller's television career took off, when he joined the cast of Are You Being Served?, playing the eldest Grace brother. At the time he was actually 28 years younger than Harold Bennett who had played "young" Mr. Grace. Waller appeared in just eight episodes of Are You Being Served? The next series he starred in, Big Deal, a lighthearted drama about a small-time London gambler and his long-suffering family, ran for over two years, and Waller appeared in all 27 episodes as the elderly Ferret. After that he was off and running, with the plum role of Grandad in a comedy series set in Liverpool called Bread, which ran from 1986 to 1991.

Kenneth Waller
The cast of Bread, with Waller (center).

Although not yet 60 when he first played the part of Grandad, Waller was so convincing in the role that viewers believed he was 75 years old with unkempt white hair and a bushy moustache; never knowing that the hair was dyed and the moustache fake. "Grandad" became the character that people would automatically associate with Waller. So that he could never be mistaken in real life for the character he played, Waller dyed his brown hair red. Waller's ploy obviously didn't work, when after Bread concluded in 1991, he was cast as a grandfather in Coronation Street and toured the U.K. in the black comedy, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, along with Londoner Barbara Windsor in the title role.

Despite Waller being recognized wherever he went, Waller lived very modestly in a rented two-bedroom apartment, opposite Chalk Farm Tube station in London. He never married and his idea of a "treat" was "a fresh Scotch salmon from Marks & Spencer and a half bottle of champagne."

One of the stories Waller loved to relate was about his nose, which he broke when he was five years old and fell off his bicycle. "I didn't realize my nose was broken", said Waller, "until I was fifteen when the hospital took the bone away. My mother screamed, "Is it going to spoil his good looks?" The doctor replied, "It won't do him any harm. He's not a girl, is he?" Since then for the parts he played, he had to build his nose up with putty and modeling clay".

Waller's last role was a voiceover for the animated film in 1996, called Romuald the Reindeer. He died in London on January 28, 2000 at the age of 72.

If you've got a favorite Afternoon Tea actor you'd like to see featured in Tea-Time Tidbits, 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 July 1, 2013:
Are You Being Served?'s Harold Bennett

 

Harold Bennett
Harold Bennett.

This week we're going to take a look at one of the "cheekiest" faces on Afternoon Tea; Harold Bennett who plays Young Mr. Grace in Are You Being Served?

Young Mr. Grace, played by Harold Bennett, was actually quite a bit older than Old Mr. Grace, who replaced Young Mr. Grace when he retired. Bennett was born on September 17, 1899 in Hastings, Sussex and if you think the characters in Grace Brothers Department Store clown around a lot, that's nothing compared to the clowning Bennett did in his youth, when he toured America as a circus clown!

Harold Bennett
Harold Bennett.

Bennett must have enjoyed life on the road, because his job during World War I was as a courier, which he did first on horseback, then on motorcycle. After the war he worked as a theatre producer but gave up the theatre world to become an architect. At some point, Bennett also taught English at a small college.

It was only after Bennett retired that he became an actor, when he played an "Old Man" in the BBC's Wednesday Play, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton. Next he played Pop Williams in an episode of the satirical comedy series Adam Adamant Lives! in 1967. Then, in 1969, he joined the cast of one of England's most well-loved comedy series, Dad's Army, in which he played the role of Mr. Blewitt. Dad's Army ran until 1977 and in 2004 came in 4th place in a poll taken to name Britain's Best Loved Comedy Series.

Harold Bennett
In an undated photo.

While working on Dad's Army, Bennett also cropped up on UK television sets, playing a number of minor roles in several series; Upstairs Downstairs, Sykes, Thriller, Armchair Theatre, and Play for Today. On Christmas Eve of 1971 Bennett appeared as Archdeacon Pulteney in The Stalls of Barchester, and the BBC's Ghost Story for Christmas. The following year, Dad's Army co-creator and writer, David Croft, found himself with another BBC hit series on his hands; Are You Being Served?, in which Bennett was cast as the store's owner, Young Mr. Grace, who arrives on the scene in the third episode of the series; "Our Figures Are Slipping".

Harold Bennett
In Are You Being Served?

In 1978, Bennett also had a regular role in Come Back Mrs. Noah, which starred his Are You Being Served? cast mate Mollie Sugden and Ian Lavender who had appeared with Bennett in Dad's Army. David Croft was the writer of the show, but unlike his previous successes, this time he failed. Come Back Mrs. Noah was a flop and critics of the show named it one of the worst British sitcoms ever made!

Bennett's final episode of Are You Being Served? was the Christmas show of 1981, but he never got to see it, as it aired three months after he died. After taping the episode earlier in the year, Bennett had intended to take a break from the show as he felt in need of a rest, but sadly before he could return to work, on September 15, 1981, he had a heart attack and died. The actor was two days shy of his 82nd birthday. Bennett lives on in our hearts and you can see him in Are You Being Served?, weekday afternoons at 3pm 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 24, 2013:
Inspector George Gently's Martin Shaw, part two

 

This week we continue our look at the life and career of Martin Shaw who plays Inspector George Gently in the detective series of the same name.

Martin Shaw
Shaw as Judge John Deed.

After leaving serial television in 1983, Shaw returned in 2001 with what would become the BBCs longest running legal drama, playing a high court judge in Judge John Deed. It was a huge hit with television viewers, who flooded the BBCs switchboard with calls of complaints when the show was eventually cancelled in 2009. Between seasons of Judge John Deed, Shaw played Adam Dalgliesh in P.D. James's Death in Holy Orders.

A lot of the filming of Judge John Deed took place in Norfolk where Shaw has a home; an old 17th century Quaker house that he used to live in with his third wife TV presenter Vicky Kimm. Shaw met Vicky, who is 20 years younger than him, when she was sent to do a pre-interview with Shaw for a day time chat show he was to be a guest on in the early 1990s. Kimm then attended the opening night of An Ideal Husband at the Globe Theatre where Shaw was playing Lord Goring, and the couple started seeing each other. The play ran for three years before going to New York, where Shaw was nominated for a Tony Award and it was there that the couple married secretly in 1996. Nine years later the couple divorced.

Martin Shaw
Shaw and partner Karen De Silva.

"If I knew why my marriages failed, I would still be married," Shaw says. "I'm not naïve enough to dismiss it as bad luck, and not judgmental enough to say I did nothing wrong. I approached it [matrimony] with absolute sincerity always, and with what I think was integrity, but they just didn't work. It doesn't hurt any more but the experience leaves you unable to walk straight. You walk with a limp."

After his divorce from Kimm, Shaw began dating yoga instructor Karen da Silva, who lived just 200 yards from Shaw's Norfolk home and was a family friend. They are still together, despite some disturbing events that occurred throughout the first few years of their relationship.

Between January 2003 and July 2008, Shaw and da Silva were stalked by a woman in her sixties called Sandra Price. When he first received Price's numerous letters, Shaw thought she was merely a fan of his work, but the letters became more and more offensive. At one point, Price, who had moved from the north of England to Norfolk to be closer to Shaw, left a 120-page dossier in a garbage bag on the actor's doorstep. It contained details of his private life. Another time, after parking herself in a field opposite Shaw's house for ten consecutive days, Price hand-delivered a 45-minute cassette tape blaming him for ruining her life. On another occasion Shaw saw Price hiding in a ditch near his house.

Martin Shaw
Sandra Price.

Despite repeated warnings from the police to stay away from Shaw, the stalking continued. It finally came to a head in the early hours of one morning in July 2008, when Price poured petrol through the door of da Silva's home. Police raided Price's home and recovered bottles allegedly used to pour the petrol and files containing correspondence and news clippings about Shaw. Price was subsequently arrested and convicted of harassment. As part of her sentence an electronically monitored curfew between 7pm and 7am was imposed, and Shaw and da Silva received a restraining order against Price.

Despite the harassment, Shaw and da Silva continued to live in their Norfolk homes, but they also spend a lot of time in a remote part of south west Scotland, where for the last 20 plus years, Shaw has owned a converted crofters cottage. There the actor can enjoy solitude.

"I'm sensitive to electromagnetic interference and mental noise", explains Shaw. "It's why I can't cope with the city. I need stillness. Not just physical quietness, but atmospheric quietness, spiritual quietness. Less mental noise. It hit me when I was still in my twenties. I noticed that every time I went into the deep countryside I would get out of the car and immediately my breathing was different, my outlook was different and I felt different. I wanted to do it more and more."

Martin Shaw
As Inspector George Gently with
DC John Bacchus.

Given the remoteness of the area in which Inspector George Gently is filmed (Northumberland) it's a good job Shaw eschews big city life. Another attraction of working on the series, for Shaw, is the opportunity to work with Lee Ingleby who plays DS John Bacchus. Of his co-worker Shaw says "Lee always makes me laugh. He's irreverent and, when you work under the pressure we face, laughter is brilliant for relieving the strain."

According to Shaw, he is one of the few people on the set of the show, which takes place in the 1960s, who can actually remember the time period in which it is set. "I was there", boasts Shaw, "I'm like an unofficial consultant on the series - whenever they're wondering whether people actually used a certain phrase, or acted in a certain way back then, they ask me."

While filming, Shaw's working day is a full twelve hours. "The days on set are long and incredibly pressured", explains Shaw. "We make the equivalent of two full-length movies for each series in seven weeks. My working day on set lasts from 7am to 7pm. After I've cooked myself dinner, I've got pages of dialogue to learn for the next day and, by 10:30pm, I'm exhausted."

In August of 2010, Shaw's body went on strike, when while performing in the play A Country Girl, he suddenly found himself frozen on the spot unable to utter a word. To the horror of his son, Luke, who was also in the show and watching from the wings, Shaw collapsed. Luke called for the curtain to come down and within minutes paramedics had arrived. It turned out that Shaw's collapse was the result of a virus which he hadn't dealt with adequately. Instead of taking time off, he had continued touring in the play. Shaw made a full recovery and was soon back to his healthy robust self.

As for the question of retirement, that's nowhere near in the cards for the almost 70 year old actor, who says "I'll keep going for as long as I'm fit and healthy and still earn enough to take breaks. I do so love my breaks."

Tune into MPT this coming Saturday, June 29th at 7pm, to see Martin Shaw in Inspector George Gently.

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 17, 2013:
Inspector George Gently's Martin Shaw

 

Many of the actors we enjoy seeing in MPT's British line up of programs have such long careers and full lives that it's often hard to cover all they've achieved in a weekly "tidbit". Martin Shaw who stars as the title role in the Inspector George Gently mystery series is one such actor.

Martin Shaw
Martin Shaw.

Shaw was born on January 21, 1945 in Birmingham, where he lived with his parents and younger brother at his maternal grandparents World War I council house. His grandmother was like a second mother to him, and despite having little money, Shaw's memories of his childhood were of love and laughter all around. The Shaw family moved to their own house in Sutton Colfield when Shaw was 11. It was just a small semi-detached home, but for the Shaws felt like a mansion. Buying the home had been the realization of a dream for Shaw's father and his parents chose to stay in the home long after Shaw became successful and wanted to buy them something bigger. His father eventually left the house after the death of Shaw's mother from Alzheimer's.

Shaw's first stage appearance was at the tender age of three, when he was in an amateur show alongside his parents. The actor remembers how he was having such a good time he didn't want to leave the stage. One place he couldn't wait to leave though was school, where he spent most of his classroom time daydreaming about his passion - aircraft - and waiting for the day to end. Being somewhat untidy, absent-minded, clumsy, and over-sensitive made Shaw a prime candidate for bullying. One particular bully would threaten kids first thing in the morning by telling them he was going to get them when school let out, so they had all day to worry about it. Shaw finally stood up to the bully by offering to fight him there and then. The bully backed away and Shaw was never bullied again.

Martin Shaw
Shaw on his wedding day
to Jill Allen.

Although bright academically, Shaw refused to conform. He wouldn't do homework, or learn things parrot fashion and put no effort whatsoever into passing exams. As a result when he left school at 16 he had no idea what he wanted to do. English and drama were the only things he seemed to excel in, but he turned down the offer of a scholarship to attend a Birmingham drama school and instead went to in the office of a brass foundry where he worked on mass mailings. By the age of 18, Shaw decided that he was much more suited to being an actor, so he moved to London where he attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Although Shaw is best known for his television and stage work, one of his first paying jobs was in the 1966 film, Love on the Dole, where he played an Irish communist. His television career started a year later, when in 1967 he was cast as a hippy student in England's longest running night-time soap, Coronation Street. It was perfect typecasting as Shaw himself was an instant convert to hippiedom back in the 1960s.

"I even had a wire frame with a mouth organ on it to do the whole Dylan shtick", recalls the actor.

It was around that time that Shaw married his first wife, actress Jill Allen. They had three children, two boys and a girl, all in quick succession, but divorced when their youngest was four. All three children subsequently went into the acting profession.

Martin Shaw
As Banquo in Macbeth.

By the early 1970s Shaw was making a name for himself on the London stage, most notably playing opposite Laurence Olivier at the National theatre in Saturday, Sunday, Monday and as Stanley Kowalkski in A Streetcar Named Desire.

In 1971, Shaw played Banquo in Roman Polanski's film Macbeth. It was while making that film that he was introduced to Indian spiritual teachings by another actor and Martin immediately opted to give up the rock and roll lifestyle he'd been living and became a follower of Charan Singh, a master of the ancient spiritual tradition of Sant Mat. Shaw has continued down this spiritual path, for over 40 years, adhering to a strict lacto vegetarian diet, meditation, yoga and the avoidance of alcohol and other mind-altering drugs.

Although Shaw worked quite a lot in television during the 1970s, it wasn't until 1977 when he landed a starring role in the crime series The Professionals that he became a fixture on television screens in the U.K. In the series Shaw played a tough, ex-policeman. The Professionals was known for its high level of violence and as such faced constant criticism. Shaw on the other hand became something of a heartthrob among the ladies of Britain, except for those belonging to feminist groups who protested the use of sexist terms in the show.

Martin Shaw
As Ray Doyle in
The Professionals.

Shaw's on screen partner in the series was Lewis Collins, who had appeared with Shaw in an episode of The New Avengers, where they both played the roles of terrorists. When The Professionals ended in 1983, the pair had a public falling out when Shaw refused to negotiate with the series' production company for the rights to air repeats. After hearing that the widow of actor Gordon Jackson (Mr. Hudson in Upstairs, Downstairs) who also appeared in the series was struggling financially, Shaw finally gave permission for the series to air on satellite television.

It was to be 20 years before Shaw took another lead role in a major series, preferring instead to make up for lost time by appearing on stage and in one-off television shows. In the year that The Professionals ended, for instance, Shaw played Sir Henry Baskerville in the 1983 TV film adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. He also played Robert Falcon Scott in The Last Place on Earth.

In 1982 Shaw quietly married Maggie Mansfield, an ex-nurse who became an alternative therapist and core process psychotherapist. The marriage lasted a decade, until it ended in a bitter divorce that left Shaw practically bankrupt. Also in the 1980s, Shaw got to play the idol of his youth, Elvis Presley, in the critically acclaimed stage show Are You Lonesome Tonight? The play enjoyed a healthy run in London's West End before touring Australia.

Having actors as children has meant that Shaw has had the opportunity of working with them occasionally. For instance when he played Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons, his daughter Sophie played opposite him as More's daughter Margaret. In 1996 Shaw's younger son, Joe, took a sabbatical from drama school to work on an eight-part series called Rhodes which was filmed on location in South Africa. Both father and son played mining magnet and statesman, Cecil Rhodes at different stages of his life.

Next week I'll be back with more on Martin Shaw, but in the meantime, you can see him as Inspector George Gently which will be back on MPT, Saturday June 29th at 7pm.

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 10, 2013:
Midsomer Murders' Daniel Casey

 

Daniel Casey
Daniel Casey.

Some of my favorite British series are the Mysteries. Midsomer Murders is a particular favorite and I especially enjoy the naivety of Inspector Barnaby's sidekick, Sgt. Gavin Troy, played by Daniel Casey.

Casey's father is Luke Casey; one of the most recognizable faces on television in the North of England, best known for presenting The Dales Diary, a long-running series about the Yorkshire countryside and the people who live there.

Casey himself was born in the north of England in 1972 having grown up in Stockton-on-Tees, where he was one of five children. The family lived on eight acres of land with two private woods and horses, resulting in an idyllic childhood for the imaginative Casey.

"My friends would come and play cowboys and Indians with real horses and Robin Hood in a real wood", he recalls. "My best friend, Chris Murphy, used to come and stay for two weeks at a time and never wanted to go home!"

Daniel Casey
Casey's father, Luke.

Casey first started acting at the age of 14 when he joined the Stockton Youth Theatre. After leaving school he put his acting ambitions on hold and instead attended Durham University where he graduated with a degree in English Literature. While at University Casey didn't abandon acting entirely, appearing in the play, I Hate Hamlet. The director of the show was Josh Edwards, son of Anthony Edwards of Brideshead Revisited fame, who after seeing the show recommended Casey to his agent.

After graduating, Casey started auditioning for television roles, finally getting cast in the highly-acclaimed Our Friends in the North, which remains Casey's favorite acting experience. Not long after the 24 year old was helping John Nettles, as Barnaby, solve his first Midsomer murder. That was in 1997 and no one was more surprised at the choice of casting him as Gavin than Casey, who was familiar with the books from which the series is taken. In the books Gavin is a red-head in his mid-30s, and married, with a couple of children. He's also depicted as wearing a long leather coat and leather boots. The creators of the television series, however, decided that their Gavin would be younger and more naïve and thus began the start of Casey's seven years with the series for a total of 29 episodes.

From the get go, Casey and Nettles hit it off, despite a first day incident that could have got them off on the wrong foot.

Daniel Casey
John Nettles and Casey.

"The first scene we shot", explains Casey "we had to drive up in a car outside a murder scene, stop, get out, have a bit of a chat and walk in the house. I drove up, I stopped, I got out, said my line... and all I could hear was shouting from inside the car. I'd parked about an inch from a wall and John couldn't open the door. He was saying 'ambitious little swine, isn't he?!'"

As well as learning from Nettles, Casey also benefited from the enormous amount of talent who worked on the series. As well as the invaluable acting tips he picked up while filming, Casey also learned a lot during the down-times, when the cast would sit around telling stories.

"It was like a window into British theatrical history", recalls Casey.

Daniel Casey
At a benefit concert for
Child's Bereavement Charity.

After seven years, at the age of 30 Casey decided to depart Midsomer and try new things. Since leaving the series, he's appeared in minor roles in a number of television series, seemingly preferring to work in live theatre. His roles on stage have ranged from playing a teacher in the play Kes to a seven-year-old schoolboy in the drama-comedy, The Flint Street Nativity, at the Liverpool Playhouse. Playing a child came easy to Casey.

"Oh, it's dead easy to play a seven-year-old," declares Casey. "Most actors will tell you our mental age is about seven anyway. I'm a grown man but I play for a living, pretending to be someone else. This time, I am just pretending to be a smaller person."

Casey and his wife Ellie have two children and live in Sussex. In 2008, after the tragic death of their good friend's daughter, Casey became patron of the Child's Bereavement Charity, an organization which provides support to people during the most traumatic and devastating events in their lives.

Midsomer Murders can be seen at 9pm this Friday night 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 June 3, 2013:
Call the Midwife's Laura Main

 

It's only been gone a couple of weeks, but I'm having serious Call the Midwife withdrawal! I thought the last episode when Sister Bernadette followed her heart was especially touching. Laura Main, who plays Sister Bernadette, was as surprised as we were at the turn of events her character's life took. She had no idea that Sister Bernadette was in for such a life changing journey.

Laura Main
Laura Main.

Main, who was born on March 8, 1981 in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, started performing in musical theatre when she was just 11 years old. Her first production was as Louisa Von Trapp in The Sound Of Music. When she was 13, Main played the title role in the musical Annie, but she put her singing and dancing career on hold while she attended University in Aberdeen, studying Art History. After graduating, Main moved to London where she attended the Webber Douglas Academy, and on leaving was cast in several theatre productions; most notably with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Main's television credits include a couple of series you probably know; The Forsyte Saga and Monarch of the Glen. Although very popular shows, neither of them achieved the viewing numbers of Call the Midwife. When the second series aired in England earlier this year, it averaged ten and a half million viewers. The show's popularity didn't come as a surprise to Main. She knew, from the minute she set eyes on the script when auditioning, that it would be a good series and her confidence in the show multiplied several times over after she found out she'd be acting alongside Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris and Judy Parfitt.

Laura Main
As Sister Bernadette.

As well as acting the role of Sister Bernadette - now known as Shelagh - Main also put her talents as a trained soprano to use. On the very first day of filming, before the cast had even gone on the set, they went to a studio and recorded all the music.

"Spending the morning singing devout songs was the perfect way to get into character," says Main. "Halfway through our rehearsal, the director came in. She was sitting there quietly listening. That's when she realized that I like to sing. She said, "I think we'll have Laura, starting the nuns' plainsong." I was thrown in at the deep end - I hadn't had any time to practice the solos - but I loved it!"

Main performed her first solo in episode two of the first series when Jenny was searching for Mary and her eyes were opened to the reality of prostitution. As Main's character wasn't in the shot, except for her family and friends who recognized her voice, no one realized it was "Sister Bernadette" singing. She was also the soloist singing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" while midwife Jenny Lee bathed downtrodden vagrant Mrs. Jenkins in the Christmas special and in the first episode of the second series sang, "Glory to Thee, My God This Night."

"When it's all the nuns singing together, it is myself, Pam, Jenny and Judy and four professional singers who have been with us through series one, and two who are quite often the other nuns you see in chapel scenes. Mostly, when it's a solo, it's my voice," explains Main.

Laura Main
Actresses Bryony Hannah, Jessica
Raine, Laura Main and Helen George.

"Singing these songs is such an uplifting experience," says Main, who explains why the music and songs are an integral part of the show, "it takes you instantly back to that time. It's terribly romantic and really moving. That works very well in Call the Midwife because it is juxtaposed with the sometimes tough situations that are portrayed on screen."

Although only in her mid-30s, Main grew up listening to songs from the era in which Call the Midwife is set. Her mother used to play them all the time. "She couldn't believe that I knew and liked all those songs from a totally different era because I'd sing along," says Main.

The music in the show has proven so popular that it was recently made into a CD. Call the Midwife - The Album, which features full versions of key songs from the series, along with incidental music from both series and the Christmas special. There are also original cast recordings from The Nuns led by Laura, who has a number of solos on the album, including Psalm 91, Psalm 51 and. "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace..."

"I was cast as an actor, but found myself basically being the singing nun!" jokes Main. "On set, all the cast knew I was doing a lot of singing and joked about releasing an album. It is not quite mine but it is a real treat to be on there, even for a little bit."

Singing has also been known to liven things up on the set. According to Main, "Miranda Hart, who plays Chummy always, gets us going with a spot of popular musical theatre - there's usually some numbers from The Sound Of Music, probably inspired by our costumes."

Hart is also responsible for once setting her fellow cast members the challenge of singing the most inappropriate song dressed as a nun, which was supposedly won by Pam Ferris [Sister Evangelina] singing Sex On Fire!

As well as singing, the cast also like to dance and never more so than at the wrap party when filming of the second series had concluded. "I got the conga going", reveals Main, who also recalled some "Gangnam Style" dance moves as well.

"We got everyone doing the Macarena and we were able to enjoy more than the usual tea and cakes that count as a party for the nuns at Nonnatus House," says Main, who goes on to say just how much she enjoys working with the cast on the series.

"It's a great group of people and it is such a happy place to work. We all enjoy each other's company and I hope it comes across on screen."

Laura Main
Main and McGann outside the TV studios.

Main has especially enjoyed working with Stephen McGann, who plays widower Dr. Turner. "When you throw two characters together, there is not necessarily going to be any chemistry between the actors," Main says, "but we had a wonderful working relationship."

Now that Sister Bernadette has given up the Holy Order, it'll be interesting to see if Main can avoid being recognized when she goes out in public. So far because her character has been dressed in a nun's habit, wimple and spectacles, she has managed to stay virtually unrecognized when she's out in public.

"I don't really recognize myself when I am in the get-up so I wouldn't expect anyone else to notice," says Main, who has even had conversations with people about the show and they haven't even realized she is in it!

Main, who has a boyfriend, lives in London, but returns home to the north-east whenever she has the opportunity.

"All my family are there," she explains. "My mum and dad and my two sisters who have families of their own. With two nephews and a niece, there is even more reason to head up. I do when I can."

Laura Main
As Maid Marion.

Last November though instead of heading north, Main went to Barnstaple in Devon to appear in her very first pantomime; Robin Hood, where she played Maid Marion. It was the first time in a couple of years that Main had been back on stage singing and dancing. The time before was in a production of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, State Fair, at a small 50-seat fringe theatre in London. One night, Andrew Lloyd Webber came in to see the show.

"There was no missing him", recalls Main. "The whole room was very aware of him. Everyone was looking at him and thinking, "Is he enjoying it?" "Yes, he's enjoying it - permission to applaud!"

Main met Sir Andrew after the show, but was far too excited to recall what he said to her, "I think he said something nice to me, but I couldn't believe I was meeting him - I was so excited, it was all a bit of a blur!"

Call the Midwife will be back on our screen next year with a second Christmas special, followed by Season 3 of the series.

Laura Maincast
Laura Main
The Call the Midwife cast gathering to read through the brand new scripts for the next season. [Top left] Heidi Thomas (Writer), Pam Ferris (Sr Evengelina) and Ben Caplan (PC Noakes) share a giggle! [Lower left] Laura Main (Shelagh) mothers young Timothy Turner, played by Max Macmillan. [Right] Producer Hugh Warren welcomes the production team back for the new series.

I'll be chatting about another actor in the show next week. If you have a favorite actor in any of the British shows that air on Maryland Public Television that you'd like to find out more about, 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 27, 2013:
Arthur Bickerton, the inspiration for Open All Hours

 

In case you hadn't realized, Afternoon Tea favorite Open All Hours is back! It airs every other Monday at 1pm.

Arthur Bickerton
Arthur Bickerton outside his shop.

The series is said to have been inspired by a real-life DIY hardware shop in Taffs Well, South Wales. The shop, which was owned and operated by a man called Arthur Bickerton, was "discovered" by a BBC props man who had dashed there in search of material urgently needed for a scene being filmed nearby. With its bottles and tins with fading labels, soap flakes, and teak oil, Bickerton's store was a veritable Aladdin's Cave. Bickerton once estimated that his store contained more than 11,500 different items. It was so full of goods that it appeared that each item was holding up the next. Each day it would up to 20 minutes to hang all the broomsticks, tin baths and wheelbarrows outside the store.

Arthur Bickerton
David Jason (Granville) and
Ronnie Barker (Arkwright)

The prop man enthusiastically reported his find back to his producer and "Arthur's" went on to become the inspiration for one of the BBC's top rated comedies, Open All Hours. Bickerton, who was born in 1914, even had his own Granville - an assistant called Arthur Field who was known to everyone as "Young Arthur".

Bickerton opened the store in the early 1960s, when he retired at age 50 from his job at an engineering company. When he bought the 150 year old store, it was already known as "Arthur's", but was in a bad state of disrepair. The hardworking retiree fixed the store up, and wanting to preserve the character of the place, kept items that dated back to the 1940s. There were rollers for old-fashioned lawnmowers, soldering burners, and gutter bolts.

Arthur Bickerton
Tin baths on display outside "Arthur's".

Eventually "Arthur's" became known as the go-to place for whatever you needed and, just like the program it spurned, it was "open all hours". Bickerton considered it his job to look after his customers, no matter what they wanted, or what time they wanted it. Bread and sugar at half past eight at night? No problem. Bickerton even managed to supply one of the oddest requests he'd ever had; a diving suit. One of Bickerton's regular weekend customers was actor David Jason - who played Granville in Open All Hours - and whose girlfriend, the late actress Myfanwy Talog, had a cottage in the village.

After "Young Arthur" passed away in 2003, Bickerton, who by then was 89, had a hard time replacing him and he put the shop he'd run for over 40 years on the market. In the absence of "Young Arthur", one of the people who would pop across the street to assist Bickerton was his good friend Lynn Pierce, also in her 80s.

Arthur Bickerton
Bickerton inside his shop.

Not only did the bowtie-wearing Bickerton work in his shop every day, like Albert Arkwright, played by Ronnie Barker, he also lived in it. Bickerton's trademark bow tie came about when, as a young salesman of women's outer wear, he got fed up with his tie getting caught up in the reams of clothing he'd have to carry. So he came up with the idea of fashioning bow ties for himself. His salesman job didn't last long, but the bowties did.

Two years after he sold Arthur's, Bickerton passed away at the age of 91. A short documentary featuring Bickerton and his store is available for viewing on YouTube. Titled "Arthur the Ironmonger", the documentary is in three parts and runs for a total of approximately 30 minutes.



Links to Part Two and Part Three

Don't forget you can see Open All Hours on Afternoon Tea, alternate Mondays at 1pm.

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 20, 2013:
Call the Midwife's Cliff Parisi

 

I don't know about you, but I think I enjoyed the second series of Call the Midwife even more than the first. One of the actors like is Cliff Parisi, who plays handyman Fred and who this week, on May 24th celebrates his 53rd birthday.

Cliff Parisi
Cliff Parisi.

The larger than life actor got a start in life that sounds like it could have come straight out of a Call the Midwife script. Before Cliff's birth his parents' landlady, who couldn't have children of her own, threatened to throw them out on the streets unless they gave up their baby. Irene and George, who were just 17 and 18 at the time, also had a one year old daughter to think about, so rather than be made homeless they agreed to their landlady's atrocious demands. When Irene came out of hospital after giving birth to George though, she refused to give him or his sister up and the landlady threw the entire family out onto the streets of Hackney.

Cliff Parisi
Cliff in pantomime.

It was not long after the Second World War had ended and there was a severe housing shortage so although both Irene and George came from big families no one had room to take them in. So, for the first few nights of his life, newborn Cliff slept under the stars in Victoria Park, along with his mother, father and big sister. It wasn't long before social services arrived on the scene and forced the teens to give up their children.

"Mum and dad jumped on a bus with us", recounts Cliff, "but it was chased by a police car and stopped. Me and my sister were ripped from their arms and they were both left sobbing by the side of the road."

Cliff and his sister were taken to a care home in Reading, Berkshire, which was too far away for their impoverished parents to visit. Eventually, Irene and George both got work and reunited with their children, who grew up never knowing what had happened when they were little. Chris only became aware of the heartbreaking events a couple of years ago, when after seeing him in Call the Midwife his mother told him the story of his birth.

Once the family was together again, they moved to Hornsey, north London, not far from where Cliff still lives in Highgate. Chris's schooldays were very difficult; because of his dyslexia he struggled and ended up leaving school when he was just 13 without a single qualification. He eventually became a stand-up comedian and toured the United Kingdom for seven years: his dream though was to become a professional actor. By the mid-1980s, he finally earned his Equity card which became his passport into the acting profession. His first acting work was a bit part in the film Queen of Hearts in 1989. Eventually the parts grew larger and Cliff found himself mainly doing television work, including Kavanagh QC, The Darling Buds of May, and Bramwell.

Cliff Parisi
Cliff and his wife Tara.

In 2002, his close friend and veteran EastEnders actor, Steve McFadden, recommended Cliff for the role of Minty Peterson in England's long running and highly popular BBC soap opera. As a genuine eastender, Cliff was a huge hit with the viewers and he played Minty for eight years before making his final appearance in the show in September of 2010. A year before he left, Cliff and his wife, BBC production assistant Tara Wyner, who had only met in February, celebrated Christmas with a new baby; Arthur, who was born on December 28. Cliff, who also has three other children from previous relationships, Mandy 31, and sons Dean 25 and Jack 21, recalls the night Arthur was born as though he's relating a scene from Call the Midwife.

"Once she was induced, nothing happened for ages, but as soon as the epidural went in she started dilating and he just flew out. Tara screamed at me, 'What do I do? Do I breathe in or out?' So I just said, 'Just push!' I helped to pull the baby's head out and I cut the cord. It was like 'Carry On Doctor!' Tara was asleep for most of it, then I looked down and there was the baby's head! We even missed the EastEnders Christmas special!"

Cliff Parisi
Pam Ferris as Sister Evangelina
and Cliff Parisi as Fred
in Call the Midwife.

After leaving EastEnders, it wasn't long before Cliff was sending in his audition tape for the role of Fred in Call the Midwife. The show's writer, Heidi Thomas, knew from the minute she saw his tape, that Cliff was the right man for the part. "His performance had warmth, humor and just the right amount of pomposity - and he was a genuine eastender," says Thomas.

As grateful as he is for landing a regular role in what has quickly become one of television's highest rated drama series, Cliff admits there is a downside; the moustache. Although he himself came up with the idea that Fred have a moustache Cliff really hates it, as does, according to Cliff, his wife.

Plans are already in the works for another Christmas special of Call the Midwife along with a third season which will air next year. In the meantime, be sure to check Tea Time Tidbits for information on the series and the actors who star in it. Also, don't forget to let us know if you have a favorite actor you'd like to know 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 May 13, 2013:
The Bletchley Circle's Anna Maxwell-Martin

 

So how did you enjoy The Bletchley Circle, the latest PBS mystery which wrapped up last Sunday? You might have also recognized Anna Maxwell-Martin, who played from an episode she appeared in of Midsomer Murders and as Susan in Masterpiece's Bleak House.

Anna Maxwell-Martin
Anna Maxwell-Martin.

Born on May 10, 1977 in Beverley, near Hull, in Yorkshire, Martin dreamed all her young life of attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She didn't audition for the prestigious drama school until she'd graduated from Liverpool University where she studied history, specializing in the First World War. Finally at the age of 20, Martin auditioned for RADA and was devastated when she failed to get in. Instead she applied to the London Academy of Dramatic Art and was promptly accepted. Midway through her training, her father, who was the Managing Director of a pharmaceutical company, was diagnosed with cancer. Before his death he got to see Martin perform as Alexandra in The Little Foxes at Donmar Warehouse, but died before her next play which was The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, where she played Lucy, for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Anna Maxwell-Martin
The cast of The Bletchley Circle.

In 2005 Martin won her first British Academy of Film and Television award, for her role as Esther Summerson in the BBC's adaptation of Charles Dickens's book Bleak House. Her second BAFTA award was in 2008, for Poppy Shakespeare, where she played 'N', a patient in a psychiatric hospital. When her name was announced as winner, Martin was home fast asleep, having just given birth to her first child, daughter Maggie. Her husband, director Roger Michell, who directed the film Notting Hill starring Hugh Grant, was in New York at the time. It was left to his grown up children to wake up their step-mom and give her the news. "I heard this crashing and banging", recalls Martin "my step kids ran into the room telling me to get up. I couldn't believe it; I sat there in shock."

Anna Maxwell-Martin
In Bleak House.

Although Martin has enjoyed huge success on television and theatre in the last decade, the film world eludes her. This despite the fact her husband is an acclaimed director. Notting Hill was one of the films he directed. Martin puts it down to her looks, "with film I do think you've got to look a certain way and I don't really I think that I fit that bill."

Martin's looks have been described as "unconventional" and "interesting", but the 5'6" mom-of-two shakes off any negative comments about the way she looks.

"I don't think they're being mean, it's more that they're saying I don't have film star looks. And I think that's a good thing. I wouldn't change it [the way she looks]."

Anna Maxwell-Martin
With husband Roger Michell.

The Bletchley Circle may have concluded its first season, but I hear on the grapevine another series is in production. It should be available by this fall. We'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, if you have anyone you'd like to see featured on Tea Time Tidbits, write in 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 6, 2013:
The Café's David Troughton

 

David Troughton
David Troughton.

One of the things I appreciate about the actors we see regularly in our Afternoon Tea programs is the caliber of their acting. If you're a frequent reader of these weekly articles though you'll know why: they all pretty much seem to have come from the world of theatre and are classically trained. One actor who didn't go to drama school and yet still managed to become one of England's foremost classical actors is David Troughton, who stars as Chloe's father Stan Astill in The Café.

David Troughton
David Troughton in Dr. Who.

Troughton does though have theatre in his blood, being the son of actor Patrick Troughton, who died in 1987, but is still fondly remembered by many as the second Dr. Who. Younger half-brother Michael was also an actor, until he gave up acting and teaching drama to care for his disabled wife who died last summer.

 

David Troughton
Sam Troughton in Romeo & Juliet.

Troughton's middle son Sam has also followed into his father's and grandfather's footsteps; his portrayal of Romeo wowed New York audiences when the Royal Shakespeare Company toured there a couple of years ago. Youngest son William ("Wigsy") also recently ventured into the theatre world appearing in a touring stage production of The Ladykillers. Nephew Harry Melling is also in the "family business", being known to Harry Potter film fans as Dudley Dursley. Troughton's eldest son Jim isn't an actor, but he is frequently in the spotlight, as captain of Warwickshire Cricket Club, a team on which he's played for over twenty years.

Troughton's wife Ali was also a professional actress but nowadays spends her time touring schools giving acting workshops for an organization she co-founded called The Drama Pool. Troughton and Ali first met when he was playing King Peladon opposite Jon Pertwee's Doctor and although Ali was instantly attracted she had no idea who he was, much to the amusement of her friends.

David Troughton
As Richard III.

One of the reasons the North London-born Troughton didn't have any formal training may have been because he simply didn't have time. He was born in 1950 and appeared in his first television show when he was just 13 years old. Television work kept him busy for the next two decades, until 1982 when he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he finally got the classical training he'd not had time for as a youngster. Not that getting into the RSC impressed his father, who preferring screen acting to theatre. "Oh well, something else might come up", he said. Troughton Jr. on the other hand fell in love with Shakespeare, so much so that he moved his family to Stratford-upon-Avon, where he and Ali still reside.

David Troughton
As Dr. Bob Buzzard in
A Very Peculiar Practice.

The 1980s were also when Troughton started to come to the attention of the public, when he starred as Dr. Bob Buzzard, alongside Peter Davidson, in A Very Peculiar Practice; a series which enjoyed a cult following about a doctor who hated patients. Some of the other series you might have seen Troughton in include Midsomer Murders, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot (The Yellow Iris), Masterpiece's Our Mutual Friend, Kavanaugh QC, New Tricks, Outnumbered and – naturally – Dr. Who.

Despite Troughton's success as a television actor, he's a huge advocate of getting people to turn off their TVs. "We should ban the dumbing down of television and get rid of computer games", says Troughton. "The national theatre for most people is the box in their sitting room. We have to get them out of there and experience the joys of being part of a live audience."

David Troughton
David and Ali Troughton.

Encouraging youngsters to discover live theatre is something of a passion for Troughton and to this end he often teaches at the school workshops The Drama Pool organizes. He also lectures for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and The Shakespeare Institute. Also, for the last 20 years the entire Troughton family has been actively involved in The Holly & The Ivy, an annual charitable Christmas event devised and directed by Ali, which takes place at the RSC's Swans and Courtyard theatres in Stratford-upon-Avon. This year's event raised money for The Shakespeare Hospice and for the development of a Youth Cricket Club, something that should come in very handy now that Troughton's grandson Finley is of a cricket playing age. Unless of course he decides to go into acting.

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 29, 2013:
Call the Midwife's Judy Parfitt

 

Judy Parfitt
Judy Parfitt.

I love all of the midwives in Call the Midwife, but have to admit to having a soft spot for Sister Monica Joan, and not just because the actress who plays her, Judy Parfitt, and I hail from the same town: Sheffield in Yorkshire. Parfitt's portrayal of her character is so authentic that I find it hard to believe this is the same actress who also played the scheming and spite-filled Mildred Layton in The Jewel in the Crown, who so viciously destroyed the gentle Barbie, played by Peggy Ashcroft.

Judy Parfitt
As Gertrude with Marianne Faithfull
as Ophelia, and Anthony Hopkins
as Claudius in Hamlet.

Parfitt, who was born on November 7, 1935, honed her acting skills at the acclaimed Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and made her stage debut at the Amersham Repertory Company in 1954, playing a bridesmaid in the romantic comedy Fools Rush In. It would be another fifteen years before Parfitt achieved name recognition when she appeared as Hamlet's mother Gertrude in the 1969 stage production of Hamlet starring Anthony Hopkins as her husband Claudius. The role of Hamlet was played by Nicol Williamson who you might recall seeing as Lord Louis Mountbatten in the Masterpiece Theatre series Lord Mountbatten – the Last Viceroy. Marianne Faithfull, the 1960s pop singer, played Ophelia. Parfitt reprised her role in a film version of the play.

Judy Parfitt
As Mildred Layton in
The Jewel in the Crown.

Not long earlier in 1966 Parfitt had married actor Tony Steedman; the two were together almost 40 years until his death in 2001. Although both were in the public eye quite considerably they somehow managed to keep their private lives private. Maybe in an attempt not to embarrass their only son David, who according to Parfitt "was always very embarrassed by the fact that his mum and dad were famous and used to walk a couple of paces behind us whenever we were out anywhere!"

To that end Parfitt's interviews tend not to be about herself, but about the characters she portrays; and what memorable characters. Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities, Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice, Rosa Dartle in David Copperfield, Mme. Thenardier in a 1967 televised series of Les Miserables.

Judy Parfitt
As Mrs. Clennam in Little Dorrit.

Parfitt's Hollywood film debut didn't arrive until 1995, when she starred with Kathy Bates in the thriller Dolores Claiborne. In 2003, she was cast alongside Colin Firth as the scheming mother-in-law of Johannes Vermeer in Girl with a Pearl Earring.

The 5' 8" Parfitt seems to excel in playing cold and often cruel women in classical period settings, such as when she played the villainess Mrs. Clennam in Masterpiece Theatre's Little Dorrit in 2008. Clennam was a dream role for Parfitt. As she told an interviewer, "at my age the chances to get parts this good are few and far between." Reflecting on how much she had enjoyed working on the series, Parfitt confessed to feeling "bereaved", when filming finished.

Judy Parfitt
As Mercy Woolf in Funland.

Another role Parfitt thoroughly loved was Mercy Woolf in the comedic thriller series Funland, where she played the evil, manipulative head of the Woolf Family, who are at the heart of a Blackpool amusement arcade. Mercy, who runs a lapdancing club and has ambitions to own Blackpool in the same way the Mafia owned Las Vegas, couldn't be more different than the woman who played her. "I'm about as frightening as Minnie Mouse", says the almost 75 year old grandmother of two.

As well as appearing regularly in British television shows, Parfitt has also starred in several American series. She was Snow White's Stepmother, Evil Queen Lillian "Lily" White in The Charmings, an episode of which also starred her husband Tony Steedman as Santa Claus in The Charmings' second season Christmas special. Parfitt also appeared on an episode of Murder, She Wrote and in 2002 was in a number of episodes of ER, where she played Dr. Elizabeth Corday's mother.

In 2004, Parfitt once again played a domineering dowager, this time with an American accent, when she was Mrs. Van Schuyler, in Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot.

Judy Parfitt
As Sister Monica Joan in Call the Midwife.

Parfitt's most recent television role, as Sister Monica Joan in Call the Midwife is a lot different from the ones she generally plays. It's also one of the most challenging. As Parfitt explains, "she comes from a good family and she's an innocent. She's very eccentric but she's also getting dementia so she's in and out of reality, which makes it really interesting to play because it's a very difficult line to get through."

Call the Midwife airs on MPT Sunday nights at 8pm and repeats on Mondays at 9pm 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 April 22, 2013:
Last of the Summer Wine's Keith Clifford

 

Keith Clifford
Keith Clifford.

This week it's time for another viewer request as we take a look at actor Keith Clifford, who plays Billy Hardcastle in Last of the Summer Wine.

Clifford was born on June 20th, 1938 in Halifax, West Yorkshire. He started out his television acting career in 1973 in what may have been one of the first ever reality TV shows; Crown Court. The Courtroom drama presented cases over a three week period at the end of which the jury would give their verdict based on the evidence presented. Although the Jury was made up of "ordinary people, chosen at random from the electoral roll of Manchester, the site of Granada Television studios where the series was made, as the Jury Foreman was required to speak, actor's union rules stipulated that the part be played by an actor. Clifford was that actor, reprising the "role" in another episode five years later.

Keith Clifford
As Charlie West in Coronation Street.

After his first go round in Crown Court, Clifford returned to Manchester to appear in Granada Television's long running and top rated series, Coronation Street. Before becoming a regular on the show in 1983, he portrayed a couple of different characters, first in 1975, then in 1983. In 1997 he got his own featured role in the series; Charlie West, an amiable comedic character that proved popular with the viewers.

 

Keith Clifford
As Billy Hardcastle in Last
of the Summer Wine
.

While working on Coronation Street, Clifford continued to take other roles and it was in 1998 when he was appearing with LOTSW actress Thora Hird in the television drama, Lost for Words, that the series' director Alan Bell offered him the role of Billy Hardcastle. Clifford portrayed the wanna-be descendent of Robin Hood for almost a decade until 2006 when he decided it was time to move on. The following year, in a move that would confuse Coronation Street viewers, he returned to the "Street", but not as Charlie West. Instead he played a nursing home resident, Frank Nichols.

 

Keith Clifford
Receiving the Sony Best Actor award.

As well as appearing on television for over three decades, Clifford also appeared extensively on the stage. Most notably in a play he co-authored; Randle's Scandals, about Lancashire-born comedian Frank Randle. The idea for the show came about in the mid-eighties when Clifford was starring in a musical comedy about a "coughing choir" set in a smoke works called "The Great Eric Ackroyd Disaster". Clifford styled his character in the show after Randle who was one of England's finest and highest paid comedians of the 1940s era, but who sadly died in poverty of a combination of TB and cirrhosis of the liver. As soon as comedian Mike Harding saw Clifford's characterization he guessed it was Randle and suggested they create a play based on the comedian's life story. The one-man play was such a success that not only did Clifford tour the country in it for over ten years, but its airing as a radio play on BBC 7 in 1992 garnered him a Best Actor Sony Radio award.

Keith Clifford
With wife, Annie.

As well as television and stage acting, the 6ft father of six Clifford, who married his wife Annie in 1974, has also appeared on the big screen. You can see him as the Harbor Master in the 1999 comedy Captain Jack starring Bob Hoskins.

Although Last of the Summer Wine is no longer being produced, Clifford relishes the memories he has of working on the show, his most memorable day being when they had to film a song and dance routine for a Christmas episode. Although they made it look like Holmfirth was covered in snow, in reality the episode was shot on the hottest day of summer and the actors, dressed in top hat and tails, were expected to dance over and over again until they got it right. As far as Clifford's concerned, it was a small price to pay for the pleasure the episode ultimately gave to so many people.

You can enjoy Last of the Summer Wine weekday afternoons at 1:30pm on Afternoon Tea and on MPT2 Sunday evenings at 7pm.

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 15, 2013:
BBC Television Center, part two

 

BBC Television Center
Miranda, in 2012 the last sitcom to
be made in BBC Television Center.

We continue this week with a look back at the history of BBC Television Center, which recently closed its doors after being sold for over $300 million.

After enjoying twenty years of thriving business, producing world class dramas, comedies, sports and news shows, the 1980s found BBC Television Center to be used less and less for major drama productions. More and more productions were filmed on location or in film studios with a single camera as opposed to being recorded in a multi-camera studio. In 1994 The House of Eliott became the last major drama series to be taped with Henry IV, Part 1 being the last single drama recorded in 1995.

BBC Television Center
BBC Television Center.

Over the next decade BBC Television Center coped with numerous challenges. In June of 2000, a major power failure at 5 o'clock in the afternoon resulted in many of its live news services being cut off or disrupted. In March of 2001, a bomb, attributed to the Real IRA, exploded outside the news center while police were trying to carry out a controlled explosion. It blew up a taxi but left no fatalities and minimal damage to the building itself. In 2006 during the live broadcast of National Lottery: Jet Set the studio was invaded by Fathers 4 Justice causing the show to go briefly off air while the protesters were removed from the set.

Their biggest challenge of all, however, was in 2007, when they faced a shortfall in funding of over $300 billion. To manage the shortfall, the BBC announced its plans to sell off BBC Television Center by the end of the fiscal year of 2012/13. In November, 2011, just as it was approaching its Golden Age, Television Center was put on the property market.

BBC Television Center
Penelope Keith, Ronnie Corbett, John Cleese and
David Jason were among those who paid on-air
tribute to BBC Television Center.

Between July 2012 and March 2013, the largest live newsroom in the world, the BBC News Center at Television Center, for which a brand new complex at the front of BBC Television Center had been built in 1997 and to which BBC's radio news, previously housed a few miles away in Broadcasting House, had been relocated, moved back to Broadcasting House. Sports and children's departments relocated to the northern town of Salford. As for the departments responsible for bringing entertainment to the world, there are no plans for a centralized location. A fact which left actress Penelope Keith feeling like, as she put it, an "orphan".

On the evening of on March 22, BBC Television Center ran its last live broadcast, Madness Live: Goodbye Television Centre. The building closed on March 31st. Plans for the new site include a public square and cycle route, shops, cafes, offices, apartments and a luxury hotel. A small housing development will also be built and affordable housing will replace what is now a multi-level parking garage. Some of what was once BBC Television Center's basement areas will be turned into dressing rooms and offices for the media and production companies expected to be leasing the Center's three main studios, which will be refitted. The rest of the basement space will be turned into parking spaces.

BBC Television Center
BBC Television Center.

At the end of next year, the BBC will lease back 20% of the site at a cost of approximately £5 million a year. Some of which they hope to recoup by opening up what will be known as The BBC Digital Experience; a public attraction which will include an area in which visitors provide their birth date and are then able to watch scenes from shows of their childhood. The Centre will also allow visitors to see how some of their favorite shows are currently produced. The BBC's commercial businesses, including BBC worldwide, will also be housed in the newly refurbished space.

When questioned as to how, with the lease back agreements and the expenses associated by relocating productions, the BBC could be saving money executives defended their decision by explaining that the sale of the Center will save in excess of £30 million a year. A figure which, according to a veteran BBC engineer said will be "enough to pay for 30 hours of high-quality drama."

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 8, 2013:
BBC Television Center

 

BBC Television Center
BBC Television Center.

This week instead of focusing on the British programs you get to see on MPT, or the actors who star in them, I thought we'd pay homage to the building in which so many of the shows we've enjoyed over the years were taped; BBC Television Center in London.

After bringing countless hours of service to the world for the last 59 years, BBC Television Center, which was sold to property developers last summer for about $350 million, finally ceased its broadcasting operations on March 31 of this year.

BBC Television Center
Aerial view; an early sketch.

Although not officially opened until June 29, 1960, discussions for the building of a new TV center began back in 1936, but were put on hold during the war years. They picked up again after World War II, and the official announcement that the BBC would be building the world's largest television center was made in April of 1949. Originally planned to occupy 6 acres of land on the site of what was once the Franco-British exhibition of 1908, by the time it opened the Center was over twice that size.

BBC legend has it that the Center's architect Graham Dawbarn came up with the idea for its design while in the pub, where he drew the triangular shape of the building site on the back of an old envelope. As he sat there pondering, he doodled a question mark in the middle of the triangle and suddenly realized it would make the perfect design!

BBC Television Center
Susan Hamphire.

Most of the building's layout was the same on the day it closed as when it first opened. Its distinctive circular main block around which studios, dressing rooms, engineering areas and the News Center, was known to staff as the "doughnut". The circular nature of the design made it easy to get lost when wandering the corridors, which all looked the same. Susan Hampshire, who in 1967 starred in the last BBC series to be made in black and white; Forsyte Saga and the first to be made in color; Vanity Fair, recalls just how confusing the "doughnut" was to navigate.

"We all got lost on our way to find the studio or the canteen" explains the now 75 year old actress. "Unless you recognized someone in the costume from your period you had no idea where you were. All of us would end up in the wrong studios."

BBC Television Center
The "doughnut-shaped" atrium
with statue of Helios.

In the centre of the main block outside a statue of Helios, the god of the sun, was erected as a symbol of the radiation of television around the world, at his feet two reclining figures, symbolizing sound and vision. Originally a working fountain, the structure was too noisy for people who worked in the overlooking offices, so the water was cut off.

The first transmission from TV Centre was a one-off variety show called First Night, which kicked off three decades of drama series, serials, single plays musical spectaculars and an overwhelming number of comedies, such as Are You Being Served?, Monty Python, Open All Hours, The Good Life, Fawlty Towers, To the Manor Born, Yes Minister, Blackadder, 'Allo 'Allo, May To December, One Foot in the Grave, Absolutely Fabulous, As Time Goes By, Keeping Up Appearances and Yes Prime Minister. Such a vast quantity of productions also required a huge amount of space in which to rehearse. Unfortunately, adequate rehearsal space had not been factored into the design of the center and was often in scarce supply. Actors and entertainers would be forced to "slum it" just as they had before the building of Television Center by rehearsing in local army drill or Church halls.

BBC Television Center
The Television Rehearsal Rooms
in North Acton.

In 1968, the British Government announced they were reducing the size of their Territorial Army and the drill halls the BBC had been using for rehearsals would no longer be available. This forced the BBC to build a dedicated rehearsal facility, which opened in 1970 on Victoria Road in Acton. The Television Rehearsal Rooms was an impressive seven story building with 18 large rooms. For the first twenty years of its life it was very busy with all kinds of shows being rehearsed - dramas, comedies and variety shows. The canteen at lunchtime was filled with dozens of famous television celebrities. Then in the early 1990s, the Rehearsal Rooms began to be used less and less. Old variety shows, which required lots of rehearsal time, had gone out of fashion and most dramas were being shot with a single camera on location, where the rehearsals could also take place, rather than in a multi-camera studio setting, which required separate rehearsal facilities.

BBC Television Center
The taping of I, Claudius in 1976.

Additionally, the BBC's accountants decided that the Television Rehearsal Rooms building should be making a profit and they put a price on the hire of each room. It was, however, unrealistically high and was too expensive for many of the programs being produced to sustain. This forced them to return to the local church halls, which were a lot cheaper. Why the BBC accountants responsible for setting the rental fees didn't simply match them to the lower rates being charged elsewhere and thereby keeping the money in the BBC's coffers is not known. The end result, however, was that by the end of the 1990s, the building was no longer used for any rehearsals at all. Two of the floors became costume and wig storage areas and the remainder of the space was turned into offices. The BBC vacated the building entirely in the spring of 2008 and it was demolished in the summer of 2010.

Next week we'll continue with this retrospective look at BBC Television Center. In the meantime you can be sure to enjoy shows that were taped there every weekday afternoon 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 1, 2013:
Death in Paradise's Ben Miller

 

Ben Miller
Ben Miller in Death in Paradise.

This week I thought we'd chat about a new face to MPT, Ben Miller, who plays Detective Inspector Richard Poole in MPT's new Thursday night mystery, Death in Paradise.

Although he was born in London's East End, where his Lithuanian born paternal grandfather ran an assortment of shops, Miller grew up and went to school in the market town of Nantwich, Cheshire. Both of his parents were educators. His father worked at the City of Birmingham Polytechnic and his Welsh mother, Marion, taught at South Cheshire College.

While at school, Miller excelled in athletics and is proud of the fact that he still holds the school record for the 1500 meters. He was also a good academic student - especially at math, for which he credits his math teacher, who also happened to teach drama. On leaving school, Miller went to St. Catharines's College in Cambridge where he studied natural sciences, after which he remained at Cambridge to study for a Ph.D. in quantum physics. To his parents' dismay, Miller left Cambridge before finishing his doctorate studies and moved with fellow graduate Alexander Armstrong to London where the pair tried to break into the comedy business.

Ben Miller
Alexander Armstrong and Miller in
The Armstrong & Miller Show.

Success didn't come fast for the comedy duo. As Miller describes it "it was our Potato Years, because all we ate was potatoes. It was an absolute nightmare. I slept on a friend's kitchen floor for a year and a half." By 1996, their fortunes had changed and they began to get regular television work and in 1997 their first comedy sketch series, Armstrong and Miller, was commissioned. The hugely successful show ran for four seasons on the UK's independent TV station, Channel 4, then after a six year break the longtime friend moved their show to the BBC where it ran for 3 more years.

Independent of Armstrong, Miller has ventured into the film world, starring in 2001 in Steve Coogan's first feature film, The Parole Officer and in the 2003 film Johnny English, in which he played the role of "Bough", sidekick to Rowan Atkinson's title character. Since 2007 Miller has starred as James Lester in the sci-fi drama Primeval and in 2010 he went behind the camera when he directed the film Huge, about a feuding double act trying to make it in the cut-throat world of stand-up comedy. Of his own double act partner, Miller insists their relationship is "forever" and the pair is so close that when Armstrong got married, Miller even helped to decorate the wedding cake.

Ben Miller
As a child.

It was while working on Primeval that Miller met his first wife, Belinda Stewart-Wilson, daughter of former equerry to the Queen Sir Blair Stewart-Wilson. Together the couple, who divorced in 2011, has a seven year old son, Sonny, with whom they share custody. Miller also has another son, Harrison, with his current partner, Jessica Parker. Harrison was born just last year when Miller was into his third season of Death in Paradise, which is filmed on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Not wanting to be separated, Miller had Parker bring baby Harrison and Sonny out to the neighbouring island of Antigua, but the trip put the baby off his sleep schedule and no one, including Miller, got any sleep. So the family returned to England and Miller made the 14 hour journey back to England every couple of weeks.

 

Ben Miller
With first wife Belinda Stewart-Wilson.

Being isolated for long periods of time from his family is just one thing Miller doesn't enjoy about Death in Paradise. Another is that it took Miller years to get used to filming in the intense heat. He's had heat exhaustion a number of times and thought he'd discovered a way of keeping cool by wearing backless shirts, under his jacket. He had to stop, when it would get so hot that his back would get stuck to the suit lining.

Recently Miller returned to his academic roots with the publication of his first book, "It's Not Rocket Science", which covers everything from "quantum physics to global warming". Miller sees a lot of crossover between science and comedy. As he explains, "Comedy's about things the way they are. It's about the world as it is, not the world as we would like it to be and science is the same really."

You can see Ben Miller, Thursday nights at 10:30pm 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 March 25, 2013:
Call the Midwife returns

 

This week I want to remind you about the return of one of last year's most popular British programs; Call the Midwife, an all new season two which airs Sunday evenings, beginning March 31st, on MPT at 8pm.

Call the Midwife
Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), Trixie Franklin (Helen
George), Cynthia Miller (Bryony Hannah) and babies.

Adapted from a memoir by the writer Jennifer Worth, Call The Midwife was originally published in 2002 and is about Worth's work as a midwife in London's East End during the 1950s. Worth penned the book and its subsequent follow up novels in an attempt to "do for midwifery what James Herriot did for vets".

The television series was adapted by screenwriter Heidi Thomas, who worked with Worth closely up until Worth's death shortly before filming of the first series began in the summer of 2011. Thomas' husband Stephen McGann appears in the show as the widowed GP Dr. Turner. This doesn't mean though that McGann has insider knowledge of what's going to transpire in the series as Thomas keeps the scripts hidden away.

"If he comes into my study while I'm working on them, I cover the screen," says Thomas. "But it's wonderful having a project that you can mull over with your partner, although I think our son gets fed up with it."

Thomas, who also serves as Executive Producer of the show, met McGann after he starred in one of the first plays she wrote at the Liverpool Playhouse 25 years ago. Call the Midwife is the first time since then that the couple have worked together.

Call the Midwife
Trixie Franklin (Helen George) weighs a baby.

Although Thomas is secretive about her Call the Midwife scripts, she is quite open to letting people know how the series' production crew go about recreating London's East End in the 1950s. It's all done by computer-generated imagery (CGI). The crew might for instance film in a cobbled street, with a background of modern high rises. Those modern buildings are then blocked out and through the wonders of the computer, made to look as though there is smoke coming out of chimneys. CGI was also used in episode four of the new series to create what looks like a flesh wound on a baby's back, because obviously you can't submit a newborn to a complicated make-up procedure.

The babies used in Call the Midwife are "booked" before they are even born. This is to facilitate the lengthy paperwork process involved. If the producers waited until after the babies they are hiring were born, they'd be older than 10 days and no longer look like newborns. By hiring them before they are born, all of the necessary paperwork relating to health and safety and BBC guidelines has been processed. In the cases where a non-newborn has had to be used, they've had to wrap the baby tightly in a shawl so that it doesn't look quite so relaxed.

When a "birth" is being filmed, the baby is held until the last possible moment by Terri Coates - the midwifery advisor on the series - who, after handing the baby over to the actress, still stays very close to the baby. Usually she's contorted under a bed or kneeling just out of the shot. Something to bear in mind when you see the new series, again which begins airing on Sunday March 31st at 8pm 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 March 18, 2013:
The Café's Michelle Terry

 

So how have you been enjoying our new Afternoon Tea comedy series, The Café? The series was co-written by actress Michelle Terry, who also appears in the show playing the role of Sarah Porter.

Michelle Terry
Michelle Terry.

Originally from Nuneaton, in Warwickshire, Terry actually grew up in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare where The Café is set and filmed, having moved there with her family when she was a young child. It was there that Terry caught the acting bug, when her mother signed her brother up for a drama group and she asked if she could also attend. It wasn't long before the 7 year old Terry was performing in amateur shows and taking exams in poetry, prose and spoken verse.

When Terry was fourteen she joined the National Youth Theatre, but on leaving high school rather than go straight into drama school, her "sensible parents" persuaded her to attend University instead; thereby giving Terry a back-up-plan in case she didn't make it in the acting world. Although Terry complied and attended Cardiff University, where she studied English, she remained faithful to her dramatic pursuits by joining the University's Drama Society, of which she was President.

Michelle Terry
As The Princess of France
in The Shakespeare Globe
production of Love's
Labour's Lost
.

On graduating from University, Terry auditioned for and was enrolled into London's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. On graduating RADA in 2004, Terry was cast in a production of Blithe Spirit, which toured the UK before going to London's West End. After that she found work at repertory theatres in the north of England. It was while she was working at a theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme that a freelance casting director stopped by the theatre she was appearing at, having missed his train from Edinburgh to London. Terry's talents impressed him so much, that he put her name on the list for the Royal Shakespeare Company ensemble. As well as working at the RSC, Terry worked at the Royal National Theatre and her television roles include the Ricky Gervais comedy Extras and Law and Order: UK.

 

Michelle Terry
The Café being filmed at Weston-super-Mare's seafront.

The idea for The Café came about when Terry met co-writer Ralf Little when they were both appearing in the stage play 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover and "bonded" over a mutual dislike of bad television scripts they'd been given to read. Eventually they decided that instead of moaning about there being no good characters written, they'd write their own character-driven sitcom. It took three years for the pair to write and develop the show, and while writing, a number of different locations were considered for the show's setting. Eventually Terry realized that her home town was the perfect setting and after she brought Ralf down to Weston, her co-writer agreed.

Terry's role of Sarah in the show wasn't something she intended, but gradually as time went on she realized that she couldn't let go of the series. Terry insists that the character she plays, Sarah, a twenty-something who has returned home from London to work in a café and pursue a writing career, is not autobiographical because she doesn't think she's "a good enough writer to be imaginative", but she does sometimes get that "whoops!" feeling when she suddenly realizes she may have written about a past relationship.

You can see Michelle Terry in The Café on Afternoon Tea Wednesdays at 1pm. Don't forget to let us know what you think of it 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 March 11, 2013:
Ballykissangel's Dervla Kirwan

 

Time for another viewer request as we take a look this week at Dervla Kirwan who plays Assumpta Fitzgerald in Ballykissangel.

Dervla Kirwan
Dervla Kirwan.

Born in Churchtown, Dublin, Ireland, on October 24, 1971, Kirwan was the youngest of three daughters. Her father was an insurance broker, and her mother taught Latin. Her great-grandmother (on her mother's side) was Margaret Collins-O'Driscoll; an older sister of Michael Collins, who led the IRA against British rule and founded the Irish Free State in 1921. Collins was also uncle to Kirwan's maternal grandfather, Finian O'Driscoll. On her father Peter's side, Kirwan's great-grandfather was a Polish Jewish immigrant.

Life for the young Kirwan was decidedly unglamorous. She wore her sisters' hand-me-downs and magazines were banned in her home environment where they would have been deemed trivial and frivolous. As a child, Kirwan was also extremely shy, which as she grew older people would mistake for aloofness. Through acting she learned to be confident, and while she still doesn't enjoy walking into parties or new places, she's now trained herself to at least look as though she's enjoying it.

Despite her shyness, Kirwan landed her first television role at the age of just 15 in the BBC Drama Troubles. A year later she moved to London to perform as a factory girl in A Handful of Stars; the first of a trilogy of plays called the Wexford Trilogy. Moving to London to do a show didn't sit very well with her Catholic school and they asked her to leave, so Kirwan finished her education in a non-denominational school in Dublin.

It wasn't long before Kirwan was back in the acting world and in 1991 she came to the attention of the British television viewing public when she appeared in the BBC Scotland production of A Time. That was followed up with stage roles, including stint at the Royal Court Theatre and the Globe Theatre in London.

Dervla Kirwan
With Stephen Tompkinson as
Assumpta and Father Clifford
in Ballykissangel.

In 1994, Kirwan met her Ballykissangel co-star Stephen Tompkinson, when they worked together on a radio play, but it wasn't until they started working on Ballykissangel in the spring of 1995, that they realized they were attracted to each other. Not wanting to let their feelings for each other interfere with their work on the show, they put things on the back burner until filming of the show was completed. The minute they arrived back in England though, Tompkinson plucked up courage to ask Kirwan out and after a dinner at The Ivy and a trip to the cinema to see Children of the Lost World, the relationship got underway.

Once the press worked out "Assumpta" and "Father Peter Clifford" were dating in real-life, they assumed it was just a publicity stunt, but they were proved wrong in July of 1997 when the couple got engaged after Tompkinson proposed to Kirwan in Neary's bar in Dublin while filming BallyK.

As Kirwan recalled during an interview, "We were sitting at this table, surrounded by the rest of the cast when Stephen took my hand under the table. I thought, ooh? Then I felt something being put on my hand and I looked down and there was this rock. It was a big shiny thing!"

The engagement last two years, until in September of 1999, the couple split up, but remained friends. After three seasons, Kirwan left BallyK, just as she as she'd also left another popular series, Goodnight Sweetheart, which starred Nicholas Lyndhurst.

"I think I've got some actor's form of ADHD," says Kirwan, "I just can't do the same thing day in, day out. I kept telling myself it was a great job to have and all that but, when it got to the third series, I felt as if I was on autopilot."

Kirwan's performance in Ballykissangel won her the National TV Award for Best Actress in 1996, and the Irish Post Award for Best Irish Entertainer in 1997.

Dervla Kirwan
With husband Rupert Penry-Jones.

In 2001 while appearing in a West Yorkshire Playhouse production of JB Priestley's Dangerous Corner, Kirwan met her current husband, Rupert Penry-Jones, who played Adam Carter in a show you can see on MPT; MI-5. Initially Penry-Jones, who is the son of another face familiar to Afternoon Tea viewers, Angela Thorne, who plays Marjory Frobisher in To The Manor Born, was going to turn the job down because he'd heard Kirwan was difficult to work with, but within a few weeks the couple were head over heels in love. Their play eventually transferred to London's West End.

In 2003, Dervla again appeared on stage with Penry-Jones in Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Bristol Old Vic. The following year she gave birth to the couple's first child, Florence; son Peter arrived two years later and Kirwan and Penry-Jones finally tied the knot in 2007, after a three year engagement.

Following a stabbing incident in the long-time quiet London neighborhood where they'd lived since getting together, Kirwan and Penry-Jones uprooted their small family and moved to rural Hampshire, where they live an unusually low-key life, given that they are one of England's most high-profile couples. Celebrity status, however, is not something the couple seek out.

"We love acting", explains Kirwan, "but when it spills over into the whole celebrity thing, it makes us very uncomfortable. It just doesn't suit us".

Dervla Kirwan
Dervla, Rupert, Florence and Peter.

The family routine, according to Kirwan, is very ordinary. "We're like anyone else", she says, "wondering how to entertain the kids for eight weeks over the summer holidays."

Since leaving BallyK Kirwan has hardly had a time when she hasn't been working – either on stage, or on screen – small and big. Most recently, she appeared in a BBC1 drama miniseries called Blackout and in two films; Luna, a fantasy film due to be released later this year and the independent thriller called Entity. It's the role she did as a 23 year old that still brings her the most attention though. To this day Kirwan is approached by people in the street expressing their affection for her portrayal of the attractive young landlady.

Kirwan likens it to being "like a singer who has a hit number one. You'll always be defined by that song. It doesn't matter if I go and play at the National [theatre], it really doesn't matter that I'm doing a major TV series for the BBC - I'll still always be remembered as Assumpta in Ballykissangel."

You can see Ballykissangel weekday afternoons on Afternoon Tea at 3:30pm.

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 March 4, 2013:
We remember Richard Briers, part two

 

Richard Briers
Richard Briers.

One of the omissions in this year's Academy Awards "In Memoriam" segment was Richard Briers, whose death on February 17th was – to quote his Good Neighbors co-star Penelope Keith – a "kick to the stomach" for many of us. Why he was omitted I don't know. Perhaps because the bright faced actor came across more like a friendly uncle, than a movie star, despite his over fifty years in show business and a film career that included roles as diverse as Smee in Peter Pan to Polonius in Kenneth Branagh's film adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Briers' friendly on-screen persona was completely genuine. A good friend of mine who once acted with Briers in a car commercial, reports that he was one of the nicest actors she'd ever met. Apparently it was Briers' likability factor that made him such a sought after actor – everyone wanted to work with him – and work he did. As well as films, plays and television shows, Briers was also a much sought after voiceover artist. He was the voice of Noddy, in the children's television series based on the popular Enid Blyton character. He was also the voice of Mouse in the series Mouse & Mole, and was Fiver in the animated film adaptation of Watership Down. Briers' voice was also used in all three series of the televised adaptation of Watership Down, where he played a character called Captain Broom.

Richard Briers
With his castmates from
The Good Life.

While to me, Briers will always be Tom Good in Good Neighbors or The Good Life as it was known in England where I first saw it as a teenager, for many MPT viewers, Briers is best known as Hector MacDonald in Monarch of the Glen. Briers played Hector, the best friend of Lord Kilwillie (played by Julian Fellowes) from 2000 to 2005, at which point he asked the producers to write him out in order that he could spend more time at home with his family and grandchildren.

Richard Briers
In Monarch of the Glen.

Home for Briers for 45 years was the house he shared with his wife, Annie, in Chiswick. On weekends, Briers enjoyed nothing better than having his grandchildren round, or taking them into London to see a show or an exhibition. Each series of Monarch of the Glen, however, would take almost a half year to film and with the filming taking place in Scotland, it was a lot of time to be far from home. Briers did, however, love the highlands and its ever changing climate. Far more so than Tuscany where he filmed Much Ado About Nothing. As he once told a reporter, "in Tuscany, there was rarely a wind change, but in the Highlands you have four climates a day – you never bore of Scotland. It's dramatic and appeals to me as an actor".

Richard Briers
In Cockneys vs Zombies, his
last film role.

As well as acting and his family, Briers was also an avid reader with a massive personal library. His theatre books alone totaled over 3,000! As well as reading books, Briers also enjoyed writing and wrote on a variety of topics, including Coward and Company about Noel Coward, A Little Light Weeding, an amusing book of stories about gardening and English Country Churches, research for which had Briers visiting over 100 historic British churches.

Technology on the other hand left Briers cold. He never owned a cellphone, a computer or an iPod, and he barely knew how to operate his telephone answer machine. According to Briers, he was very much "an old-fashioned chap with sound values at heart", one who cherished "courtesy, kindness, thoughtfulness"; all virtues which Briers found "conspicuously lacking in folk who bellow ceaselessly into their mobiles."

Briers once unapologetically described his home as "a shrine to a slower-paced era, when household goods were made to last and no one with a scintilla of common sense threw anything away if it still worked."

Richard Briers
In his back yard.

Briers also eschewed the acquisition of possessions, with the exception of books, and one of his most treasured possessions was his gramophone, on which he played his collection of 78s. Among his favorites were The Ink Spots, Al Jolson and Enrico Caruso. Briers also had an almost fifty year old reel-to-reel tape recorder, which he refused to replace for something more contemporary. His car – a modest Japanese hatchback - was also over a decade old. He bought it second-hand, not wanting to "fritter away" his hard-earned cash on a new model which would only depreciate in value the minute it was driven out of the showroom.

There was only one occasion that Briers was, as he put it, "shamed" into updating his home's ancient electronic equipment. It was when his good friend Penelope Keith came for supper one night. As she walked into the sitting room and spotted the aged television set with its tiny screen and wood surround, which the Briers' had had for about twenty years, she roared laughter and demanded to know why they still had the old relic. Eventually she cajoled Briers into buying a brand new flatscreen model. But that, along with a fax machine, which he never knew how to use, was the extent of Briers surrendering to technological advancements.

Richard Briers
As a murderous vicar in
Midsomer Murders.

The role of elderly curmudgeon was one which Briers seemed to relish and he particularly enjoyed the grumpy unsympathetic character he played in the 1980s sitcom, Ever Decreasing Circles. His role in that show, which was written by the same writers that penned Good Neighbors, was that of Martin Bryce a character who was the antithesis of Tom Good. It was, however, Briers' favorite sitcom character of all time.

Briers final film role, prior to his death, was playing an old age pensioner in a film called Cockneys vs. Zombies, about a bunch of East-Enders fighting their way out of a zombie infested London. This may have been Briers last film, but it wasn't his first encounter with sci-fi – he also appeared in Doctor Who, Torchwood and the 1994 film Frankenstein with Robert DeNiro.

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 25, 2013:
We remember Richard Briers

 

Richard Briers
A young Richard Briers.

This week we look at the life of actor Richard Briers, who passed away on Sunday, February 17 after succumbing to the chronic lung condition emphysema. Although known to PBS viewers as the affable Tom Good in Good Neighbors, Briers career spanned over five decades and his film roles brought him into contact with legends as varied as Raquel Welch and Stephen Spielberg.

Born on January 13, 1934, in Surrey, Briers inherited his love of performing from his mother, Morna, who as well as being an actress was also an accomplished pianist. His father Joseph held many jobs – none of them for very long. The family were often in debt, something Briers vowed he'd never be and as a result always lived within his means. To the day he died he never owned more than three pairs of shoes and had just one suit, and a dinner jacket.

Richard Briers
With wife, Ann, on their wedding day
in 1957.

On leaving school at the age of 16, Briers took a job with a London cable manufacturer, while he studied nights to qualify as an electrical engineer. Those efforts didn't last long though and he soon left to become a filing clerk. Two years later, Briers was called up for his National Service and served in the RAF, which is where he met The Café and Last of the Summer Wine actor Brian Murphy. The pair got on like a house on fire and on leaving the RAF, it was Murphy who encouraged Briers to join the Dramatic Society at the Borough Polytechnic Institute, (now London South Bank University), where he performed in several productions.

Briers then followed in Murphy's footsteps by studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts from 1954-56, alongside actors Peter O'Toole and Albert Finney. After graduating, he won a scholarship with the Liverpool Repertory Company, where he met his wife Ann Davies, a television and film actress, who was working there as a stage manager. Within six months, the couple was married and their times at the Rep, acting together, and without the trappings of family life, were some that Briers would later say were the best of their lives. Their over fifty year marriage would produce two daughters, Kate and Lucy, both of whom also went into theatre.

Richard Briers
With Prunella Scales, in the 1960s, and more recently.

Briers made his West End debut in the Duke of York's Theatre in 1959 and his first big television break came just a few years later in 1961, when he was cast opposite actress Prunella Scales in a sitcom called Marriage Lines. It ran for five years, and resulted in a lifelong friendship between the two actors. In fact, when Scales was giving birth to her first child, unable to track down her husband Timothy West, she asked the nurse to try and locate Briers; sure enough West and Briers were at the pub across the street, whetting the baby's whistle before it had even been born!

Not surprisingly most of Brier's best friends were acting colleagues, such as John Thaw (Inspector Morse) whose wife Sheila Hancock said rarely made friends, because he didn't think anyone would want to be friends with him. Thaw and Briers were very close, however, which Hancock puts down to them being "so completely on one another's wavelength." The two families would spend Christmases together and as Hancock recalls Briers and Thaw would "get equally drunk and equally ratty, and make each other laugh."

Richard Briers
With Raquel Welch in the 1960s
film Fathom.

Paul Eddington was another good friend. The pair shared a similar sense of humor and knew each other before they were both cast in The Good Life (known in the US as Good Neighbors). Briers was also close with Penelope Keith, who played Eddington's wife Margo in the series. After being told of Briers' death, Keith said it felt like she'd been kicked in the stomach. "You will hear a lot of people saying a lot of marvelous things about Richard", said Keith "and let me assure you, they are all true."

Surprisingly the one acting colleague Briers never became friends with was Felicity Kendal who played his wife, Barbara Good. It saddened the normally upbeat Briers that Kendal made no attempt to see him during his battle with the disease that would kill him – a disease that Briers claimed had been caused by him smoking some 500,000 cigarettes before giving up in 2003.

Briers reflected on Kendal's disappearance from public life in an interview shortly before he died. "She seems to have disappeared in a strange way," he said. "She's an extraordinary girl. I don't really know who she is. Never did. She was always an attractive girl and she's still pretty young but, you know, she's very strange. Enchanting, but strange."

Kendal and Briers might not have developed a close relationship off screen, but their on-screen relationship made them both household names. The public adored the pair of them. Briers, however, wasn't too fond of "good old Tom"; he thought the character was terribly selfish. "It was all about him all the time", said Briers, "and he was terrible with the wife. There were no clothes for her, no babies, nothing at all."

Richard Briers
Receiving his CBE medal with
his wife and grandchildren in 2003.

The Good Life first aired in the UK in 1975 and although it only ran until 1978, it was such a popular show that it continues to be repeated all over the world. One of the show's biggest fans was Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who attended the recording of the final episode. In 1989, when she honored Briers by appointing him an OBE, as she presented the jovial Briers his award she said "And I suppose you're getting this for making people laugh?". The Queen later bestowed another honor on Briers when, in 2003, she made him a Commander of the British Empire.

As well as making people laugh, Briers was also very actively involved in numerous charitable organizations. He became President of Parkinson's UK, after his second cousin the comedic and much loved British actor Terry Thomas was diagnosed with the disease. Briers also helped to launch a Sense-National Deafblind and Rubella Association campaign and was also a non-medical patron of the TOFS (Tracheo-Oesophageal Fistula Support) charity, which supports children and the families of children born unable to swallow.

In 2007, after playing the husband of a person with dementia in the television drama Dad (which starred Kevin Whately as Briers' son), Briers became an ambassador for the Alzheimer's Society. In that role he lobbied Members of Parliament on the injustices of charging for life-enhancing dementia treatments to delivering entertaining speeches.

Richard Briers
With Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet.

As well as maintaining a high television profile, with roles in shows such as Dr. Who, Midsomer Murders, New Tricks and Monarch of the Glen. Briers was also a member of Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company, a company which produced not only stage shows, but films as well. He had been introduced to Branagh after being taken by his daughter Lucy to see Branagh perform in Henry V in Stratford-upon-Avon. After the meeting, Branagh offered Briers the role of Malvolio in his fledgling company's production of Twelfth Night, which was later adapted for television.

From 1989 to 2006, Briers appeared in eight of Branagh's films, including Henry V (Bardolph), Hamlet (Polonius) and Much Ado About Nothing (Signor Leonato) and on stage where he played the title parts in King Lear and Uncle Vanya. The Renaissance Theatre Company productions toured the world, but in 2008, Briers retired from touring to concentrate on his television work and voice overs.

Well chat more next week about Richard Briers; a man with a twinkle in his eye, whose smile and chuckle could be guaranteed to cheer one up; a man who may never have been knighted, but who was in the words of Kenneth Branagh "a National Treasure."

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 18, 2013:
The Café's Brian Murphy

 

Brian Murphy
In The Café.

This week it's time for another viewer request as we take a look at actor Brian Murphy, who stars as Alvin Smedley in Last of the Summer Wine and as Frank Dobson in the newest addition to our Afternoon Tea line up, The Café.

Born in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight on September 25th in 1933, Murphy did his National Service in the Royal Air Force along with another Afternoon Tea actor, Richard Briers, who starred as Tom in Good Neighbors. Weekend pleasures for the two young men, included reading aloud Shakespeare's plays into a tape recorder. Between them they covered all the great roles, fired up by the vision that one day they would both become great classical actors.

"Richard Briars was my great mate", recalls Murphy. "We'd record as many plays as we could with us in the lead roles, then we'd report back to duty with very hoarse voices."

Brian Murphy
In Last of the Summer Wine.

Their tape recorder came in a big heavy case and it almost led to their being arrested, when a policeman asked them what it contained. When Brier's told the policeman it was "a head", he failed to see the funny side.

After being demobbed, they went to London where they performed in plays put on by the Dramatic Society at the Borough Polytechnic Institute. Briers focused on comedy, while Murphy who had trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, took on the more dramatic roles. Years, later of course it would be reversed, when Murphy would become a household name known for his comedic roles on television and Briers would join Kenneth Branagh and go on to play roles such as King Lear.

Brian Murphy
In Man About the House.

Murphy spent the 1960s and the early part of the 1970s performing on stage and in shows such as The Avengers and Z-Cars, a popular police show. In 1964, he travelled to Broadway with the Joan Littlewood directed, Oh What a Lovely War. When Littlewood discovered that protesters were staging an anti-war vigil in Times Square, she invited them all to come and see the show for free. Murphy would go onto reprise his role in the film version of the show.

As Murphy approached 40 though, he almost quit acting and went into the insurance business. With a young family to feed and money being short as he'd invested in a revival of Oh What a Lovely War that he was part-producing, Murphy had to turn down work he would have previously enjoyed because it wasn't paying enough. Fortunately his agent dissuaded him, telling him that by the time he turned 40 he would come into his own. He couldn't have been more right.

Brian Murphy
With Yootha Joyce in George and Mildred.

In 1972, just a year shy of his 40th birthday, Murphy was cast as the henpecked husband George Roper in Man About The House. The show was such a success that it was remade in the U.S. under the title Three's Company. Murphy played the henpecked George Roper. His wife in the show, Mildred, was played by his good friend, Yootha Joyce who he'd worked with for many years on stage. Together, they became one of the most successful double acts in the history of British television.

After Man About the House finished in 1976, a spin-off series was created called George and Mildred, which was also very popular. Both Man About the House and George and Mildred were made into feature films, with Murphy, who by now was a household name, reprising his role of George. With eight episodes of the show to go, George and Mildred came to an abrupt end when Joyce died of cirrhosis of the liver due to chronic alcoholism in 1980. It was later revealed that Joyce had been drinking upwards of half a bottle of brandy a day for ten years.

Murphy feels grateful that despite life as a major celebrity, he could always rely on his family to keep him sane.

"My wife and children could always restore me to sanity immediately", recalls Murphy, "they'd say the drains needed unblocking or whatever. Yootha didn't have such stability and that made it harder."

Brian Murphy
With wife Linda Regan.

Murphy's role as George Roper, along with some wise investments, set the actor – as he calls it – "up for life". He is now fortunate enough to pick and choose his projects. One show you might have seen him for instance was One Foot in the Grave, where he played a character called Mr. Foskett. Most recently he had a regular role in Last of the Summer Wine and of course you can see him now Wednesday afternoon at 1pm in The Café.

Murphy lives with his second wife, actress and crime novelist, 53 year old Linda Regan in Shortlands near Bromley in south-east London.

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 11, 2013:
William & Mary's Julie Graham

 

So, how are you enjoying our new Sunday night show, William & Mary, which airs at 8pm? It stars Martin Clunes in a very different role to the one we're most familiar with, i.e. Doc Martin in the show of the same name. His character, Tom Shawcross, in William & Mary, actually smiles - a lot!

Julie Graham
Julie Graham.

Starring alongside Clunes in the show is Julie Graham as Mary, the midwife with whom Shawcross, an undertaker, becomes involved. The 47 year old gap-toothed actress hails from Irvine, North Ayrshire in Scotland, where she was raised by her actress mother Betty, after her father left the family home when she was a toddler.

When Graham was eight, her mother re-married writer and broadcaster, David Webster, but sadly she died of lung cancer at the age of 50, when her daughter was just 18. Her mother's death came just six months after its initial diagnosis; it was devastating to the young teenager. Graham, an only child, helped care for her mother, with whom she was extremely close. To this day Graham says there isn't a day when she doesn't think of her mother.

After her mother's death, Graham pushed her grief aside, and moved from Glasgow to London, to pursue an acting career, while she supported her efforts by working in a law office and as a receptionist at a strip club. In her desire to make a fresh start, Graham confesses she never dealt with her feelings about her mother's death. Then overnight, she developed she developed a severe case of eczema; one day her face was clear, the next it was covered in itchy, painful, angry red sores.

"For three years I was at the end of my tether", explains Graham. "Nothing I tried work, and I thought my skin might never heal again."

Julie Graham
With Martin Clunes in William & Mary.

The condition sapped the young 21 year old's confidence, to the extent that she hated looking into mirrors. It also wasn't helping her get decent acting parts, and she felt her acting career was as good as finished. Out of desperation to find a cure, Graham decided to visit a homeopathic doctor in Islington. Without even knowing about her mother's death three years earlier, the doctor said he believed her eczema was grief related. He recommended grief counseling along with a course of homeopathic medicines for stress.

"Once I understood that bottling up my grief was causing my problems", recalls Graham, "with the help of friends I started to open up. Only then did I realize the depth of anger I'd felt when I lost my mother."

Within a few weeks, the sores disappeared and never came back. Now, 25 years later, Graham still relies on alternative treatments. She's had acupuncture to heal her neck when she was suffering from whiplash, and to alleviate her asthma, which she's suffered with since she was a child. She also goes for regular shiatsu massage therapy.

Graham also turns to homeopathy when her children have coughs, colds or ear infections. Her daughters Edie May, who is nine, and six year old Cyd live with their actor parents in Brighton. Graham met husband Joseph when he was also working on William & Mary, it was a whirlwind romance. As was their wedding, which took place in Brighton with two strangers the about to become newly-weds grabbed off the street acting as witnesses.

Julie Graham
Appearing in Doc Martin.

By the time Graham began shooting the second series of William & Mary, she was already three months pregnant with her first daughter Edie May, who was born six weeks premature. According to her co-star, Martin Clunes, Graham was "amazing!"

"She never seemed to get tired while filming", said Clunes, who also said he had never seen anyone enjoy a pregnancy so much.

In real life Graham and Clunes are the best of friends. A couple of years ago, Graham worked with Clunes again in a couple of Doc Martin episodes. "It was like having a holiday", recalls Graham, of the two weeks she spent in Port Isaac where the series is filmed. Not so pleasant though was Clunes being so grumpy as the Doc. "During our scenes together I didn't like his character at all!" said Graham. "In real life, he's lovely".

To find out how the producers of William & Mary dealt with Graham's pregnancy during the filming of the show you'll have to tune in to MPT on Sunday night's at 7pm. In the meantime let us know if there's an actor or actress you'd like to see featured in our weekly 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 February 4, 2013:
Yes, Minister's Nigel Hawthorne

 

Nigel Hawthorne
Nigel Hawthorne.

I hope you've been enjoying our "chats" about the actors who appear in Yes, Minister. This week we feature my own particular favorite, Sir Nigel Barnard Hawthorne, CBE, who appears in the show as Sir Humphrey Appleby.

Although he was born in Coventry, Warwickshire (on April 5, 1929), Hawthorne grew up in South Africa, after his physician father emigrated there when Hawthorne was four. Hawthorne was the second of four children, all of whom - according to Hawthorne - were pretty much ignored by their parents. His authoritarian father also discouraged the children from mixing with people outside of the family, which Hawthorne would later blame for his lack of confidence. Fortunately, Hawthorne's bleak childhood was cheered up by his maternal grandmother; an artist who introduced her sad, lonely grandson to literature, poetry and art.

Nigel Hawthorne
With Paul Eddington in Yes, Minister.

Following high school, Hawthorne attended Cape Town University, where he joined the University's drama group. A year later, at the age of 19, urged on by another member of the group, Shaun Sutton, he decided to drop out of school, move back to England and become a professional actor. Sutton, who would later become a BBC producer, found Hawthorne a job as assistant stage manager at a theatre in Buxton, Derbyshire. For six years, Hawthorne knocked on the doors of London agents, auditioned time and time again for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, but found little success and so returned to South Africa.

Nigel Hawthorne
In "Dad's Army", 1969

Back in his adoptive country, Hawthorne finally began to get cast and managed to build up his acting resume with leading roles. Armed with some impressive credits, Hawthorne returned to London, where he was soon cast as Field Marshall Haig in the West End premier of Oh What A Lovely War. By 1970, Hawthorne was a fixture on the London stage, and was also beginning to break into television, with minor roles. It would be another ten years though before Hawthorne would become an "overnight success" with his portrayal of Permanent Secretary, Humphrey Appleby in the 1980s sitcom Yes, Minister.

Filming in front of a live studio audience was difficult for Hawthorne and he needed to take medication to cope with the stress, but the role would eventually win him four British Academy of Film & Television Awards in the "Best Light Entertainment Performance" Category. The show, and its sequel, Yes, Prime Minister, ran until 1992, by which time Hawthorne had been honored by the Queen with a CBE (in 1987), and had won a Best Actor Tony award for his portrayal on Broadway in 1991 of C.S. Lewis in the stage version of Shadowlands.

Nigel Hawthorne
As King George III.

In 1994 Hawthorne was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of King George III in The Madness of King George; a role he'd already won awards for on the London stage. While conducting a series of media interviews to build up support for the film here in the U.S., Hawthorne gave a short interview to the magazine The Advocate, in which, along with other subjects, he discussed his sexuality. Although Hawthorne and his partner, Timothy Bentham had been together for over 20 years and were well known within the community in which they lived in as a "couple", Hawthorne had never felt the need to turn his sexuality into a "crusade".

The revelation that Hawthorne was gay didn't cause much of a ripple in the U.S., but the British tabloids threw what Hawthorne later described as a "juvenile fit". They attacked Hawthorne relentlessly, with headlines screaming out such things as "The madness of Queen Nigel", or "Yes, Minister, I'm gay". The situation got so bad that Hawthorne and Bentham had to hire four security guards to keep the reporters away from their home - a 15th century manor house in Hertfordshire.

Nigel Hawthorne
Hawthorne and his partner,
Trevor Bentham.

The press's relentless hounding didn't just stop on the shores of the British Isles. They followed Hawthorne to Los Angeles where Hawthorne was attending the Academy Awards ceremony and he and Bentham had to be smuggled to the airport where they were checked onto their flight from the parking lot. The normally calm, mild mannered actor was furious - not so much at the fact he'd been "outed" - that didn't bother him at all as he'd never hidden the fact he was gay, but being held up to ridicule was hurtful to the core.

In response to the press coverage, Hawthorne received hundreds of letters of sympathy, along with a deluge of work offers and in 1998 he became "Sir" Nigel Hawthorne when he was knighted for his services to his industry. In 1999, after he finally got to realize his dream of performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company, when he appeared as King Lear, Hawthorne was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After undergoing treatment to remove the tumor, Hawthorne thought he had beaten the disease, but within a year it returned. Hawthorne again underwent surgery and although he was responding well to treatment, while undergoing chemotherapy on December 26th, 2001 he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Nigel Hawthorne
Hawthorne's funeral.

The 72 year old actor was buried at the Parish Church of Thundridge near Ware, Hertfordshire. Attending the service, which was held for family and close friends only, were actors Charles Dance, Maureen Lipman, Derek Fowlds, Loretta Swit and author Frederick Forsyth. The congregation sang the hymn "Morning Has Broken" and "Lord Of The Dance", and the actor's coffin was adorned with a wreath of white lilies and orchids. It was a modest affair for a modest gentleman.

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 28, 2013:
Yes, Minister's Derek Fowlds

 

Derek Fowlds
Derek Fowlds today.

Watching Derek Fowlds, who plays Jim Hacker's undersecretary Bernard Wooley in Tuesday afternoon's in Yes, Minister takes me back to my childhood, when I used to watch him on telly Saturday tea-times in The Basil Brush Show. Fowlds played straight man, Mr. Derek, to a bushy tailed, monocle wearing, fox puppet called Basil. Together they'd interview various celebrity guests, who Basil would invariably end up insulting. The show also included family entertainers who would spin plates, model balloons, sing songs, or perform simple magic tricks. Mr. Derek would end the show by attempting to narrate a story, while he was constantly interrupted by Basil. It was light family entertainment at its best and I loved it!

Fowlds, was born on September 2, 1937 in Wandsworth, London. After leaving school at the age of 15, he became an apprentice printer. Although he'd always enjoyed drama as a hobby while at school, Fowlds never considered becoming an actor as he thought it was a profession only for the rich, or the "posh". While doing his national service in Malta, Fowlds was in three plays with a lieutenant commander who encouraged him to audition for The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. On Fowlds behalf the lieutenant wrote to RADA and coached him in his audition material. The caring commander's efforts paid off and Fowlds not only won a scholarship to attend the most prestigious drama school in the world, but he was also awarded a grant to fund his attendance.

Derek Fowlds
"Mr. Derek" and Basil Brush.

Fowlds left RADA in 1960 and worked primarily in the theatre, with a few television roles here and there. Then in 1969, his agent asked him if he'd be interested in going to the BBC and working with a puppet. Fowlds initial reaction was one of shock. "What are you talking about", he said, "I'm a classically trained actor!" Nevertheless, Fowlds went to the BBC, met "Basil" and ended up staying for five years.

Fowlds' follow-up act to Basil Brush was Yes, Minister which, when he first heard about the show, Fowlds assumed was a religious program! After reading the script, he realized it was "something very special". The bond between Fowlds, Hawthorne and Eddington was equally distinct. The trio got along extremely well and Fowlds cannot remember them ever having one cross word.

Derek Fowlds
Fowlds with Paul Eddington and
Nigel Hawthorne.

Fowlds first inclination that Yes, Minister would be a success was not until series two, when the show had been moved from BBC2, where it had enjoyed a cult following, to the more widely watched BBC1. It was then that the show started to become a topic of conversation in Parliament and Margaret Thatcher's saying the show was her favorite program sealed its success. After three years the writers felt it had run its course, but the BBC were desperate for more episodes, so the writers complied and made Hacker Prime Minister.

Derek Fowlds
Fowlds and Geoffrey Hughes in
Heartbeat.

Yes, Prime Minister ran for two seasons and after it finished Fowlds managed to work pretty steadily in one TV series or another. Then in 1992 he was cast in the police drama series Heartbeat. Fowlds appeared as Oscar Blaketon in all 342 episodes of the show which ran until 2009 and is a series we've aired on MPT. It's hard to imagine either Bernard or Oscar being married, but in real life Fowlds has been married three times. His first marriage was to the glamorous actress Adrienne Corri, about which not a lot is known. His second marriage to Wendy Tory, with whom he raised two children, James and Jeremy, ended in 1973, but the couple remained friends. In fact, it was Corri who introduced Fowlds to his current partner Jo, who he has been with for over thirty years. A retired schoolteacher, with three grown-up children of her own, Jo has what Fowlds describes as a "wonderful cynical sense of humor". She also refuses to get caught up in the trappings of being a celebrity's wife and as Fowlds puts it "thinks that actors are a bunch of wallies".

Derek Fowlds
Adrienne Corri.

In 1974 Fowlds married dancer and children's television show presentation, Leslie Judd. That marriage last four years on paper, but in reality was over in just a few weeks, after Judd realized it "wouldn't work".

Next week we'll look Yes, Minister's Nigel Hawthorne. In the meantime, you can see the series, Tuesdays afternoons at 1pm on MPTs 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 January 21, 2013:
Yes, Minister's Paul Eddington, part two

 

Paul Eddington
Eddington.

Last week we were "chatting" about Paul Eddington, who stars as Jim Hacker in Yes, Minister, one of Britain's best loved comedy series, which now airs on Afternoon Tea Tuesdays at 1pm. Eddington's success in that series, and the subsequent follow up, Yes, Prime Minister, came despite his debilitating health problems.

Eddington's health issues had first arose back in 1958 when he was 31 and started to experience a mysterious leg pain. It couldn't have come at a worse time for the struggling actor and his wife who had just given birth to their second son, Hugo. Added to which, Eddington's mother died before he got a chance to say "goodbye". By the time his third son, Dominic, was born, Eddington's leg pain had worsened and he was starting to find walking difficult. It was discovered that Eddington had a form of arthritis that eventually fuses the bones together. The subsequent radiation therapy didn't prevent Eddington from working.

Paul Eddington
Eddington.

After appearing in the film Jetstream, and working in a couple of shows in London's West End, in 1962 Eddington took over the helm at the Old Vic Theatre Company in Bristol. A year later he was back in the West End and not long after saw the birth of his fourth child and first daughter, Gemma. The health problems continued and Eddington began to experience blackouts while on stage where for a moment he couldn't figure out what the next line was, or what he was even doing on stage. The situation became so unbearable for the hard working actor that at one point he almost quit acting. Eventually he made it through the run of the play he was in, albeit with a confidence level that had been shaken to the core.

Around the same time that the blackouts had started, Eddington's arthritis pain increased, and he also started noticing strange red marks in various place on his skin. It did not, however, prevent him from working and in 1968 and the age of 41 he performed in a brand new play called, coincidentally, Forty Years On, starring opposite Sir John Gielgud.

In 1975 Paul got his first chance at a TV comedy role when he was given and accepted the opportunity to star as Jerry Ledbetter in Good Neighbors. Known as The Good Life in the UK, the show starred Richard Briers, Penelope Keith and Felicity Kendall, all of whom he already knew before filming began. The four stars of the show, who were close friends off the screen as well as on, were astounded when the show ended up being an international success; airing in sixty countries.

Paul Eddington
Nigel Hawthorne and Paul Eddington
with one of Yes, Minister's
biggest fans, Margaret Thatcher.

At the conclusion of the series, Eddington returned to the stage, until the writer of Good Neighbors asked if he'd look over a script for a new sitcom called Yes, Minister. When he first read the script, Eddington saw himself in the role of Humphrey, but instead he was encouraged to take the role of Jim Hacker. The show was a huge success, but Eddington's health problems increased and doctors found that he was suffering not only from the radiation treatments he'd been receiving, but also had a lingering case of TB.

Eddington refused to give into his ailments and started to venture into other fields such as voice over work, in which he was encouraged by his good friends Penelope Keith and Richard Briars. He also kept up his television and stage work, which included a three year stint in the play Noises Off. While working on Noises Off, Eddington also began work on Yes, Prime Minister; the sequel to Yes, Minister. It was while recording Yes, Prime Minister that Eddington was diagnosed as having cutaneous T cell lymphoma, a type of haematological cancer that affects the skin. Like the steadfast tin soldier, Eddington continued to perform, keeping his illness a secret from all but his friends and co-stars.

Paul Eddington
Paul with his wife Patricia at
Buckingham Palace after he was
invested with the CBE by the Queen.

Yes, Prime Minister ran from 1986 to 1988 and in 1987 Eddington was made a Commander of the British Empire, receiving his CBE medal directly from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. At the conclusion of the last series, Eddington went to Australia to direct and perform in a production of HMS Pinafore. When he returned to England it was business as usual for Eddington and he continued to work on stage, did some voiceover work and made a miniseries playing a one-legged child molester in The Camomile Lawn with his Good Neighbors friend, Felicity Kendal.

Richard Briers appeared with Eddington in his last stage show; a play called Home about two old men sitting around chatting. After Eddington got sick on stage, the tabloids realized something was wrong and he and his wife's home became a hotbed for inquisitive reporters.

Eddington's last television role was as Justice Shallow in the 1995 adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry IV. The show aired a week before Eddington's death and five days before he died, he made a moving appearance in a television documentary discussing his life, career and disease. In the show Eddington recalled that he was once asked by a journalist what he would like his epitaph to be. In response the lifelong Quaker and pacifist responded that he would like it to "He did very little harm".

Paul Eddington, CBE died on November 4, 1995.

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 14, 2013:
Yes, Minister's Paul Eddington

 

Paul Eddington
Eddington (right) with Derek Fowlds
in Yes, Minister.

So, how are you liking Yes, Minister, the new addition to our Afternoon Tea line-up?

Although Eddington, who plays Jim Hacker in Yes, Minister, had been a working actor all his life, it wasn't until he was in his late 40s, when he was cast in Good Neighbors (known as The Good Life in the UK) as Jerry that he became a household name.

Born in Oxfordshire on June 18, 1927, Eddington was a descendent of the founder of the Religious Society of Friends; known as the Quakers. His Irish Catholic mother was born in a workhouse that her parents ran in Leek, Staffordshire and his father was an engineering draftsman until WWI when he joined an artillery division stationed in northern France. Eddington's maternal grandmother would die in an asylum, where she was committed after passing out at a party, following one of her many drinking binges.

Paul Eddington
A very young – and very blonde –
Eddington in The Avengers.

Eddington's parents met at the Savoy Hotel in London, where his mother was working and his father was staying during a trip home from France. They separated when Eddington was 15 with his mother getting custody of him and his sister, although Eddington hadn't lived at home for a while. He had been sent to the countryside to live with an aunt while he attended the Quaker boarding school as a day-boarder.

During his time at school, war broke out, food was scarce and Eddington contracted TB. To supplement the meager food rations at the school, Eddington and his classmates would forage for food in the surrounding fields. Life at the school was bleak; not only were the children undernourished, but it was extremely cold. To keep warm, the young Eddington would sneak off to the airing cupboard, where he'd read PG Wodehouse by torchlight under the blankets. The one bright spot at school was Mrs. Burgess who introduced Eddington to drama; his first play being The Wind in the Willows.

Paul Eddington
Patricia Routledge and Eddington in
Noises Off at the Lyric Hammersmith
in 1982.

After leaving school, Eddington went to work as a window dresser at a department store. His school stage experience though had lit a fire that couldn't be extinguished and he soon decided to trade in his job for one in the acting world. He went to The Crescent Theatre in Birmingham, knocked on the door and informed the man who answered it that he would like a job. Eddington's unorthodox job seeking method worked and he was invited in and given stage managing chores and other tasks. It was while at The Crescent that someone suggested to Eddington that he consider joining the "ENSA" – "The Entertainers National Service", an organization that provided entertainment for the British armed forces. Eddington joined ENSA as an assistant to the assistant stage manager, but once it was discovered that he was a pacifist and had registered as a Conscientious Objector, based on his Quaker faith, he was asked to leave.

Using the same direct method that he'd used at The Crescent Theatre, Eddington went to The Birmingham Repetory Theatre, knocked at the door, and asked for a job. Once again, it worked and he was offered the job as an assistant stage manager. It wasn't long though before Eddington was appearing on stage, playing "George" in Our Town. From there it was onto the rep in Sheffield, then to the rep in Worthing for a production of Macbeth, in which he played "Malcom". Appearing as a witch in that production was an attractive brunette from Devonshire. She had brown eyes, a creamy complexion and her name was Patricia "Trisha" Scott. She would become Eddington's life-long wife and mother of his four children, but not until Eddington had applied to and got accepted on a full scholarship into London's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he trained alongside Joan Collins.

Paul Eddington
As Will Scarlett in the Robin Hood
television series.

After leaving the school Eddington became a member of the Old Vic in Bristol, but after he and Trish married in 1952, the couple moved to Ipswich, Suffolk, where they both got acting jobs at the city's repertory theatre. Their first son "Toby" was born in 1954, while Eddington was coincidentally appearing in Life With Father. After the baby was born, the newlyweds were so short on money that they had to break up the home, with Trisha taking the baby to Devon to stay with her parents, while Eddington got acting work in more populated areas. Fortunately, the separation didn't last too long, as Eddington got an agent and started to get television work, including The Adventures of Robin Hood, where he put his repertory skills to work, appearing every week for a year and a half as a different character. Eventually he would get the role of Will Scarlett which he played for another year and a half.

In 1958, when he was just 31, Eddington's health started the decline that would continue for almost forty years, until his death in 1995. We'll talk more about that and the more positive aspects of Eddington's life next week. In the meantime, you can see Eddington as Jim Hacker every Tuesday at 1pm, in Yes, Minister 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 January 7, 2013:
Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens

 

Dan Stevens
Dan Stevens.

What a splendidiforous kick-off to the third season of Downton Abbey! Finally we got to see Mary & Matthew tie the knot. I think Matthew clinched the prize for my most admired Downtoner when he asked Branson, or "Tom" as he's now known among the upstairs residents, to be his best man.

Dan Stevens who plays Matthew, was adopted at birth on October 10, 1982. He grew up in Wales alongside his younger brother, who was also adopted. Although not from a family of "means" - his parents were teachers – Stevens attended the private boarding school, Tonbridge School in Kent courtesy of a scholarship. It was there that he developed his upper class accent and an interest in acting.

Dan Stevens
With Rebecca Hall in As You Like It.

After leaving Tonbridge, Stevens studied English Literature at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he also became a member of the highly regarded Footlights Revue; a group of comic writers-performers. It was when Stevens was acting for the Marlowe Dramatic Society's production of Macbeth, in which he played the title role, that he was spotted by director Sir Peter Hall. Hall's daughter Rebecca was playing opposite Stevens as Lady Macbeth and Hall invited Stevens to join his company in 2005, where he cast him as Orlando in Shakespeare's As You Like It – again playing opposite Rebecca who played Rosalind.

Dan Stevens
As Edward Ferrars in
Sense & Sensibility.

Stevens put paid any ideas Hall might have had about pairing the couple up in real life, when the following year, he met and fell in love with South African jazz-vocalist, turned singing teacher, Susie Hariet, whom he met while they were both performing at different theatres in Sheffield. Regardless, Hall cast Stevens the same year, 2005, as the son of Peter Bowles and Dame Judi Dench, in Noel Coward's Hay Fever.

Steven's first major TV role also came in 2006 in a BBC mini-series, The Line of Beauty. Two years later he was attracting the eye of the ladies as the wood chopping, wet shirted Edward Ferrars in the BBC adaptation of Jane Austin's Sense & Sensibility.

Dan Stevens
With fellow Downton Abbey castmates
Joanne Froggatt, Elizabeth McGovern,
Sophie McShera and Hugh Bonneville.

Great works of literature and Stevens go hand in hand. Stevens writes a regular column for the Sunday Telegraph and is editor-at-large of Junket; a literary quarterly he co-founded. Last year he was chosen as one of five judges for the 2012 Man Booker Prize, the much coveted award given to the best novel written in English by a citizen of the British Commonwealth and Ireland. Stevens managed to juggle his judging duties and Downton filming by taking advantage of an e-reader, which he'd take onto the set with him and tuck into the back pocket of his vintage white tie and tails when it came time to shoot the scene.

"I'd be engrossed and they'd yell 'action' and I'd tuck the Kindle in it," Stevens recalled. "That didn't always go well with the cast. I was supposed to be engaged with a scene and I was engaged with a book instead."

Dan Stevens
With wife Susie Hariet.

The cast couldn't have been too upset with Stevens, because they recently turned out in full force to attend the 6 foot tall actor's Broadway debut in The Heiress, where he plays Morris Townsend, opposite actress Jessica Chastain. Being offered the opportunity of working on Broadway was one Stevens couldn't refuse and he promptly relocated his family – wife Susie, three year old daughter Willow and seven month old son Aubrey – to New York City.

The Heiress runs through February 10th at the Walter Kerr Theatre. If you're planning a trip to New York and get a chance to see Stevens, be sure to let me know what you think.

Downton Abbey airs on MPT 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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