Tea Time Tidbits 2014 • April-December
July 7: Vicious
April 21: Bob Larbey
April 14: Prunella Scales
Tea Time Tidbits: January-March 2014

Week of March 31, 2014:
Antiques Roadshow UK's Fiona Bruce

There have been an assortment of Antiques Roadshow UK presenters over the years, all with varying styles and personalities. A particular favorite of mine is Fiona Bruce.

Fiona Bruce
Fiona Bruce.

I was surprised to learn that the Singapore born Bruce got her start in the media world while she was still in high school modeling for photo stories in a magazine I used to read as a teenager called Jackie. After leaving high school, Bruce attended Hertford College, Oxford where she studied languages and became for a while a punk rocker! It was a phase that didn't last very long, but at one point she died her hair blue! On graduating, Bruce got a job in a management consultant business, but found it so dull and boring that she'd spend her days crying in the bathrooms, so left after just a year.

Bruce's next job was for an advertizing agency. It proved a lot more successful. Not only did she stay two years, but it was there that she met her future husband. The couple married in July 1994 and have two children. The ad agency was also where Bruce met the editor of one of the BBC's most popular documentary programs, Panorama, who she eventually persuaded to give her a job as a researcher on the program. That was in 1989. It didn't take Bruce long before she was assistant producer and by 1992 she took a job in front of the camera as a reporter for Breakfast News.

Fiona Bruce
Fiona Bruce and her children.

For the next few years, Bruce appeared as a presenter and reporter for a number of BBC news programs, include Crimewatch. Her hosting the show just 16 days after giving birth to her second child caused somewhat of an uproar. Fortunately the uproar was short lived and didn't prevent her in 2000 from becoming the first woman to present the BBC News at Ten.

A few years ago Bruce made news while reading the news, when her wearing of a small cross necklace became the subject of public debate. The BBC News department initially argued that Bruce, nor any of their on-screen presenters, should be allowed to wear anything which points to their political or religious leaning. For a while Bruce removed her cross but went back to wearing it again without too much fuss being made.

Bruce took over as presenter of Antiques Roadshow UK in 2008 after Michael Aspell retired.

If there's anyone you'd like to see featured on Tea Time Tidbits 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

divider

Week of March 24, 2014:
Call the Midwife: Season 3

Not long now until we welcome the return of Call the Midwife to our Sunday night line-up of programs! Season 3 gets underway on Sunday, March 30th at 8pm, when the midwives bike back onto our screens.

Call the Midwife: Season 3
Filming a bicycling scene.

The 1950s style bicycles with the large baskets are as essential to capturing the flavor of the times in which the show is set, as the songs we hear played in the background. The baskets of course were a vital accessory to the midwives of the time, as they were needed to carry their large leather bags which contained the necessary equipment for conducting a home birth delivery.

The baskets weren't, however, big enough to transport the newly introduced special apparatus through which gas and air was inhaled to ease the pain of child birth. The apparatus was far too cumbersome. So in 1959, when Season 3 begins, a motion was brought up in Parliament that midwives be provided with cars instead of bikes. The Minister of Health turned down the petition maintaining that it was a "question for local authorities". Not long afterwards home births gave way to hospital births and the bike riding midwife became virtually obsolete.

Call the Midwife: Season 3

During the 1960s one in three births took place at home, but by the Seventies, the majority of births were in hospitals. Unlike today, however, fathers-to-be were banned from the delivery room. Also different today are the attitudes towards unmarried mothers, who at one time were segregated from the married mothers and their newborns.

The outfits worn by the midwives also went through a change during the 1960s. They were allowed to wear trousers as part of their uniform. Uniform rules still remained strict and included a set color for stockings (grey) and shoes (black).

Call the Midwife: Season 3
The contents of a midwife's bag.

As you can tell, a great deal of attention is given to making Call the Midwife as accurate as possible period-wise. In fact, some of the medical equipment used in the show is so old that the actors have to be especially careful. The blood pressure measuring devices for instance date back to World War II. Even the badges you see pinned to the uniforms are authentic State Certified Midwife badges, borrowed from retired midwives. The newspapers which protect the mattresses during delivery are also actually from the 1950s, as is the vintage clothing – including the midwives underwear.

Call the Midwife: Season 3
1960s midwives.

"It was stockings and suspenders, big knickers, petticoats, conical bras...the whole lot", says actress Helen George who plays Trixie. "It meant it took ages to get dressed. I got sick of putting them on at six o'clock every morning. It wasn't just like pulling on a pair of pants. It's a whole mission to get them on and get them done up. I had to stuff my bras with tissue paper too, to get that proper pointy shape and make them stick up. And going to the loo was a nightmare. You have to take three things off and then put them all back on again."

George isn't the only "midwife" who has trouble with her costume. For Miranda Hart who plays Chummy the seamed tights proved somewhat of a challenge.

"Every morning I get in a muddle putting them on getting the line right at the back, laddering them within seconds. Me and the tights are not friends", she says sounding just like the character she plays.

Call the Midwife returns to MPT Sunday, March 30th at 8pm.

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

divider

Week of March 17, 2014:
Afternoon Tea East?: Chichester Festival Theatre

Chichester Festival Theatre
Patricia Routledge.

If you're planning on going to England this year you might want to stop by the Chichester Festival Theatre in Sussex, for there you'll find some familiar faces. Zoë Wanamaker, (My Family, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and Poirot, Prime Suspect, Inspector Lewis); David Haig (Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders), Kevin Whately (Inspector Lewis, Inspector Morse, George Gently), Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey, Miss Marple); Dervla Kirwan (Ballykissangel, Dalziel & Pascoe); Imelda Staunton (Cranford, Midsomer Murders, David Copperfield) and last but by no means least, the indomitable Patricia Routledge (Keeping Up Appearances and Hetty Wainthropp Investigates). All of these actors will be appearing - sometimes together - in the shows that make up this year's festival.

Chichester Festival Theatre
Kevin Whately.

Routledge, who last month turned 85, is, according to the theatre's artistic director Jonathan Church, "firing on all cylinders!" She'll be appearing as Lady Markby in the Oscar Wilde play An Ideal Husband, which will run November 21-December 13. Routledge last appeared in Chichester in 1999, when she starred as Lady Bracknell in Wilde's classic comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest.

"She still has this incredible energy and connection with her audience", said Church about the woman whose portrayal of Hyacinth Bucket is known the world over. When Routledge took on the role of the audacious "Bucket Woman", she had no idea of the impact it would have on television audiences.

Chichester Festival Theatre
Penelope Wilton.

"She is an outrageous monster of a woman but monsters are great fun to be and play, aren't they?" says Routledge of the character we all love. It seems that most families have a Hyacinth in their midst. "Obviously", says Routledge, "they are all over the world. I only have to get into a London taxi and the driver will tell me that his family refers to his sister-in-law as Hyacinth Bucket. What has amazed me is that it's right across the social strata as well as the ages. My favorite letters are from eight-year-old lads who tell me, 'My dad and I have been laughing at a lady like you who lives across the street.'"

Chichester Festival Theatre
Zoë Wanamaker.

In 1996 Routledge gave up the role of Hyacinth to play retired crime-solving senior citizen Hetty Wainthropp; a character the actress knew long before she brought her to life on our TV screens. In 1988 she had been asked to read the novel Missing Persons by David Cook, on the BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime show. It was a 13 episode series and over time, Routledge became extremely interested in the book's protagonist, Hetty; an ordinary working-class sixty year old woman from the north of England who discovers she has a talent for sleuthing and becomes a private detective. The incidents in Cook's novel were based on his mother's own real-life experiences.

"It's a story full of encouragement, hope, determination and North Country humor", says Routledge. "It also flies the flag for the older generation by saying that there's life in them yet as, indeed, I knew with my own father and many other people close to me".

Chichester Festival Theatre
Dervla Kirwan.

Eighteen months after the radio show aired, Yorkshire Television broadcast a two-hour television adaptation of the novel, called Missing Persons, starring Routledge as Hetty. Despite talk of a weekly series, it was never followed through on. Then a few years later the BBC acquired the rights and asked Routledge if she'd be interested in making a series.

"I said to them, 'Yes, of course I'm interested, but then that sort of disappeared for a while the way these things often do. I'm not a great manipulator of my own career, so I wasn't about to go bang on the BBC's door and say, 'Look here, you've got to do this.'"

Chichester Festival Theatre
Imelda Staunton.

Eventually Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, co-written by Cook, arrived on the BBC in 1996. Twenty-seven episodes and four series later, despite the show's popularity among viewers, the BBC took the series off the air. An action which caused Routledge to go into full-blown Hyacinth mode.

"We were betrayed by the BBC," claimed the actress in a newspaper interview. "We finished series four of Hetty Wainthropp, we were told there was going to be series five. But no word ever came - how rude. The BBC is run by 10-year-old children."

Chichester Festival Theatre
David Haig.

You can see the formidable Bucket woman each and every weekday afternoon at 2pm on MPT.

Full details of the Chichester Theatre Festival can be found at www.cft.org.uk/festival-2014.

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

divider

Week of March 10, 2014:
Downton Abbey's Michael Benz

Michael Benz
Michael Benz as Hamlet at the
Folger Theatre, Washington DC.

Washington DC theatregoers might have recognized the young American valet Ethan, played by Michael Benz, in the last episode of Downton Abbey Season 4. The young actor appeared in the Shakespeare's Globe production of Hamlet at the Folger Theatre last season, playing the title role, for which he received a Helen Hayes Award nomination for Outstanding Actor in a play.

Being the toast of DC must have felt especially good to Benz, who earned a BA in Psychology and Theology from Georgetown University. When he graduated he won the department's top award for critical and creative scholarship, before moving to London to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Benz was actually born and raised in England; his parents had both moved to London over 30 years ago, and as such Benz holds dual citizenship.

Michael Benz
Paul Giamatti and Benz in Downton Abbey.

As a child, Benz attended The American School in London. It was there, in 1992, that Benz was "discovered" when casting directors visited the school seeking out a young blonde boy to replace a lead character on a popular children's sci-fi sitcom. After five or six auditions, the young fifth grader garnered the role of Mike in Mike and Angelo and went onto appear in 60 episodes over a period of five years (six seasons). While making the series, Benz also appeared as the title character in the 1995 BBC 6-part miniseries Little Lord Fauntleroy, which was adapted by none other than Downton Abbey creator and writer Julian Fellowes!

Michael Benz
Benz talking with students
at Georgetown University.

One of Benz's co-stars in Little Lord Fauntleroy was David Healy, the younger brother of a former Georgetown President. It was he who suggested to Benz that he ought to think about giving up acting for a while to attend university. Given that Benz's father had graduated from Georgetown and that his older brother Patrick had as well, it seemed a good idea. Of the six children in Benz's family, four would eventually study at Georgetown. His sister Kathleen also worked there for a while as an executive assistant to the associate provost. Sadly she was killed in a car accident in Alaska in May of 2010.

After graduating from RADA, Benz joined the Shakespeare's Globe, performing in several productions before he branched out to play major roles in other British theatres. Hopefully we'll be seeing more of Benz in future seasons of Downton Abbey.

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

divider

Week of March 3, 2014:
Ballykissangel's Robert Taylor

This week in response to a viewer's request, we're going to take a look at one of Australia's most respected film and television actors, Robert Taylor, who appears as Australian curate, Father Vincent Sheehan in Ballykissangel.

Robert Taylor
Robert Taylor.

Although born in Melbourne (in 1963), Taylor grew up in a Western Australian mining town, where he'd been sent to live with his aunt and uncle after his parents split up. In his teens, Taylor worked in the mines, then took on a series of odd jobs, and at 21 ran away to sea where he work on an oil rig for three years. Always harboring a "desire to do something different", the opportunity came when he was in hospital after being badly injured in a collision at sea. While there he saw an ad in the paper for auditions for Australia's prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. He went along, auditioned and much to his amazement was accepted.

After graduating, Taylor got acting work and then moved to the U.S. where among other things he was cast as Agent Jones in the film The Matrix. He also appeared in the 2000 thriller Vertical Limit, as well as NBC's 2005 Hercules film.

Robert Taylor
The cast of Ballykissangel.

Taylor was 40 when he auditioned for Ballykissangel; a show he'd heard of but didn't know much about except that it had a reputation for being a high quality show. Competing for the high-profile role were some big name Australian actors, but Taylor was cast based purely on an audition tape he'd submitted. Just two weeks after sending in the tape, he was on the Irish film set. On his first day at work, being somewhat of an unknown entity Taylor could tell that everyone was probably thinking "who's this guy? This Australian?" But he won them round and working on the show ended up being a great experience.

Taylor worked on Ballykissangel for two years, but still remained a relatively unknown actor here in the U.S. Then as he turned 50, he was cast in the title role in the A&E drama series Longmire, based on the Walt Longmire mystery novels by best-selling author Craig Johnson.

Robert Taylor
As Longmire.

Once again Taylor got the job after auditioning for the role by sending in a tape to Los Angeles from his home in Melbourne. Again, he was surprised when he landed the job, thinking that the role would go to a better-known contender. One of the reasons Taylor went for the job was the location in which the series is filmed: New Mexico. He'd been there three or four times before and loved it. On one of his visits he bought a silver belt buckle with a Hopi Indian design of a bear claw, which he's worn pretty much every day of his life since then. Like Taylor his character Walt Longmire wears the belt in every episode.

The actor and the character he plays also share another commonality; they both resist modern gadgets and fads. Taylor still uses a vintage cell-phone and someone else maintains his Facebook page.

"I was never comfortable doing all that self-promoting", explains Taylor, "I'm just happy to be working. I can pay my bills. I'm lucky."

Robert Taylor
Taylor's wife, Avisha Davis.

It looks like Taylor won't have to worry about paying bills for a while as Longmire was recently renewed for a third season. The 6' 3" tall actor, husband and father of a two year old daughter, has no desire to achieve star status. He prefers to keep a low profile. As long as he has a job in the profession he chose to enter 30 years ago he's happy.

If there's an actor you see on Afternoon Tea that 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

divider

Week of February 24, 2014:
Blackadder's Sir Tony Robinson

One of my all-time favorite Afternoon Tea series is Blackadder.

Sir Tony Robinson
Sir Tony Robinson.

Both Rowan Atkinson who plays Blackadder and Tony Robinson who plays his sniffling servant Baldrick, were recognized last year in the Queen's Birthday Honor's List. Atkinson was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire), while Robinson was...wait for it...knighted! Take that, Blackadder! For of course a knight trumps a commander in the British honors hierarchy.

While Atkinson's "gong" as they call it was for services to drama and charity, Robinson, now known as Sir Tony, received his knighthood for public and political service. The 66-year-old actor acknowledged his new title in typical humorous fashion. He promised to use his knighthood to not only highlight causes he believes in, such as the importance of culture, the arts and the plights of the infirm elderly and their carers, but to also "slaughter all unruly dragons, and rescue any damsels in distress who request my help."

Sir Tony Robinson
Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder
and Tony Robinson as Baldrick.

Following the conclusion of Blackadder, Robinson has certainly been keeping busy. He's penned 16 children's books, narrated numerous radio and television shows and produced several documentaries. For twenty years, until its cancellation last year, he also presented Time Team, a show devoted to archaeological investigations. In 2005, in recognition of what the show did for the public understanding of archaeology in the UK, Robinson, who left school at the age of 16, received an Honorary Doctorate from Exeter University. He added to his credentials in 2000, when he was awarded an honorary Masters of Arts degree from Bristol University for his services to theatre and archaeology. Robinson is also honorary president of the Young Archaeologists' Club of the Council for British Archaeology.

As well as history and education, Robinson is also passionate about politics. From 1996 to 2000, he was vice-president of the actors' union Equity and is credited with helping the organization recover from a shortfall of half a million pounds, to a surplus. In 2000 he was elected to the Labor Party's National Executive Committee; a position he held until 2004. He is also the patron for UK-based charity Street Child Africa and in 2011 he voiced his opposition of the Government spending cuts program, through his participating in the "'March for the Alternative" protests in Central London.

Sir Tony Robinson
Robinson with Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II,
at a Buckingham Palace Garden Party.

In 2006, to help promote the plight of the elderly and the people who care for them, when he produced and starred in Tony Robinson: Me and My Mum, a documentary about the difficulties he experienced in finding a nursing home for his mother. Both of Robinson's parents died with dementia and he works tirelessly as an ambassador for the Alzheimer's Society, not only helping to raise funds but by also launching the Society's Putting Care Right Campaign.

When asked by Prince William, who conducted Robinson's investiture ceremony whether there would ever be another Blackadder series, Sir Tony quipped "I don't know if we can afford Hugh Laurie." The 5' 4" actor then went onto offer the Duke of Cambridge a role in the show, should it ever return, to which Prince William apparently responded "yes" as he was a big fan!

If we hear of anything further on Sir Tony's casting coup I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, you can see Blackadder – minus Prince William – on Afternoon Tea, Friday's at 1pm.

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

divider

Week of February 17, 2014:
Call The Midwife's Judy Parfitt on her personal experience with dementia

Over and over again fans of Call The Midwife tell me that one of the reasons they love the show so much is that the actors never seem like they are acting. They are, of course, but Judy Parfitt who plays Sister Monica Joan, is probably able to relate somewhat more to her character than most, given that she witnessed her husband's steady decline into dementia for almost a decade.

Judy Parfitt
Judy Parfitt as Sister Monica Joan.

"Depicting Sister Monica Joan's condition is an extremely important aspect of the role to me", says Parfitt. "There's one obvious difference between my role on Call The Midwife and my real-life situation, though, because Sister Monica Joan is a nun, and therefore unmarried, what is impossible to convey in the series is the impact that dementia has on a marriage."

Parfitt met her husband, actor Tony Steedman, when they were both appearing in a play in Birmingham in 1960. Knowing that the 6ft tall Steedman had a mischievous sense of humor and was apt to make his fellow actors laugh on stage when they should haven't been, Parfitt was determined he wasn't going to get the better of her. He did though and three years later the couple were laughing together - all the way down the aisle.

Their son David was born in 1964 and the couple enjoyed a traditional marriage. Although gregarious and outgoing, like Sister Monica Joan, Steedman was never happier than when he was surrounded by his books, especially his many volumes of Shakespeare.

Parfitt first noticed signs that something was "wrong" when she was doing a sitcom in Los Angeles called The Charmings. Steedman, who was in his early 60s, had a guest appearance and no matter how hard he tried, he could not remember his lines. At the time, Parfitt didn't think much of it; learning lines had always been a struggle for her husband and Parfitt figured that maybe it was just becoming more of a problem with age.

Over the next four or five years, however, Steedman began to forget things more and more frequently. Whether it be where he'd put something, or something he'd done that day, or a particular word he was looking for. Parfitt continued to rationalize her husband's "absent-mindedness" as seemingly harmless. Sometimes it was even funny.

"One day I put my glasses on the coffee table in the living room and went into the kitchen", recalls Parfitt. "When I came back they weren't there. Tony came to help me find them and as we searched the room I looked up. There they were on his head. He'd been looking for them and he was wearing them. That did make me laugh."

As the years passed, Steedman's condition worsened and he would become more and more confused. Once when 400 miles into France while driving back to England after staying with friends in Spain, he became agitated and insisted on turning the car around as they'd missed the turning to their friends' villa. Parfitt had to explain that they'd said goodbye to their friends many hours previously and were well on the way home.

Steedman's increasing memory problems and confusion, eventually led the couple to start seeking a diagnosis. They learned he had vascular dementia, in which the brain cells die because the blood vessels stop working properly.

"About a year after the diagnosis, I lost him as a husband", said Parfitt. "This is why Alzheimer's is such a terrible disease, the body of the person you love is there but they've gone - your husband is gone - and they become your child and you have to look after them as you would a child."

Judy Parfitt
Judy & Tony when he was in his 60s.

Steedman lost the ability to read or write his name and Parfitt had to tie his shoelaces because he'd forgotten how to do it. A year before he died, Steedman was still well enough to accompany Parfitt to New York where she was appearing on Broadway. Worried about him getting lost in the city, Parfitt put a piece of paper in his jacket pocket with his name and address on it in case someone found him and needed to get him home.

The only positive aspects of Steedman's illness was that he didn't understand what was happening to him. For Parfitt, however, the loneliness was unbearable. As she explains, "If you're with somebody who has a serious illness you can usually talk to them, have a laugh every now and then - the person is still with you. With dementia there's no conversation, there's no togetherness, no sharing."

Sharing memories of her husband's last year is difficult for Parfitt. She prefers he be remembered as "the charming force of nature he'd been, not the shell he became".

Steedman's appearance had always been of upmost importance to him - he'd never leave the house unless he looked impeccable. During the last year of his life instead of Armani suits he had to wear pajamas or clothes that were easy to get on and off and he had to rely on his wife to bathe him and feed him. He also began to suffer from distressing hallucinations and would imagine there were strangers in the house. Fortunately, unlike many dementia sufferers, Steedman was never aggressive and to the end always recognized his wife and son.

During the last weeks of his life, Steedman forgot how to open his mouth and how to swallow. His not being able to eat meant he had to be admitted into hospital, but Parfitt was determined to care for her husband of almost 40 years at home and she brought him back after just a few days. A week later Steedman died, with Parfitt and their son David by his side.

Thirteen years after Steedman's death, he is still sorely missed. "Compared to him, other people seem so grey", says Parfitt, whose experience with dementia has left her determined to support an increase in funding for research into the disease.

Parfitt is also adamant about increasing the support for carers of people who have dementia and for raising the visibility of their plight.

"So the next time Sister Monica Joan does, or says, something strange on Call The Midwife", urges Parfitt, "think about those who have to live with this disease in real life, as well as the many thousands of spouses who have to watch their loved ones disappear down the dark corridor of dementia - but are utterly helpless to stop them."

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

divider

Week of February 10, 2014:
Sherlock writer and actor, Mark Gatiss

If, like me, you're a fan of Masterpiece Mystery Sherlock, you were probably awed by the incredible script writing of the most recent series. What you might not know though is that the scripts were co-written by an actor in the program: Mark Gatiss, who plays Mycroft Holmes.

The 6' 1", 47-year-old Gatiss is also the series chief scriptwriter and co-creator, along with Steven Moffat, with whom Gatiss collaborated with on creating scripts for Doctor Who; a series the pair were both obsessed with from a very young age.

Mark Gatiss
Co-Sherlock creators/writers
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.

The idea for Sherlock came about in 2009, when Gatiss and Moffat were returning to London by train from Cardiff, where they'd been working on Doctor Who. During the journey, they discovered they were both fans of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. As they conversed, Gatiss remarked on the coincidence that in 1881 when the first story appeared, Dr. John Watson was a war veteran who had been wounded in Afghanistan and how since nearly 130 years later, the British Army was once again fighting in the same place, there might be a modern-day Watson out there.

The simple remark, became what Gatiss calls "a lightbulb moment" as the two writers were inspired to create a younger, technologically-savvy version of Doyle's famous detective. The result was what has become one of the BBCs most critically acclaimed series. It's also one of the most popular. The last episode in the most recent series was particularly compelling as it also gave viewers a greater insight into the relationship between Sherlock and his brother Mycroft. Their love-hate relationship is something to which Gatiss can well relate.

Mark Gatiss
The cast of Sherlock.

Gatiss grew up in the village of School Aycliffe, north of Darlington in County Durham, where his father was a mining engineer. His mother worked across the road from where they lived, at a psychiatric hospital, once known as Aycliffe Colony for the Mentally Defective. After being laid off from the mine, his father went to work at the hospital as well. Gatiss' brother, Phillip was three years older than him and together the boys would spend so much time at their parents' place of work that it became like a second home. They'd get to swim in the hospital pool, have their hair cut by hospital staff and watch films in the small cinema.

Despite the time they spent together – or perhaps because of it – the boys detested each other. They fought constantly and Phillip's punching and bullying left the younger Gatiss with a hatred for his older sibling that has only recently healed.

"We never had anything in common," explains Gatiss. "He was painfully shy and found his expression in lashing out at people."

After decades of having barely anything to do with each other, the brothers recently reconciled. All thanks to another hit television series, Game of Thrones, which Gatiss will be appearing in as a banker called Tycho Nestoris. It's a show the older Gatiss brother, who now works as a postman, loves and he recently confessed to being "so excited" that his brother had been cast.

There's also some exciting news for Sherlock fans; a fourth and fifth series is apparently in the planning stages. Don't, however, expect to see it anytime soon.

"It might be another couple of years", explained Moffat. "It's not the kind of show that turns up all the time. It's just not. But the good news is, that probably means it will turn up sporadically for a very, very long while."

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

divider

Week of February 3, 2014:
Blackadder's Stephen Fry

Steven Fry
Fry as Malvolio & Mark Rylance
as Viola in Twelfth Night.

If you're a regular reader of these tidbits you'll know that most of the actors we see in the British programs MPT airs are trained for the stage and as such the standard they set is very high. Right now several British actors are appearing on Broadway, including, Blackadder's Stephen Fry. He appears at the Ambassador Theatre through February 16th as Malvolio in Twelfth Night. The all-male cast also features twice Tony award winner, Mark Rylance as Viola.

Although Twelfth Night is Fry's Broadway debut, he's been studying Shakespeare since a young man, when he was awarded a scholarship to study English literature at Queen's College, Cambridge.

Steven Fry
Stephen Fry with brother Roger
and baby sister Joanna.

Fry, who was born on August 24 1957, was brought up in Booton House, 11 miles from Norwich. His was an Edwardian-style childhood, living with his elder brother Roger and younger sister Joanna in the old house, which had no mains water supply. Drinking water from a well came via a tap a foot off the floor in the kitchen. Nor was there central heating. Fry's physicist father Alan was locally known as a "mad inventor", who could always be found hard at work in his "laboratory", a converted stable block in the yard. Fry's mother Marianne was equally eccentric and according to Fry her favorite saying was "never eat asparagus after Ascot".

Steven Fry
Fry's childhood home;
Booton House, near Norwich.

By the time he was a teenager, Fry became something of a rebel. He was expelled from two schools and even spent three months in prison for credit card fraud. Getting into Cambridge and earning a first class degree in Shakespeare was something he could only have dreamed of. Shakespeare became his passion and he thought the rest of his days would be spent wearing a tweed jacket sat in a corner somewhere writing about the world's greatest playwright. Instead while at Cambridge he met Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie and the rest as they say is history.

Steven Fry
Hugh Laurie & Stephen Fry
in Blackadder.

As well as being responsible for teaming Fry up with Laurie with whom he'd later create and appear in Jeeves and Wooster and A Bit Of Fry and Laurie, Cambridge also played a part in Fry's Blackadder character, Melchett. Namely, Melchett's "baah!" expression. The strange noise, was one of many Fry used, when working in student productions of Shakespeare at Queen's College. He did it back then in order to make the audiences laugh, and carried it over to his Blackadder role, where it has the same effect on television viewers.

Blackadder airs on Afternoon Tea, Friday afternoons at 1pm. If you have an actor 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

divider

Week of January 27, 2014:
Sherlock: Season 3

Sherlock
Una Stubbs and Benedict Cumberbatch.

So finally! Sherlock returns! How are you enjoying it? Well worth the wait, don't you think? One of the things I really enjoy watching in the show is the relationship between the enigmatic sleuth and his landlady. The way she mothers him is so very endearing.

Apparently, Una Stubbs, who plays Mrs. Hudson is as motherly towards Cumberbatch when filming the show as the character she plays in the series. But that's hardly surprising, given that the 76-year-old actress has known Cumberbatch since he was a small child. They used to live around the corner from each other and Stubbs was good friends with Cumberbatch's mother, Wanda Ventham, who is also an actress.

According to Stubbs, the young Cumberbatch was "very polite...a lovely boy."

Ventham and Cumberbatch's father, actor Timothy Carlton, were actually given roles in the season premiere of Sherlock: The Empty Hearse, playing his parents, Mr. & Mrs. Holmes. Sherlock writer Steven Moffat explained that he and Mark Gatiss, with whom he writes the show, like to keep things in the family so to speak. Moffat for instance is married to the producer of the show, one of the executive producers is his mother-in-law, and he and Gatiss are old friends. In addition to which, the real-life partner of actor Martin Freeman, who plays Watson, is Amanda Abbington, who was introduced in the first episode of the new series as Watson's on-screen fiancee, Mary Morstan.

Sherlock
Cumberbatch, as a baby and now, and his parents, Wanda Ventham and Timothy Carlton.

"The absolute fact is that once we came up with the idea, wouldn't it be funny for the first time ever in any Sherlock Holmes film if you could see mummy and daddy Sherlock, the fact is his parents are both actors, really good actors, so it was irresistible," explained Moffat. "That's the only gene combination that could result in anything as extraordinary as Benedict Cumberbatch - you wouldn't believe anyone else as his parents, so we had to cast them."

Sherlock
Mark Glatiss with Ventham and Carlton.

Although Ventham and Carlton only appear on screen for a couple of minutes, Cumberbatch confessed that filming the scenes was stressful. It was also rewarding.

"It was kind of nerve-wracking", said Cumberbatch. "They're actors, and they get nervous as well, and yet they were brilliant, they hit home runs, they were fantastic and it was lovely - really, really nice - to have them on set...It was really gorgeous, a very special feeling".

After a public screening of the premier in December, Cumberbatch confessed to the audience that while watching it he "nearly cried".

"I'm so proud of them," he said, "and I'm so proud of the reaction they got - and I think they're perfect casting as my parents!"

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

divider

Week of January 20, 2014:
Roger Lloyd-Pack: 1944-2014

On Wednesday, January 15th, actor Roger Lloyd-Pack died at his home in London after losing his battle with pancreatic cancer.

Roger Lloyd-Pack
Roger Lloyd-Pack in The Vicar of Dibley.

Lloyd-Pack was a familiar face to MPT's fans of British programming. He appeared as farmer Owen Newitt in The Vicar of Dibley, Phil Pratt in Doc Martin, and as Tom Finnan in Old Guys. He is best remembered in England, though, for playing Trigger in the long-running comedy series, Only Fools and Horses. His co-star in that show was Sir David Jason, who we know better as Granville in Open All Hours. On learning of his friend's passing, Jason recalled the good times they had together.

"I was very saddened to hear of Roger's passing", said Jason, who went onto describe his friend as a "quiet, kind, unassuming actor who was a pleasure to work with".

According to Jason, the 69 year old Lloyd-Pack was a "very intelligent man and a very fine actor capable of many roles".

Roger Lloyd-Pack
As Barty Crouch, Sr. in the film adaptation
of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Born into an acting family in north London, Lloyd-Pack's father Charles frequently starred in Hammer horror films. Lloyd-Pack's career, however, was a lot more diverse. He starred in everything from the comedies we've mentioned, to Shakespeare. A graduate of The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, Lloyd-Pack's training was in classical theatre and his early stage work included seasons with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Most recently he appeared as Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night and the Duke of Buckingham in Richard III in the acclaimed Globe Theatre productions which recently transferred to Broadway. He also recently appeared in the films Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Lloyd-Pack was decidedly not a fan of the attention brought him by his profession.

Roger Lloyd-Pack
With wife Jehane Markham and daughter Emily Lloyd.

"I think being an actor has been hard for my children", he said. "Although I was at home a lot, particularly when they were young, I think having a famous father is difficult. It can be embarrassing and annoying for the kids".

Although rarely out of work, Lloyd-Pack also found time to be politically active. He was a prominent campaigner for left-winger Ken Livingstone in his failed London Mayoral electoral bid in 2012.

Lloyd-Pack, who was surrounded by his family when he died, is survived by his wife poet, Jehane Markham, whom he married in 2000 and his children from his first marriage, sons Spencer, Hartley and Louis and daughter, actress Emily Lloyd.

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

divider

Week of January 13, 2014:
Horlicks and Garibaldis

If you're wondering what that special drink Chummy was serving to the ladies in the Call the Midwife Christmas Special was, wonder no more; it was Horlicks - a malt drink still popular in England, especially on blustery, cold evenings, when it is usually drunk before bedtime in the hopes of promoting a good night's sleep.

Horlicks
Horlicks.

Although a staple in most British pantries, Horlicks was in fact invented in the U.S. by ex-patriot William Horlick who emigrated to Chicago from Gloucester in 1869. His brother James followed not long after and in 1873, the two founded J & W Horlicks with the intention of manufacturing an artificial infant food. Within two years they'd moved to larger premises in Racine, Wisconsin, but it would take another eight years before William was granted a patent for the first ever malted milk drink, which was made by mixing powder with water. In 1890, James moved back to England and began importing the US-made product, where it became a must have provision for North and South Pole explorers Robert Peary, Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott.

By the time of James' death, in 1921, Horlicks was the go-to drink when you wanted to get a good night's sleep. Whether it did in fact help has not been proved, but lately Horlicks has become the drink of choice for today's generation of stressed-out, sleep-deprived workaholics.

Garibaldi biscuits
Garibaldi biscuits.

Something else mentioned in the Call the Midwife Christmas Special was Garibaldi biscuits – or as they are known in England, "squashed fly" biscuits. Even older than Horlicks, Garibaldis were invented in 1861 by well-known London based biscuit company Peak Freans.

Odd sounding food and drink items frequently crop up in the British shows we enjoy on MPT; if there's a particular item 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

divider

Week of January 6, 2014:
May to December

One of the things I so enjoy about many of our Afternoon Tea shows are the theme tunes. Sometimes you find yourself humming the tunes long after the show's finished.

May to December
Anton Rodgers as Alec Callender
and Lesley Dunlop as Zoe Angell.

The May to December theme tune is the Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson song "September Song" which was made popular through the 1950 film, September Affair, starring Joan Fontaine Joseph Cotton. The titles of each May to December episode are all taken from songs. Most are from musicals, reflecting Alec and Zoe's mutual interest, but musicals were also a passion of series creator Paul Mendelson who, like Alec, was a big fan of Perry Mason.

Mendelson made Alec Scottish after the nationality of his own father and Zoe was named after one of his daughters. Zoe's occupation of teacher is something she has in common with Mendelson's own wife. May to December was Mendelson's first work for television and was inspired by his observations when working in a family law firm after graduating from Cambridge University in 1972. The series was even set in Mendelson's own home town of Pinner; a pretty Tudor commuter-village to the north-west of London.

May to December
Series creator
Paul Mendelson.

The reason there were so many similarities between the series and Mendelson's own life was simple – he was working full time as an advertising account executive and "needed to write about something that required very little research". The first two series were written on the tube to and from work, or at nights, even in the restroom of the agency he worked at - as Mendelson put it "my incontinence was legendary"!

May to December ran for six series from 1984 to 1992. It returned to the BBC in 1998, in radio form, and was a recreation of the first series. Mendelson was hired as script writer and the radio series featured most of the actors from the television series, including Leslie Dunlop, who played Zoe in series 3-6.

You can see May to December, Tuesdays at 1pm on Afternoon Tea. If there's a show you'd like to find out more about, or an actor, let me know 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