1.When did you first Act? And what was it in?
My first job was at Frinton-on-sea in weekly rep. We did nine plays over the summer and I got paid £18.00 a week. As well as acting, I also helped with set-painting, recording sound effects and operating the lighting board (badly). I don’t remember sleeping much but I do remember having a hell of a lot of fun.
2.What or who was your greatest inspiration?
Sometime back in the sixties, I remember standing in the wings at the Palladium, watching my father sing Nessun Dorma, alone in a spotlight on that vast stage. I could also see the first few rows of the stalls and I remember their rapt faces, staring up at him in silent wonder. It seemed like a kind of magic and I thought then that I had to somehow get involved in theatre. Not on the stage – that seemed far too scary back then. It took an English teacher, Mr. Cairncross, to finally get me on stage. Despite my desperate pleading, he had cast me in the comedy role in the school play. Come the first night, I was waiting nervously in the wings to make my entrance. I heard my cue and froze – too terrified to go on. Mr Cairncross came up behind me and shoved me on stage. In my shock and confusion, I fell over. As I struggled to my feet I heard a strange and wonderful noise – laughter. I fell over again – more laughter. A small lightbulb clicked on in my head, This is fun, I thought. I’m afraid it’s been downhill ever since…
3.What professional training have you had? Do you think it was relevant?
I did the three year acting course at the Central School of Speech and Drama. It was the only drama school I applied to, as RADA seemed far too serious and frightening and the others, to my mind, lacked the requisite kudos (things have changed since then). I was fortunate to be offered a place and all I can say about the course is that I had a ball. I learned how to make myself heard in a large theatre without losing my voice and always to find my light. Apart from that, I have no idea if I learned anything at all – in this business you learn more from experience than anything else – but I enjoyed myself mightily.
4.What has been your favourite part/play/production etc?
Mr Gillie is by far the best part I have ever had. Other work has paid more, been more glamorous, but this is by far the meatiest, most challenging part I’ve ever attempted. Squire Burdock in The Invisible Man, the show in which I met my wife, comes a close second.
5.What has been the most wonderful thing you’ve seen on the pub theatre circuit?
I recently went to see Birthday Suit by the brilliant David K Barnes [Old Red Lion Theatre January 2017]. The evening was a total delight.
6.Pub theatre is having something of a renaissance. Why do think this is?
The West End now presents, for the most part, a thin diet of musicals and star vehicles. And don’t get me started about ticket prices! Pub theatre offers much more challenging, satisfying fare. Since rep companies are now a thing of the past, pub theatre also offers the opportunity for young actors and writers to learn their craft and gives more established actors the chance to play roles they would not otherwise be offered. It is also makes it possible for a family to see a show without having to take out a mortgage.
7.Where would you like to be in ten years time?
On a beach somewhere exotic, possibly Barbados, with a rum punch in my hand and a season at the National Theatre to come back to.
8.Tell us something about yourself that nobody else would know?
I’ve always wanted to be a racing driver.
9.What is the song that most moves you?
My dad singing Nessun Dorma.
10.Musical, comedy, drama? What would you choose?
Why do I have to choose? I love them all.
11.The crime you would carry out if you could get away with it?
Digging a secret tunnel into the cellars of Chateau Haut Brion.
12.The happiest moment of your life?
Christmas in Barbados.
13.The saddest moment of your life?
My father’s funeral.
14.What historical figures would you invite to a dinner party?
I thought about inviting Shakespeare, but, like most writers of my acquaintance, he would probably be a poor guest – observing rather than contributing to the evening. Dickens would probably be fun and full of stories, as long as we could find a way to shut him up before he got boring. It might be fun to banter with Oscar Wilde and swap acting stories with Spencer Tracy and Ralph Richardson, and have Dorothy Parker on hand to take down anyone who got above themselves with a well-aimed ascetic barb. I think I would sit Laurel and Hardy at the head of the table. And Noel Coward could provide the entertainment.
15.How would you like to be remembered?
With my friends and family, enjoying a good meal and a glass of wine.
Andy Secombe with Emma D'Inverno in MR GILLIE
MR GILLIE by James Bridie
Village headmaster William Gillie is killed by the furniture van coming to take away his possessions, as he is being evicted from his home when his school is closed down. He has spent his entire teaching career fighting the Education Board’s narrow idea of schooling, trying to inspire his pupils to strive for great creative lives. Having lost his school and his home and with none of his pupils quite finding the wings to fly free, his life is examined by a heavenly Procurator and Judge. For all his efforts to inspire great artistic freedom, did he actually achieve anything in his life? Or is the very act of trying and hoping enough?
Mr Gillie was first produced at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, in 1950, starring Bridie’s regular collaborator Alistair Sim; transferred to the Garrick Theatre in London for a successful West End run and was subsequently filmed by Tyrone Guthrie for the BBC.
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