Ready to go on

Friday, 22 April 2011

More from Plymouth

On Thursday this week we reached the halfway point in our tour. Yes, I'm a bit surprised by that as well. We started rehearsing the play on January 4th so we have actually been involved with this project for the whole year and by the time we finish the London run it will be the middle of September.

This is the longest job I've ever done! I've been acting for thirty years so far and in all that time I've never been involved in something that went on for as long as this will. I'm used to that. It doesn't worry me that most jobs I've done have been short term. Luckily there has always seemed to be another one to get on with. I say 'luckily' because I am aware of how lucky I've been in my career. I have many friends who are just as good, if not better than me, at acting and they, unfairly, struggle to get enough work. I should imagine that it is because I have always been a Jack of all trades (and, yes, a master of none). I've spread my talent thinly over all areas of the profession, from panto to Shakespeare, with quite a lot of advertising and corporate work in between. It's been my choice and I've enjoyed it. Basically, I just like working.

However, if I have to face this difficult point in the tour, there can't really be a better place than Plymouth to do it in. Especially when the weather is so glorious?

I drove up on to Dartmoor today, wending my way through high hedged lanes reminiscent of how I imagine the countryside during the Second World War. Empty, peaceful, wild flowers everywhere; beautiful. They remind me of the rambles we went on when I was a child. I know I've already written about my childhood holidays this week but I find myself constantly thinking back to them as I slowly travel around the Devon countryside in my little open top car.

I was thinking today about a week that my brothers and I spent with my dad on the South coast in the late sixties. Someone had loaned my dad a caravan and we faced spending a boring week in it with only a rather shabby, nearby beach for fun.

However, next door to our rather barren camp site was a holiday park with chalets, an entertainment centre, a large swimming pool and a huge dining hall. Shangrila to us boys. We arrived at the camping site on the Saturday and were told to get changed in to our costumes and to wet our hair. We grabbed towels and walked towards the gated entrance to the 'exclusive' holiday camp.

Now, my dad was never one to spend money when it was unnecessary. I can't imagine that the holiday camp was terribly expensive for a weeks stay but it was too pricey for my dad to waste his money on. Especially when he believed that, with a bit of bottle, we could stay there for the week for free.

As we approached the manned gate we struck up a song and my father cheerily waved to the man in the hut next to the gate. He wore a uniform so he was important. "Been to the beach, have we?" the gate keeper enquired. "Yeah," my dad replied, "but these lot are soft. They say they prefer the pool!". He gave the gate keeper a conspiratorial raise of the eyebrows, smiled, and said, "Same thing every year! Still, good to see you again, John." "Fred." the man replied. "Fred!! Of course! Silly me." retorted my dad. "Have a pleasant stay, sir." Fred said, as he raised the gate.

First hurdle negotiated successfully. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing by the pool as dad wandered around and made himself known to everyone. He was very good at being the life and soul, and soon had a large crowd around him, laughing at his stories. Eventually he told us boys that we had to get changed for dinner and we gathered our towels and bags and headed of to the chalet area where we changed in the public loo.

Next hurdle was dinner. Surely this was pushing it? But not for my dad. We entered the dinning hall as if we had been staying there all our lives. "Chalet number?", the receptionist asked. We didn't have a chalet, of course, but my dad had spotted an empty one and gave the girl the number. She ticked it off and we were shown to our table where we enjoyed a three course dinner. This was our table now and we would have it for the week. But how were we going to get back to the caravan late at night without Fred suspecting us?

My dad had that sorted. He had found a side gate that you could leave by, but which wouldn't let you back in. He would leave by that every night with us in tow, as if we were going on a raid, and then walk back in through the gate the next morning with a newspaper under his arm just in time for breakfast."Got to work up an appetite." he would call to Fred.

That was the pattern of the week. A free meal at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Entertainment every evening, swimming every day and a short stroll back to the caravan at night as everyone else retired to their chalets.

That was the plan. My dad did his song. Told his jokes. And on cue, I tugged at his coat. "What do you want," he said, "You're ruining my act!" I steadied myself and said, "'Ere Mister? Have you seen what your sons doing off the top diving board?". Gag ruined. My career in tatters. Fortunately my dad turned it in to a very funny routine where he explained to me in a stage whisper what I'd done wrong, rehearsed the right lines with me, and then got me to do it properly. When I finally delivered the gag correctly the place erupted.

So that was our very enjoyable, free holiday. It seems a bit mad now, and a lot of fuss to save a small amount of money. But it was thrilling at the time. We were undercover agents.

This was, of course, fraud. And my dad was a highly respected lawyer who risked a criminal record. He had some bloody nerve though, didn't he?


This memory may well be a combination of a number of events but to me it's totally true. Each element of it is anyway. We all slightly edited the past, don't we? This is how I remember the times with my dad. And I like it!


  1. tut tut! the criminal element......great story though Mike, thanks for sharing....I miss my dad now that he's no longer with us....should have told him so whilst he was still here! Seeya soon mate

  2. That's a wonderful story, Mike. What an adventure, and what memories! Glad you're getting some lovely weather for exploring the south-west.

    Sophie xx