I am a Londoner, born and bred. Until recently, I had no idea about the family history in my other pages.
I was born in St. John’s Wood in a private nursing home, and the family house was in Crescent Grove, SW4 – a battered crescent of handsome late Georgian houses built for the ladies-in-waiting of Queen Charlotte, as far as I recall.
We left Crescent Grove in 1963 – just after I started school – and moved to Station Road, Barnes, SW13, where we stayed for 20 years. My first school was Glengyle Preparatory School for Boys in Carlton Drive, Putney, SW15.
At the age of 9, I was sent to Colet Court (St Paul’s Preparatory School), which was at that time (1967) still housed in handsome Victorian red-brick buildings in Hammersmith – Colet Court on one side of the road, and St Paul’s on the other, brooding at the end of its driveway.
Colet Court was an interesting and largely enjoyable experience, thanks in the main to one of the form masters, the always bright and good-humoured Alan Bateman (his initials ‘AJSB’ graced many an exercise book.) This lively and stylish young man had the knack of inspiring creativity, and I don’t think any of us have ever forgotten him. As a class, we were very sorry when he left to take up a post in Canada, but the Canadians will have benefited enormously. He now lives and works in Kenya, where he has been a headmaster for many years.
Mr Bateman – always known affectionately as ‘Batman’ – was often responsible for ‘The Colet Court Play’ – an annual event which I was desperate to be part of. I was eventually cast as Little Buttercup in H.M.S. Pinafore – which suited my hystrionic tendencies, but probably did nothing to further the reputation of Coletine drama. The performance still exists on an LP – somewhere. Probably very scratched, and virtually unplayable. Just as well.
After leaving the senior school, St. Paul’s, I studied drama, and graduated with honours. I decided to specialise in puppetry, which seemed to be a good way of never being typecast and/or doomed to a life mainly out of work.
My professional writing credits began with the BBC’s long-running series ‘Morning Story’ – only 15 minutes of fame, but it was a start.
The first four years of my performing career were spent with a touring children’s theatre company, the excellent Playboard Puppets, playing everything from a tortoise to a granny. Going ‘freelance’ then meant a year out of work – during which time I made ends meet by being a journalist, writing about British TV programmes and their stars for several European and worldwide publications.
I then became one of the two leading characters in a series for BBC Schools called YOU AND ME … My character’s name was Dibs – or the yellow one, as he was known to those who could never remember the names. The rather downtrodden Dibs, and his opposite number, the gruff-voiced Cosmo, carried on exploring life’s little ups and downs for eleven years. There’s a bit more about it in the main blog.
My credits include the Psammead in the BBC’s teatime classic children’s drama FIVE CHILDREN AND IT, the Phoenix in THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET, the evil Sybil Sludge in THE SPOOKS OF BOTTLE BAY, and the March Hare in Hallmark Films’ version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, which boasted a cast more star-studded than the Milky Way.
I featured as ‘The Head’ in ITV’S ART ATTACK and ART ATTACK INTERNATIONAL for many years, and also co-wrote and performed three series (78 half-hours) of BUG ALERT! for Channel 4 and ITV. I even became an icon of sorts when I inherited the role of SWEEP in SOOTY. This involved having to squeak a lot, and frequently get covered in custard.
Other series included PANIC STATION, SPITTING IMAGE, MOTORMOUTH, GROTBAGS, MORTIMER AND ARABEL, JAYS’ WORLD, BEACHCOMBER BAY, GOPHERS!, and many more over 20 years.
I also teach personal presentation and speaking skills – for anyone who wants to develop the way they come across in public. Clients could be performers, business executives, interview candidates who need a confidence-booster – or dad who has to speak at his daughter’s wedding.
After lecturing on communication to the Business Studies students at Middlesex University, I was asked to take part in the Reality Show AMERICAN PRINCESS for Granada/NBC, which involved helping to turn ten American girls from all walks of life into young ladies.
I was responsible for their public speaking and elocution, being a kind of Henry Higgins to their Eliza Doolittles. The role was repeated for AUSTRALIAN PRINCESS, and AMERICAN PRINCESS II.
Recent projects include narrating two 10-part series: B & B THE BEST (for BBC TV), followed by ROSEMARY SHRAGER’S KITCHEN SHOWDOWN (for ITV Daytime), and appearing on THE PAUL O’GRADY SHOW – teaching Paul to ‘speak proper’!
I also appeared as Thomas Becket in TS Eliot’s MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL. The production celebrated the 75th anniversary of the play’s premiere, and was – like the 1935 original – mounted by Radius (The Religious Drama Society of Great Britain.)
It was staged in the tiny 13th century Sussex church of St Mary, North Stoke, and was directed by Brian E. Cook. The following year, I was asked to take part in a performance of readings celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, and recently played a variety of roles in SHAKESPEARE SOUP – a revue about the Bard and all his works.
FATHER NANDRU AND THE WOLVES was premiered at Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End of London. A folk-play written in verse by Julian Garner, the show featured gigantic wolves, puppets of all shapes and sizes, musicians and actors, and told the story of a village community in the last days of Ceaucescu’s Romania. It was a pleasure to be part of it …