|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: November 13, 2002
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
You learnt a lot from - off the set, from talking to other actors. Actually on the set of 'The Desert Rats', what did you learn there?
Oh, again it was the, the discipline of the very experienced actors. The not mucking about on the set. A little gentle jokes [sic] and things too. But there were some very distinguished actors in 'The Desert Rats' like Robert Newton, the great English actor. And he and Richard had known each other in London anyway I think and he was playing Richard Burton's old schoolmaster who suddenly turns up in an Australian battle unit in the defence of Tobruk. And I just loved all that. There were a lot of English actors working in the film, pretending, hoping to do Australian accents and things, not terribly successfully. But quite a few Aussies like John O'Malley was there, Michael Pate was there and, you know, and, I grew up wondering about the great Australian horseman, Snowy Baker, who was a great friend of my mother's in, when they were very, very young and they had, he had a brother called Frank Baker who was, became a very well-known stuntman in Hollywood and blow me down, Frank turned up playing an elderly general, an Australian general in 'Desert Rats'. So we used to spend many hours chatting about Coogee Surf Club where Frank and Snowy used to swim with my uncles.
Were the methods different in any way from what you were used to?
No. I loved working with Robert Wise who was - he'd had a very fine film called 'The Set-Up' with Robert Ryan which got him very strongly noticed. He was, you know, one of the bright boys and then to be given 'Desert Rats' was quite a thing to, you know, a wonderful thing for him. But he was delightful to work with. Wanted reality and truthfulness and all those things. Rehearsed very well and didn't seem to shoot until it was ready and all that. And, again, I saw that fantastic cooperation between the departments that we saw on 'Kangaroo' a couple of years before.
And the nth degree of cooperation to me was, one night we were shooting on the back lot which was supposed to be the Tobruk township badly damaged by war damage and it was a redressed set that had been built for a film called 'The [A] Bell For Adano', an Italian village. And there was a beautiful outdoor set, houses and everything and they'd redressed it to make it look bomb damaged. But there were some large areas of plain white wall on the lot. And we were doing the scene where we're marching out of Tobruk to go up to the front line and the Aussie soldiers marching out and we all looked up because on the white wall, it was a night shoot, is the biggest microphone shadow I'd ever seen. Sharp and clear, right in the middle of the thing.
And all the assistant director said was, "Is that where you want the mic?" "Yup." "Is that where you want the key light?" "Yup." "Is that where you want the camera?" "Yup." "OK, paint it out." And the painters went up and they painted a big black shadow across it. And I thought, nobody said, "Couldn't you move your mic?" or "Couldn't you move the light?" They had - and I loved the correction. It was so simple. It was just painting a black shadow across it so that you couldn't see. And I loved that. To me that became the symbol of interdepartmental cooperation. And you didn't challenge, you, maybe they did after a few beers, I don't know. But on that occasion it was, it was great to see that. And I noticed that on all the sets. I used to, you know, watch some of the greats at work on other films and that was the thing and I liked that.
You've mentioned often the degree to which things were rehearsed. Is this not usual?
It's becoming less usual, it has become less usual in Australia once or twice. And I love working with Paul Cox for that reason. Paul Cox doesn't shoot a foot of film until everything's ready. Some people have said, "Oh, it's to save film". Because he, in 'Innocence' for instance which we made, what, two or three years ago now, nearly all of that is take one. Hardly ever did he do a take two. But he doesn't shoot, and that's the third film I've done with him. The other two were very small roles in, very nice films to be involved in. But playing the lead, or one of the leads in it, it was marvellous experience because the security builds up. You know you're not going to be doing anything until not only you're ready, but the camera boys are ready, everybody's ready. Wardrobe, props and Paul just makes sure everybody's ready. And I think that shows. Rob Sitch to a large extent worked that way on 'The Castle' and that was a very, very fast shoot. But Rob, I don't remember rolling the camera when a scene wasn't ready. And we shot that in, what, eleven days or something.
And you saw that happening on 'The Desert Rats'?
Oh yeah. Yeah.
The contract, this very bad contract you've managed to negotiate for yourself. Was that just for that one movie or was it a longer term contract?
No, they offered me a seven contract that Sunday afternoon. I said, "Uh, hang on". And I remember thinking, no, wait a minute, Audrey's in Sydney. I can't be here for seven years while she's, you know, silly thinking. Probably the equivalent of jetlag. But all I remember saying was, "No, no, no, I can't do, we'll do it just for this one movie". "OK. " So I signed for three-fifty a week plus one seventy-five expenses and...
Did that seem a lot to you?
Oh, it was alright yeah. I did, I did a lot of careful arithmetic and the contract they offered me, it was a seven year contract which I grandly turned down, was the first two years, three hundred a week and then five hundred and seven and go up to about, I think it was fifteen hundred or seventeen-fifty for the seventh year. But what you didn't know from the fan magazines, you got paid forty weeks for the year. You had twelve weeks unpaid lay-off. Unless you were in a film for those unpaid, those lay-off weeks.
My cynical American actor mates said, "Don't get too impressed about this because they offer anybody a contract if they've paid their fare". Because they can sack you every six months. You only had security for six months and they would keep you on. I mean Clark Gable, people like that were there for years and years and years with MGM contracts. And then you meet some of the tough guys who'd been a while for a long while. I remember, I hope he doesn't mind me saying this, he probably isn't, I'm not sure. Anyway, a great American actor, Richard Widmark, we were at a Christmas party on the Fox lot.
He said, "Have you thought any more about the seven year contract they've offered you?" I said, "Yeah, I don't think I can", because it was going to muck up Chips' project, it was going to muck up Grace Gibson's project, had we made any more for that 'Al Munch' film that had helped get me there anyway. He said, "Well be careful, be careful of your seventh year". I said, "Why?" He said, "Because they give you a lot of rubbish to do in your seventh year so that you're not worth a lot if you decide not to sign on for another seven years". Now whether or not he was right, I don't know. And he wasn't bitter about it. We laughed a lot about it. But it might have been a Hollywood joke. But the glamour of being offered a seven year contract has never been very strong in my thinking. And you still meet young actors, "My God, how could you turn down a seven year contract?" "Well, easily." I was going to direct every second movie of Chips' project. If Grace Gibson's project had got off the ground, I was playing the lead in a TV series that was based on that one-off film we'd made. So there were a lot of great reasons for going back to Australia.
But your ambition had been that you had to be in Hollywood before you were thirty and here you were but you were turning your back on it.
No, I was in Hollywood before I was thirty by about two weeks I think, or four weeks. And that's when I had my thirtieth birthday, in Hollywood thinking what a stupid ambition. So that wiped that away. No, I, look it was a wonderful learning experience and I obviously from what, I hope from what I said, I respected their way of working enormously and no wonder they made films that people went to see. Whether or not they were great movies, I don't know. But there were a lot of very great movies made in America, of course, over the years and still are being made.
Bud, did you think it was a great, a great place to visit but you wouldn't want to live there?
No, I didn't have any strong feelings about that. I loved the way Pete Lyon and Anne, his wife, lived. They had no children. He was the man who came out to direct that, I suppose telly movie that I did for Grace Gibson.
Yeah Al Munch. Yes, we called Munch. I heard somebody saying "Münch" the other day, I said, "No, it's just Munch". Like me and Bob "Tudawali". However. Pete and Anne, Peter was a highly respected Academy Award film editor becoming a director. He told me once that what they did, they loved the thought of seeing as much, they were in their forties then I guess. They loved the thought of seeing as much of America as they could. And he had a rather nice car. I think it was a Cadillac. And they lived in very comfortable, modest sized apartment in Los Angeles and Pete used to set himself, I think I'm right in the arithmetic, fifty thousand dollars to earn in a year and as soon as he'd made fifty thousand, he'd stop work and they'd get in the car and they'd go exploring. Now if it took him until November the 30th , OK. If he did it by June the 1st, they had six months off.
And I thought, to me that was a sort of highly skilled man with an Academy Award who wasn't very ambitious. But loved the idea of directing. And he, after he directed that film with me he went back and he directed some things like 'The Great Train Robbery' and he had a good, respectable directing career. And was a hell of a nice guy and I think I've got one of his books that he's written. Learned books about technical matters on film and everything. But I just loved the fact that the people I kept meeting - Richard Boone said to me, he said, "I can't - I was going to say come out to dinner but I can't decide, I've got to do something". "What's that?" He said, "I'm", I think he was helping to paint set at La Jolla. I said, "What's La Jolla?" It was the La Jolla Playhouse - spelt LA JOLLA. And he said, "Greg Peck and I are doing, we're doing", and they were doing an amateur play, just as we were doing in Sydney at the Independent Theatre. And it was so many ordinary things that I loved that were not huge, super-colossal glamour stuff, you know. And they were working actors.
How long were you away from Audrey?
That time I guess it was about three months. Probably late November I guess when I got that amazing phone call and I guess we were there until about February or March. And then I zoomed back and Chips went on with his film under his arm, yeah.
Going back to the story of Al Munch. Doing that role, how did you approach the American accent? Did you already have it?
It was like a second language to radio actors in those days. Because Grace used to sell nearly all of her stuff to America, all her radio stuff. Most of, most Australian radio drama was sold to America. Often without American accents. They'd sell them to country stations and all that sort of thing. And, no, we just did American accents or English accents. When I was working in England I was part of the voice team on 'Thunderbirds'. And Gerry and Sylvia Anderson loved getting Aussie radio actors because we could do anything. No, you don't have to be that good at it. Just do it with confidence. American accents vary a lot and when you're living there, they're all over the place. So I remember Hugh French, the agent, whom I eventually did sign with, was taking me around meeting people, casting agents.
And for a while I was going and being very belligerently Australian. "G'day, yes it's nice being over here" and, you know and, "Yeah, yeah, interesting yeah, but, my God, that accent. Ooh, you know". So Hugh said, "Look, could you play it down a bit?" I said, "Look alright I'm being a bit naughty". I said, "Would you like to just, you know, lose the accent altogether?" He said, "Oh please". So I'd go into the next - I remember going into one bloke and I was chatting to him and, "Morning, yeah, glad to be here. I love working here". And the guy stopped and looked at me, "This is amazing, this guy has no accent at all". And it was so easy to do. You don't have to be a brilliant actor to do it. You've got to have a bit of a skill in imitation but most amateur actors can do it anyway. I mean good American plays are on the schedules of most good amateur companies. It's no big deal.
We in Australia though, on the other hand are very tough. I - When I played 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' a few years ago, one - what was it? - one well-known newspaper wasn't all that flattering. And it was a Roger Hodgman production, you had - Roger had worked in Canada and everything - and we had an accent coach and I was worried about the accent coach because he was teaching - this is a very distinguished southern family in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' and they were showing us pictures of very tough guys and people with accents that I didn't think represented the kind of people we were supposed to be playing.
So I bunged on my own accent that I thought was OK and one of the, the newspaper that wasn't terribly flattering said the accents were all over the place and some were hard to understand and Tingwell just didn't bother with an accent at all. So they assumed I hadn't put on any accent. Later on in the run of the show, Americans came round. They said, "My God, that's amazing, how did you get such a real American accent?" And so I satisfied them, but not the Aussie critics. No, accents I think are making far too much of. Watching Russell Crowe in 'A Beautiful Mind', if you listen to it very carefully, he's using very little accent of any kind at all. It's just such a wonderfully real and truthful performance. Who's going to worry about the accent. A great performance.
Now we've moved ahead with your film career and got you to Hollywood but in the meantime, you were of course very involved in the Sydney radio scene. So let's go back now and pick that up a bit. In those early years of radio, how did you get established as an actor in radio?
I find that a bit hard to remember now. The fact that I'd done that radio serial when I was at school with Jack Davey and co. At least I could go and say, "Yes, I have done radio", truthfully. And I think if I had to audition, I had enough experience to be able to at least give a reasonable reading. Except at Macquarie, which ran the 2GB station in those days and they had a very, very good drama production company. But I never seemed to be able to until my airline pilot brother gave me this tip and then I did pass. And once you'd passed, OK you were just, you know, on the list and if you happened to be right for a role, you'd be at least considered for it.
And then there was a very fine director called Lawrence H. Cecil, who was directing, he directed a lot in the theatre as well. He was a very good theatre man, particularly with Shakespeare. And I was in one of his productions and then years later he was directing a series called 'The Amazing Mr Malone' staring John Saul, my great mentor and a great director himself. And suddenly Lawrie Cecil had to go into hospital for a while and Grace asked me if I'd like to take over and direct. And that was amazing because I was directing my mentor, playing the lead in the series. And the exchange of ideas and things was extraordinary in that period. I don't quite know whether I've answered the question but it's just one thing leading to another. When I did - I remember the first show I directed in 'The Amazing Mr Malone'. I forget, let's say it was a Tuesday. On the Monday I was just an ordinary, working radio actor and we usually used to go into the Carlton Hotel, in those days, and have a sandwich and a couple of beers for lunch.
And my first call for the show that I was about to direct was two o'clock on, let's say the Tuesday. So I called all the good actor mates, I'm sure they won't mind, but say Rod Taylor, Johnny Meillon, Johnny, all the guys who were good, good actors. And they all turned up and I was horrified because I'd gone, I hadn't gone to the pub that day. I'd gone to work with Peter Bernardos who was doing the technical stuff on the production and for the hour before two o'clock, we worked on all the details of where the sound effects where and the music and all that sort of stuff. So in came my actors with about one and a half beers inside each of them sounding totally inefficient to me and I was horrified. And I thought, my golly, that was me yesterday. They weren't boozed or drunk or anything but they were just not as efficient as I'd thought they were.
And so I decided I would never drink at lunch-time again, even one beer. No, that was out. Because I think we underestimated just what a couple of good, strong Aussie beers would do to your own skill in a, in a medium that required pretty clear speaking. Not, you know, regardless of what accent you were using, you had to be clear. So I had to have two casts. I had the good, good, good, good boys who never went into a pub at lunch-time for the afternoon stuff and all me mates in the nine o'clock calls in the morning. And we did some marvellous stuff there.
Have you stuck to your rule of not drinking at lunch-time?
Yeah I have, yeah. Yeah. Oh I love a, you know, few beers here and there as my waistline probably says, shows. But no, no, not at work. No. I don't think I've ever drunk during working hours since. And I warned young actors, you know, sometimes if they're having champagne, particularly on a set out here in Australia, sometimes they have to use the real thing. And I was directing one television show some time ago now, when the actors got strangely inefficient as the afternoon wore on because they got into the props a bit. And yeah, no, you've got to be very careful.
Are you like that over other aspects of your work? Do you have this professional approach that means that anything that might compromise the quality of your performance, sleep, eating, all of those things, do you take care of everything like that to make sure you're at your peak all the time?
Well, I try to. It's, it's, yeah I haven't thought of it being at my peak so much. But it may be as simple as, gee whiz, I don't want to muck it up, you know. I got a bit worried doing 'Man From Snowy River' because it was every - that was a wonderful show to be in, but there were so many responsibilities. If you didn't get out at the right time, you were mucking up forty horses, you know, not just, you know, a bunch of actors about to do a scene. And I remember in a couple of rehearsal times when we were rehearsing in the afternoon. They put in a new scene, a lovely scene between Martin Crewes and Georgie Parker, but I, as the angry father, had, Georgie's father, had to interrupt that scene. And on two or three rehearsals I totally missed it. I'd gone back to the dressing room, sat down and forgotten about it.
And I never did it in a performance, but I was reminded just how easy it is to lose concentration and if you've had a couple of glasses of beer or something it's very easy to lose concentration. And so, yeah, it sounds all a bit sort of holier than thou, but, you know...
But it was part of all those things that you learnt when you were very young, about concentrating on the set and so on.
What was the difference in technique between working in radio, working in the theatre and working in film?
Well, the older I get, the less I see the differences, interestingly enough. But, at the time, yes, you'd pride yourself on being able to be heard at the back of the theatre. So that'd be the major difference with radio. And yes, you've got to learn it. With film, I always felt film was a bit of a cross between the two. The intimacy of radio plus the, the precision of theatre, hitting marks and coming on at the right moment and that sort of thing. What I, in recent years, discovered, that there's a huge link between, I believe, between good radio acting and good film acting. One of my sort of amusements in a radio drama studio, was to mentally put a screen around the actors who were up at the microphone and, and see them as film actors, admittedly with a script in their hand. But we developed a technique in Sydney - I'm not sure what they did in Melbourne - but we tried to play to each other across the microphone so that we were trying to maintain eye contact and, of course, you had to keep your eye on the script as often as you could.
But some of the actors, I remember Lloydie Berrell, a very good New Zealand actor who, Lloydie would, would be looking straight at you most of the time and only glancing at the script occasionally. Joe McCormick did that - who was a Canadian actor, who'd been in Australia for many years - and Joe and I co-leads in a drama in front of the audience, for one of the big sort of Lux or it might have been the Macquarie radio theatre, and he was looking at me for most of the production. Now, if you get the camera not to see the script, go above there, that's a film performance. And the same actors would often say, "Yeah, but I can't do film". Yes they could. They could have.
And then years later, as years and years go by and we're rehearsing 'The Castle', and Rob Sitch asked me what I thought about the idea he had of sitting down and reading it for several sessions. I said, "I'd love to, I'd love you to do that, because I've tried it a couple of times directing in the theatre. Don't try and move it or learn it or anything, just try and get more and more into the characters". And we had four, four hour sessions rehearsing 'The Castle' exactly like a radio play and I believe that's one of the main reasons it was successful. Because by the time we started to shoot, we were so involved in each other's characters and so in tune with our own characters, that it, it moved itself and it was a delightful shoot. Very quick and very fast, but a great shoot.
In those early years when you were working in radio, you were making some films, how much theatre were you doing?
Oh, I was going to say not a lot but I've forgotten too that Owen Weingott and I and Joe Scully formed a theatre company which we did at Circular Quay in Reiby Place. We were once the Sydney Repertory Theatre and then we were joined by a lot of other actors who wanted to be part of our group. Joe Scully was doing most of the directing. Owen and I were being actors and we were doing things like 'Night Must Fall' and interesting plays and some of the comedies, 'Hay Fever' and things like that. So the very traditional, old, you know, theatre stuff in a very small theatre space. Small theatre auditorium but very vigorous and then eventually we decided this - the new group of actors wanted us to do much more meaningful plays and some of the stronger and more powerful Irish plays particularly. And we worrying about getting too deeply into that because we, I don't mean we were just commercial but we were enjoying what we were doing. We were enjoying doing the plays we were doing.
And so we formed a breakaway group called Scully Productions and we insisted on calling it Scully Productions in honour of Joe. And we did some beaut stuff. And I've lost count now of what we did. But I have, you know, memories of Owen doing 'Night Must Fall'. I don't think I was in it. I think I directed one once myself. But, so we must have done a lot. And what I didn't do was much of the posh theatre, amateur theatre I mean, by working with say, the great Doris Fitton at The Independent. I have a feeling I only did about one or two plays for her. And I'd have loved to have done, you know, in the, admittedly it was the amateur theatre but there were, you know, steps and stairs within the amateur theatre. She was way up there somewhere.
A lot of actors talk about the theatre as being the core, the heart of their work. But I don't think that was true of you, was it?
Not necessarily. I - it's - I don't know, it is the basis of it. Fascinated when we arrived in England in '56 and I had to go over there to finish the 'Shiralee' film, Anthony Kimmins' daughter, Verena, was a stage manager and she said, "I can get you free seats for one of the top plays in London", where she was being a stage manager. It was just after we arrived. And I said, "Oh, well, I'll pay". She said, "No, no, no, they don't charge". BBC in those days, used to send a very hot crew down to a well-known play running in the West End and they would shoot with three cameras, may have used four occasionally, but three cameras, live to air, no recording, one act of a play. And you used to see some superb television performances but they were in the theatre.
And she said the only thing you've got to get used to is they take a lot of the colours out of the lights because it was black and white telly in those days and some of the make-up may be adjusted slightly. But she said, that's the only difference. You will see the play. You won't see the cameras because they're well back with long lenses and one either side and one down the middle. And we were fascinated by that and to me, that started to destroy the differences even more. That you saw really great actors working in wonderful theatres where the acoustics are great and you weren't aware of them projecting with strange, unnatural voices or anything and you saw some wonderful theatre. And it was a great thing the BBC did. I think they eventually had to stop doing it for whatever reason, but it was fantastic for keeping the theatre in front of people's minds too.
What was the next thing you did after 'Desert Rats'?
Well, that would have been 'King of the Coral Sea'. The next big thing for me, I suppose, was being invited by Bill Orr to join the cast of the first Phillip Street Theatre production which was 'Top of the Bill'. And Bill had already produced a few shows. Done as amateur company. I mean Len Teale was in the one before and people like Barrie Cookson, a very good New Zealand actor and they could handle the music a bit and all that. And I loved the thought of doing this and we were going to do it as an amateur production at the famous old Metropolitan Theatre in Sydney. And halfway through the rehearsal period Bill suddenly applied for and got the rights to the Phillip Street Theatre which is where Peter Finch used to run the Mercury Theatre and it came up as 'that hall'. And Bill grabbed it, put in a bid for it, got it, beat a few people to it which didn't make him all that popular but he got the rights to it.
And under the terms of his lease of the theatre, he was allowed to do a trivial piece like a revue, which we called 'Top of the Bill', but he had to do something posh. So, he'd once stage managed 'Hamlet' at the Old Vic, so he did 'Hamlet' as his second production and that was, that confirmed that he was, that he had honourable intentions. And then we did a third revue after 'Hamlet' and by the end of that we were a fully professional company. And I remember asking Bill, "Why me?" Because I loved it and doing all this mad stuff and everything. He said, "I don't know". He said, "I just thought you might", and he was Scottish, I remember and he was a bit dour with things. And he said, "I thought just thought you'd be interested in doing it". And that became very important because shortly after that I joined Googie Withers and John McCallum for their first tour of Australia.
Did you take to comedy as easily as to drama?
Yeah, I sort of, I preferred comedy and I sort of still do. I think I've got to be a bit careful when I do 'The Carer', which is a deadly serious subject, but beautifully written by Alan Hopgood and it's the one-man play which I sort of do every now and again. But when we did the first read, we did a rehearsed reading of it, I knew there were great laughs in it. And the late Peter Adams directed it and he said something to me after that worried me a little bit because I loved the laughs we got. And people were saying, it was fantastic because I was laughing and crying and laughing and crying, which is about as like, as much like life as you can get. And I remember saying to Peter, "I just love those laughs". He said, "I think we got a few we don't really need". And I thought, "No, Peter, you need every one you can get, especially in a serious play if they're legitimate".
And I think all great theatre, and I think Shakespeare does that, makes sure there's laugh [sic], there's a laugh here and there. Alright, sugarcoating the pill, but I think really great writing often does that and if it reflects life properly, there's got to be laughter out there.
Were there any important things you learnt about how to play comedy from that time at Phillip Street where revue is quite demanding in getting laughs, isn't it?
Yes. Yeah, I suppose, you know, the old fashioned thing of you've got to be clear. Don't muck up the lead up to a gag. Then I discovered that in 'Hamlet', the best advice for film and television acting is in a speech by Hamlet to the chief player, to the head of the players. When he says, "Speak the speech I pray you, as I pronounced it to you trippingly on the tongue", etcetera, etcetera. Wrapped up in that is some great advice about film and television acting. And fantastic advice for comic - for comedies and comedians. And it really translates into keep it real, don't shout unless you have to, don't wave your arms around too much which is good for cameramen because they say, "Oh cripes, he's got his arms all over the place". And don't tread on your mate's good gags and make sure you don't upstage the guy who's got the best line in the comedy sequence. And it's fantastic and I usually carry it with me, a little copy of it so that I can quote it to actors who think that, you know, we're all terribly modern now. No, Shakespeare was way ahead of us and everything that he says about comedy I've found is absolutely true.
And I get worried when you work with actors and they don't seem to have realised that the feed line is just as important as the gag line. And even in relatively recent experience at times, I've finished a scene and think, "Oh struth, he should have learnt that by now". Nobody in the world would have heard that feed so they've no idea what I've just reacted to, you know. And a lot of, you know, really good actors can fall into that trap. But I played the lead in a comedy in London for two years. A play called 'There's a Girl in My Soup'. And I wasn't the original guy, but I took over when it had three months to run and the enormously flattering thing was that it took off and it ran for two years and when I left it folded. So my agent said, "Don't you dare leave London". I said, "No", and that's when we came home to see Mum. But all I did was stick to those basic principles and also try to play comedy as realistically as you can while making sure nobody misunderstands the gag, you know.
And why did you leave the Phillip Street?
I didn't leave. What - we were hired on a show by show basis, you see, so that I don't, I think, the next, I think we were doing 'Hit and Run' when I did an audition for 'Simon and Laura' for John McCallum. And John, I think, had seen the show, or he'd heard of it - because we'd all got rave reviews for 'Top of the Bill' and 'Hit and Run'. And suddenly my comedy reputation had increased enormously and, you know, there were people saying, "I didn't know you were doing comedy. I thought you only did 'Great Expectations' or 'Hart of the Territory' or something", you know. And, and it was a wonderful role in 'Simon and Laura'. The nutty television director which was very important. I think it was Ian Carmichael who did it in the West End and suddenly gave him a tremendous boost in his career. It was a great role in a play by Alan Melville.
So, did you tour with them then?
For how long?
Did eighteen months and we were a two play company. We were to have been a three play company but we were so successful with the two plays, we did the comedy, 'Simon and Laura', and the drama, 'Deep Blue Sea' by Terence Rattigan, which Googie had already had huge successes in London with. I think she had taken over from Peggy Ashcroft for the West End season. I think Googie had done the television version too and she was really superb in it. And John played the lover. I played the bloke upstairs. At one stage we thought I was going to play the lover and John was going to play the judge, but John wanted to have a go at the lover and he was very good. It was a lovely performance. And Williams Lloyd played the judge and, when we were touring, he had a rather nice gentle run because he wasn't in the first play.
But it was a wonderful tour that. We did all the capitals in Australia, Sydney - Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth. But before going to Perth we did New Zealand and we did three months in New Zealand playing in seventeen beautiful theatres. And, of course, there weren't that many great theatres outside the capitals in Australia in those days. There are now, thank goodness.
Did you have any children by this stage?
No, Christopher and Virginia were born when we were in London. Audrey hadn't been too well, had a couple of problems and they tried some surgery when we got to London. In '57 I think it was and that seemed to remove the problem, whatever it was, and she became pregnant and Christopher was born in 1959 which was great.
So did Audrey tour with you?
She toured on the one around Australia and New Zealand, yes, yes. And she was very good. She was asked if she would look after - in 'Simon and Laura' there's a boy who's supposedly of twelve or thirteen and John Cadwallader played that part. And one of his family would go around Australia but they couldn't go to New Zealand so they asked Audrey if she'd become the official guardian for him. And he rang me the other day to see how I was from Port Douglas or something. He runs boats and things now. And, but that was terrific and we became his sort of surrogate parents and his parents Jack and Gwen - I haven't seen them for quite a while - but they were beaut people.
Was Audrey a good critic of your work?
Ooh yeah. Ooh yeah.
Was she a severe critic?
Relatively. Knew, I think, like most actors my ego's a bit fragile. So - but yeah, if she said, "No, good darl", it was probably alright. "How's that?" "Yeah, good darl, yeah alright."
[end of tape]