In my youth I was plagued with asthma, bronchitis and a weak chest. Singing was suggested as a way of expanding my lungs and freeing up my respiratory system. So, I attended the Guildhall School of Music in London where I discovered that I had a fine singing voice. Over the succeeding years I played leading parts in a number of West End musicals, including Henry Spoffard in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, with Dora Bryan, Lun Tha in The King and I with Peter Wyngarde and Bill Sykes in Oliver, with Helen Shapiro. And I’m still singing as strongly as ever, as you can see from this brief clip from the TV pilot episode of Honey Bone.
But being a singer was never enough for me, I wanted to act, and I won a scholarship to RADA, the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After this I was able to launch a career in TV drama, appearing in almost 100 of Britain’s best loved television series including, The Saint, The Chinese Detective, Mother Makes Three, The Pathfinders, Misleading Cases, The Professionals, Emmerdale, Dr Who and, of course, The Sweeney. Why was I so often cast as a ‘hard’ man? I think it was the voice. Singing and my time at RADA had given me a powerful voice and, well, you don’t mess around with someone with a voice as powerful as that. Vocal power can be easily developed and can give you commend of any situation you find yourself in.
But I wasn’t always cast as a ‘hard’ man in television. Vocal versatility is something that many actors learn to develop. In fact, I was fascinated by accents and for many years was called upon to produce a range of voices, from a Russian general to a Spanish peasant, from a Dutch forger to an American gangster, all in my role as a leading London voice artist. In the prestigious television series, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, I played Lord Willoughby, a sophisticated nobleman at King Henry’s court. Here, vocal style comes into play, as I deliver a classic put down to the Earl of Surrey.
All right, this is another ‘hard’ man. But this clip is about energy. Whether you’re on Zoom or in a live situation, energy is what counts, vocal and physical energy, never forget that. Whatever the situation in your work or your life, you have to be prepared to just – dive in!
There’s an interesting story to these episodes. After I’d finished filming them, I had to fly to Spain on a job. Consequently, I never saw my Dr Who episodes until years later when a fan sent me a DVD of them. Talking of fans, in late 2011, I was at a Sci-Fi event, busily signing photos of me in Dr Who for fans there. It turned out that the people organising the event were also publishers. When they found out that second officer Lightoller, the only senior officer to survive the sinking of the Titanic, was my great uncle, they commissioned me to write a book about him and the loss of the great ship. It was to be published in time for the 100th anniversary of the tragedy in March 2012. From Dr Who to the Titanic and from the Titanic to my new novel, Conspiracy, and where may that lead me to, I wonder?