John, I see you were born in London in 1932 and attended Watford Grammar School. Given that you started working for the BBC in 1944 you must have planned to be an actor from a very early age. Was that always your ambition? Did you have early training?

Three nos. I had no plan to be an actor, no ambition, and no training. When I went to Kings Langley’s Rudolph Steiner school (locally known as the “do as you like” school), at the age of ten, I was cast in the annual school play, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed outdoors in the garden. But that was it, and I hated doing it, it seemed kind of gay; I was not turned on to acting, and had no thoughts along those lines. 

Your first show on BBC radio was The Will Hay Programme in 1944 where you acted as D’Arcy Minor, the swot of St. Michael’s. How did that come about? And was it fun working with Will Hay?

My family lived in Chipperfield, Herts, in those days, and I was coming home on the bus after school one day in August, when a man came up to me who I recognized, for he lived down the road. His name was Alick Hayes, and he asked me if I was a good reader. I told him yes, and he said could I come over later, meet his wife Zillah, have a cup of tea, and read him something out of the Evening Standard, so after supper I did. He tested me for fluency, to see if I could read without stumbling, and he was pleased that I could. He then explained that he was a BBC producer, and was about to start a new BBC radio comedy series, but the young actor he was going to use had just got sick, and he had an emergency, and maybe I could help out.

The show was The Will Hay Programme (The Diary of a Schoolmaster) and the part was that of a very clever young swot who said very long multi-syllabic words instead of shorter ones whenever he answered the schoolmaster’s questions. Mr Hayes wanted me to play it, just the first show, and he said it would save him from having to find another actor quickly from an acting academy. It was going out live in front of an audience from the Paris Cinema, a basement BBC studio off Piccadilly Circus, in just three days’ time.

I raced home, told my parents, said please let me do it, it sounds like fun, and it pays money. So my mother took me up to London next day, and that is where I met Will Hay and the rest of the cast – one schoolmaster and three students, so-called. Smart was the cheeky one (played by the very professional actor Charles Hawtrey), Beckett the dumb one (Billy Nicholls, on his day off from the RAF), and D’Arcy Minor, the studious swot (me). The joke was that I was the only real schoolboy (eleven years old). Will Hay was repeating the same schoolmaster act he had done in several of his films (Good Morning Boys, 1937, etc). It will be remembered that the comedy came out of the fact that he was a hopeless teacher, and the students took over.

That first day I remember well.
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As I approach my eightieth birthday on November 1st (“All Saints Day”, thank you very much), I attended a party given by my oldest friends, Max and Suzy at their studio downtown.

Gee, what a party. I tried to email this clip to my kids, but the size is too big as an attachment. Use

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Newtown, Connecticut:
A grim Barack Obama made a powerful speech tonight from the Sandy Hook Elementary School auditorium, where he told residents not to lose heart in the wake of the devastating shootings that last Friday took 27 lives, including 20 children, 5 teachers, 1 school psychologist, and the gunman aged 20.

He slowly read the names of these innocent children, just 6 and 7 years old:

“Charlotte . . . Daniel . . . Olivia . . . Josephine . . . Ana . . . Dylan . . . Madeleine . . . Catherine . . . Chase . . . Jesse . . . James . . . Grace . . . Emilie . . . Jack . . . Noah . . . Caroline . . . Jessica . . . Benjamin . . . Avielle . . . Allison.”

The speech, it should be noted, came from his own hand and heart.

He then turned his attention to the living, which is where this column usually heads. It  should be read and thought about by everyone, but especially by Family Court judges, Family Court “specialist” lawyers, Family Court “child evaluators”, the justices on the Courts of Appeal, the justices on the State Supreme Court, and the mothers and fathers caught up in the throes of divorce and the, always, always, unavoidable betrayal of their children.

Obama said “This town reminds Americans what should really matter. . . ”

He pointed out that the nation is failing at what he called “our first task,” which was to care for the children of the nation.  “It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.”

He then asked: “Can we truly say that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we are doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm? . . . a chance at a good life, with happiness and with purpose? If we are honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We are not doing enough, and we will have to change.”

We can’t tolerate this any more. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

I hope I will be excused for focusing my thoughts on our living children – all ages, from young to old. They are still with us, they are not lost, and we still have a chance to get it right. Let this be a way of making amends for the dead.

Here is the full speech and text.

DISCUSSION

The result of what Adam Lanza did was evil, no question about that.

But was his intent evil? I don’t think so, because I don’t think that children are inherently evil.


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My youngest daughter Annabel, who took up photography, is reappearing on my radar I’m happy to say. Without any prompting, she’s joining the blog brigade, and I’m happy to link my readers to her website. Here, she chooses today to commemorate the 182nd birthday of the much neglected Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904). She shows the connection between him and the film business, for he predates Edison by several years, with his moving projections of a galloping horse and some naked models in the 1870s.  Come to think of it, he was using stereoscopic multiple cameras in much the same way that James Cameron does today. Yes, we certainly owe him!

Muybridge (birth name Edward James Muggeridge)  emigrated from England when a young man, and settled in the Bay area of San Francisco.  In his forties, he took to himself a young wife named Flora, and while away on one of his photography trips, probably shooting landscapes in Yosemite, or Eskimos in Alaska, or American Indians in Oregon, he returned home to find love-letters between her and another man. She had taken a lover, a Major Larkyns. Did she file for divorce? Did he go to California Family Court? No. This is what he did:


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I just read in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail of the celebrities attending the annual Chelsea Flower show in London. Another opportunity to show off their hats.

I see that my old sister-in-law Vanessa was there with her daughter Joely. She named a rose in honor of her other daughter Natasha, who died