Ali Bastian gets to sing and dance in her dream role as Roxie

Ali Bastian, you might remember her as PC Sally Armstrong in The Bill, or as Hollyoaks’ Becca Dean… or perhaps you remember her expert American Slide from Strictly Come Dancing.

The 30-year-old is currently starring as Roxie Hart in Chicago, which you can catch at the Edinburgh Playhouse next week. Ahead of its arrival we chatted about her love of dancing, and of Chicago.

Read my Edinburgh Evening News interview with Ali Bastian here: http://www.scotsman.com/edinburgh-evening-news/edinburgh/bastian-gets-to-sing-and-dance-in-her-dream-role-as-roxie-1-2244169

Check out PC Sally Armstrong in action here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKfJbYeFIG0

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Deena Payne aka Emmerdale’s Viv (Windsor) Hope reveals all in final tour of bitter sweet WRVS tale

I first met Deena Payne during the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe, she was in town to help promote her husband’s classical rock musical Barockestra. At the time she talked of the side-lining of some of the longer-running characters in Emmerdale. I got the impression she wasn’t very happy. A few months later she was written out of the soap… after 18 years.

Deena is currently touring in Calendar Girls, and we caught up ahead of the show’s arrival in Edinburgh… Emmerdale, Viv and those final scenes were high on the agenda.

Read my Edinburgh Evening News interview with Deena Payne here: http://www.scotsman.com/edinburgh-evening-news/edinburgh/ex-emmerdale-star-deena-reveals-all-in-final-tour-of-bitter-sweet-wrvs-tale-1-2244202

Barockestra are brilliant by the way, check them out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nz4hwlSlesc

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Ian Hoskins – The Origins Of Edinburgh Monarchs

The 2012 speedway season is underway and Edinburgh Monarchs are once again battling it out on the track. Time then to recall a meeting some years ago with the man widely responsible for putting Edinburgh speedway on the map … well, his dad Johnnie did invent the sport I suppose.

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Flaming good fun at the speedway track

IF THERE’S something familiar about the 81-year-old gent desperately trying to blow out the flames engulfing his hat, then the chances are you’re one of the thousands who cheered on the Edinburgh Monarchs at Meadowbank in the 1960s.
Back then, Ian Hoskins decided against eating his hat if his team were defeated… he just set it on fire instead.

Unfortunately for the city’s speedway fans – but more fortunate for his milliner – the burning of Hoskins’ trademark pork pie hat became something of a regular occurrence. Not that he was remotely bitter about it.

“I have always believed that speedway is more than just a sport, it’s an entertainment,” says Hoskins, who was promoter of the Edinburgh Monarchs throughout the swinging sixties.

“After all, if you’ve had a boring meeting you have to give the crowd something to remember. So I’d put on interval attractions.

“That way if their team had been hammered the fans might forget the fact that they’d been beaten.”

And while those attractions included beauty pageants, bicycle racing and donkey derbies, the one that the crowd most wanted to see was his flammable hat.

“On average I got through one hat a week. The riders would grab it, pour methanol on it and set it alight. The crowd loved it. When speedway closed down, Dunn and Co the hat makers went broke,” he jokes. 

Hoskins is currently on a rare visit to the capital from New Zealand where he now lives, to reminisce about his days as king of the track, but also to promote his first novel, a romantic thriller called The Cardinal Takes a Bride. Speedway, it seems, was just one of his many interests over the years.

In fact, Hoskins has crammed more into his 81 years than appears humanly possible. The sprightly octogenarian has also been a fighter pilot, cinema manager, professional actor and playwright. But it’s as one of the country most flamboyant sports promoters that the son of Johnnie Hoskins – the man widely acknowledged to have invented speedway – is best remembered. 

Hoskins promoted the Monarchs from 1960 to 1967, but his involvement with the speedway scene pre-dated that spell by 12 years. The problem was, at the time he also owned the team that, to this day, are Edinburgh’s greatest rivals.

Following in his father’s tyre tracks, Hoskins took control of his first team, the Glasgow Tigers, in 1946, at the age of 21. He recalls: “In 1946 and 1947 we got really big crowds in Glasgow, so I decided that we should try to get a team in Edinburgh.

“At the close of the 1947 season I chartered an aeroplane and pilot and flew over Edinburgh. It was the quickest way to discover if there was a suitable venue. I saw the Leith Athletic ground and thought ‘that’s an interesting place’.” That “interesting place” turned out to be the old Meadowbank Stadium. “I arranged to bring speedway there the following year,” he recalls.

Speedway ran at old Meadowbank, with the Hoskins family keeping a low profile, until 1954, when the post-war entertainment tax started to make the sport unprofitable. Six years later, it was a different story when, with the tax scrapped, Hoskins reintroduced the sport to Edinburgh.

This time he was in the spotlight although that could be a double-edged sword as he discovered in 1963 when British speedway suffered one of its darkest hours. On September 20, former world champion Peter Craven crashed at high speed while attempting to pass Monarchs rider George Hunter on the last lap.

As reported at the time, Craven had already won his first three races when Hoskins asked him to take a 20-yard handicap in his last heat to give fans a chance to see his legendary passing skills. Craven, it is said, agreed, although match reports suggest that he did actually start level with the other riders at the gate.

Having passed two of his three opponents, Craven crashed while attempting to take the lead from Hunter. He died four days later in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

“The Peter Craven disaster,” says Hoskins quietly. “It makes you realise that speedway is indeed a dangerous sport. But it’s like Formula 1, people go to see Formula 1 car racing because there is always the danger that someone is going to get seriously hurt. They want to be there to say ‘I was there the night that’.”

The tragedy, reveals Hoskins, resulted in personal attacks on both himself and Hunter, who received hate mail afterwards. “We had to have his [Hunter’s] letters censored,” he recalls, adding that when he travelled to Belle Vue in Manchester – Craven’s home track – he was barracked by a section of the crowd who held him responsible for the rider’s death.

When the Monarchs were turfed out of old Meadowbank at the end of 1967 to allow the stadium to be re-developed for the 1970 Commonwealth Games, Hoskins took his team to Coatbridge for two years after a request to race at Powderhall had been turned down – although the stadium would later become the Monarchs’ home from 1977 to 1995.

But leaving his sport’s spiritual home promoted Hoskins to make a bigger move, and in 1975 he emigrated to Salisbury in Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe), where he once more promoted speedway, before opening an ice rink, running a chain of cinemas and writing a 20-part radio drama.

ALWAYS a great showman, as evidenced by his centre-green antics at Meadowbank, Hoskins also fulfilled another ambition there, becoming a professional actor. But he had to escape Zimbabwe as an economic migrant three years ago after President Mugabe was re-elected in rigged elections, and now lives in New Zealand, where he has just published The Cardinal Takes A Bride.

“When Mugabe started sending in his so-called war veterans to take over farms I knew the writing was on the wall”, he says sadly. “From that moment on, things went down and down. There were shortages of everything. I was lucky if I could buy one loaf of bread every three weeks, there were petrol queues, and the price of everything was going up.”

“I have 360,000 Zimbabwean dollars in my Barclays account in Salisbury which would buy a dinner at a restaurant and that’s about it,” he adds.

As for his book, it might not be as controversial as the title suggests…although it does have its moments.

“The Cardinal is actually an international jewel thief,” he explains with a laugh, “but there is a character who is a lesbian body-builder.”

His speedway days are over, but in his ninth decade Ian Hoskins still knows how to grab attention. 

Edinburgh Monarchs race every Friday night throughout the speedway season at Armadale Stadium

LIAM RUDDEN
Originally published in the Edinburgh Evening News  02 Aug 2005

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Bill Kenwright – The Early Years

Breaking the rule of a lifetime I watched Coronation Street last night, just to see the return of Bill Kenwright as Betty Turpin’s son, Gordon Clegg. It reminded of the time I interviewed him. Here, one of the most powerful men in British theatre gives a rare insight into his early days, including memories of his Street debut…

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Top of the Bill after 40 years

JOSEPH And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Blood Brothers – the two productions that, as he celebrates 40 years as a producer, the UK’s most prolific theatrical impresario considers the jewels of his repertoire.

“It would be difficult to say which is closest to my heart. One week it’s Joseph, the next Blood Brothers,” confesses Bill Kenwright. “How blessed am I to have those two musicals? I just love them so much.”

Four decades in any business is a major milestone and one the 64-year-old Liverpudlian gives the impression has sneaked up on him. Hardly surprising as he’s never been busier, currently juggling four West End plays, nine touring shows, productions on Broadway, a dollars 37million movie and “the other 300 or 400 shows” that are in his “brain at any one time”.

“There ain’t no secret,” he says when asked about the longevity of his success. “All I’ve ever believed, from the age of five when I wanted to be Alan Ladd in Shane, is that if you work harder than the next man, you have a bloody good chance of doing better than him.

“I’ve worked seven days a week all my life – 14 hours days. If you do that, and he or she up above gives you a little bit of luck, then that’s all you can do. But you’ve got to use that luck.”

It’s a strategy that has paid off, although Kenwright, who is also chairman of Everton Football Club, insists that he has never had an endgame.

“People ask, ‘How do you do so much?’ Do you know what I do? I think an awful lot. I give myself time to think. I’ve always been a thinker, a plotter and a planner. There’s never been a real endgame in my life, other than wanting to be a cowboy movie star. I never wanted to buy Everton or to be a producer. All I wanted to do was act.”

And indeed he did. Before becoming one of the most powerful players in British theatre, Kenwright fulfilled his childhood ambition and in 1968 took to the cobbles of Coronation Street as Gordon Clegg, illegitimate son of Betty Turpin – he still sends his screen mum Betty Driver, now 88, flowers every Mother’s and Valentine’s Day.

“Granada Television offered to write me a part in Coronation Street,” he recalls. “I passionately didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want to get typecast, but I took it because my mum asked me to.”

Kenwright, one of the hottest young properties acting at the time was still in Coronation Street when he produced his first play.

“I was given two weeks off to go to Oldham Rep to play Billy Liar, but Oldham Rep got the dates wrong and asked if I’d play the lead in another play instead – all I wanted to do was play Billy Liar,” he explains. “So me and my mate Nigel Humphries sat in a Wimpey Bar with thruppenny pieces ringing every theatre in the country saying, ‘Twinkle, twinkle. We are stars from Coronation Street can we come and do Billy Liar?’

“In the end we found a hall in Buxton Winter Gardens with six nights free and a stage and did the show ourselves.”

It was an experience that stood him in good stead when he quit Coronation Street a short time later.

“I came out of it and my TV career was over. I was stereotyped and found that the best way to get good parts was to produce the shows myself.”

For his next venture he teamed up with actor Reginald Marsh and formed David Gordon Productions [named after their Corrie characters, Marsh played flash bookie Dave Smith] to tour a Keith Waterhouse play.

“On tour we booked two young lads, Paul Elliot [now an accomplished writer, director and producer himself] and Duncan Weldon [now a theatre producer], to be our managers. I think we gave them 18 quid a week, we bought the set for a fiver from a show that had just closed and we did Come Laughing Home for eight weeks – that’s how it all started in 1969.

“Looking back on 40 years amazes me because there was no plan to become a producer, although I can pinpoint the second I gave up the thought of being an actor.

“I’d always wanted to be in West Side Story. In 1971/72, after a huge battle, I got the rights. I remember everyone coming to audition and thinking, ‘I’m better than him… I’m better than him… I’m better than him…’ By the end of the audition I was thinking, ‘Oh great! I’m going to play Tony,’ when in walked a guy called James Smillie. He had literally just got off the banana boat from Australia and when he sang Maria, my acting career went out of the window.”

Liam Rudden

Originally published in the Edinburgh Evening News 13 Mar 2009

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CSI Egypt – Fascinating Mummies @ The National Museum of Scotland

Having long been intrigued by ancient Egypt – ever since I was taken to see the treasures of Tutenkhamun as a lad – I couldn’t wait for the National Museum of Scotland to unviel its Fascinating Mummies exhibition earlier this year. It was well worth the wait. Here, Maureen Barrie sheds a little light on recovering the past. And there’s still time to see the exhibition as it runs until the end of next month. 

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Mummy’s the word

MUMMIFICATION. A gory process best avoided by the squeamish. It wasn’t just the deftness of hand needed to extract a brain through the nostrils, but the strength of stomach required to remove internal organs via the smallest of incisions, thus allowing them to be stored in canopic jars, ready for the journey into the afterlife.

Both skills would have been familiar to the embalmers of ancient Egypt, who lived under the pharaohs, in the shadows of the Sphinx and the pyramids. Today, tales of their lost civilisation continue to intrigue and enthral. Nothing, however, piques our curiosity quite as much as the handiwork of these embalmers; the mummy, the last earthly remains of someone who perhaps walked the golden sands of the Valley of the Kings or prayed in a temple now nothing more than a fading footprint on the surface of the planet.

Ankhhor (pictured) was one such person. A priest serving in the temple of the god Montu in Thebes, modern Luxor, around 650 BC. His preserved remains are the centrepiece of a new exhibition coming to the National Museum of Scotland, and give a tantalising insight into his life and times.

“To know about this chap, who was wealthy enough to be buried in a particular manner but who wasn’t famous, is incredible,’ says National Museums Scotland exhibition officer Maureen Barrie, the woman responsible for Fascinating Mummies, which opens on February 11.

“Ankhhor lived 650 years before Christ and for me, just to know that he was a priest, and that he was married, as well as his daily routine, is fantastic.”

The first major exhibition in the Chambers Street museum’s new purpose-built exhibition space, Fascinating Mummies, may boast Ankhhor’s remains at its heart, but he is only one of many treasures, the oldest of which dates back to 4000BC, drawn from the collections of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Holland, and the NMS that will be on display, guiding visitors through the complex rituals surrounding death and afterlife in ancient Egypt, including mummification and burial.

“Unlike other mummies, Ankhhor was never unwrapped,” explains Maureen. “Instead, scientists used a CT scan to build a picture of him – his age, health and how he was mummified.

“In doing so, they also uncovered amulets and possessions concealed between his wrappings. Added with the information gleaned from the hieroglyphs on his three coffins, all of which feature in the exhibition, it has allowed a surprising amount of his story to be told, despite the fact that he lived so long ago.”

The result of that CT scan can be studied in depth in the the first part of the exhibition which centres on the complex rituals surrounding death and the afterlife in ancient Egyptians.

It explores the concept of dying only to be born again, all of which required the body to be preserved so that it could act as the earthly anchor for the spirit.

The second section charts the scientific advances that have allowed archaeologists to take on the mantle of forensic scientists, reopening the oldest cold cases in history with the help of state-of-the-art X-rays, CT scans, DNA profiling and facial reconstruction.

“In the past, when people unwrapped mummies it did irreparable damage, so much information was lost,” says Maureen. “Sometimes it was done as a public spectacle, a public unwrapping, other times it was scientific research – either way, the techniques used destroyed a lot of evidence. However, we are fortunate to have these mummies that have been preserved and not unwrapped.

“Now, to be able to see beneath the layers is fabulous, and in the science section of the exhibition there are several different case studies using different techniques, including a facial reconstruction of one of the Leiden mummies, which has allowed us to show what this person from the past looked like.”

Sensaos, the mummy that underwent facial reconstruction, had a shroud placed over her – and it seems some things never change.

Maureen says, “The facial reconstruction revealed that, just as today, people are very conscious about how they look. In death, Egyptians always wanted to look their best so their appearance didn’t always physically match that depicted on the shroud. There would be a bit of cosmetic licence.”

A highlight on permanent display in the museum from the NMS’s own collections, which feature thousands of objects from ancient Egypt, is a burial group from Qurneh. Excavated by the archaeologist Flinders Petrie in 1908, it is believed to be that of an ancient Egyptian queen and her child.

“In all probability it seems that the child would be related to her, otherwise why bury them together?,” asks Maureen. “Of course, there may be burial practices we don’t know about. So we sent samples of cartilage and teeth from this burial group to a university in Paris, in an attempt to find if they were related, to see if they could extract DNA.

“Although we got some results, there was nothing significant. However, the interesting thing is that, in a couple of years’ time, they hope to have the knowledge to get results from nuclear DNA, from the nucleus of the cell. That means, finally we will be able to tell their relationship and the sex of the child.”

If that all sounds a bit CSI, you’d be right. “People seem to think that museums are repositories of the past, we’re really not,” says Maureen.

“We’re about finding out as much as we can and passing it on. It’s almost like CSI: Egypt, there’s a lot of detective work goes on behind the scenes and we are very good at putting the human story into our exhibits. That’s what people like. Fantastic looking objects are wonderful, but when they are married to the human element, they become magical.”

Ankhhor certainly proves that point, but he’s not the only one with secrets to be uncovered. “X-rays were being done at the end of the 19th century on these mummies. Obviously the quality wasn’t anything like those of the latter half of the 20th century, but even those X-rays can’t give us anything close to what the CT scanning gives us – a virtual fly-through of the body,” says Maureen.

“When we first had one of these mummies X-rayed, we knew there was something on her leg and we knew there was something on her skull, but we didn’t know what they were. With the new high-level scans we can see that there is a papyrus on her leg and that a scarab, which we have had replicated for the exhibition, has been applied to her skull.”

It’s this new-found detail that drives Maureen’s passion for the subject.

“Many of these mummies are not kings, not queens, they are someone like you or I. In this exhibition, we give these people back their names and their dignity. It’s important to remember that they are people. They are not curios or art objects, they are people and they have names.

“To be able to tell the names of these people is actually a remarkable thing to do. Fascinating Mummies showcases the work of archaeologists combining the past with cutting-edge science to bring ancient Egypt back to life.” 

Fascinating Mummies, National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, February 11-May 27, 10am-5pm, £9 (family £26), 0300 123 6789
Liam Rudden

Originally published in the Edinburgh Evening News  27 Jan 2012

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Robert Carlyle – Once Upon A Time…

There are very few American TV series that capture my imagination, NCIS is one, The Amazing Race another, and then, of course, there’s Bewtiched. So I wasn’t really expecting too much when a review disc of Channel 5’s new Sunday night fantasy drama, Once Upon A Time, landed on my desk – I had to view it before interviewing one of its stars, Robert Carlyle. By the end of that first episode however, I was hooked and keen to discover the influences Robert drew on to create the fantastically strange little creature that is Rumplestiltskin. 

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Robert relishing living life in a fairytale

ROBERT CARLYLE, centre stage at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum – a dream long held by Mark Thomson, the theatre’s artistic director. So there is little doubt that he will be over the moon to hear that the international star of stage and screen gives the suggestion a positive reaction.

Speaking from Los Angeles, where he is currently filming the top-rated TV series Once Upon A Time, he muses: “I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. There are many stage roles that I’d love to play, I mean, I’d pretty much decided that was what I was going to be doing with my life when all the film work came in.”

That film work has included a Bond villain in The World Is Not Enough, stripping for The Full Monty and creating the psychotic Begbie in Trainspotting, yet the idea of standing before a living, breathing audience remains an attractive proposition for the 50-year-old.

“What I find interesting now is that I’m beginning to think, ‘Is it rose-tinted specs?’ Have I been away too long and forgot how hard it actually is, because theatre is a hard ask.”

If theatre is tough, it’s nothing compared with the workload Carlyle is currently enduring as both Rumplestiltskin and his alter-ego Mr Gold in Disney’s fantasy drama, Once Upon A Time.

“Very long days are the nature of the beast on this one, for me particularly,” he reveals. “If it’s a Rumplestiltskin day, make-up and costume take two hours 45 minutes. Then I work all day, after which it takes another hour and a half to get the make-up off.”

Created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, the writers of Lost, Once Upon A Time is described as a modern fairytale. It centres on Emma Swan, a 28-year-old who has fended for herself since being abandoned as a baby. Everything changes when Henry, the son she gave up years ago, finds her.

The ten-year-old believes Emma comes from an alternate world, and that she’s the long lost daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, sent away to protect her from the curse of the Evil Queen, who has exiled characters from the fairytale world to modern-day America.

An old-fashioned tale of good v evil, Carlyle’s Rumplestiltskin is a pivotal character. It’s a role that is very close to the actor’s heart, and one that appears to have whetted his appetite for a return to the stage by dint of its theatrical nature.

“Bizarrely, Rumplestiltskin was the very first piece of drama I ever saw. I was about six, at school, when this wee travelling theatre group came around.

“I don’t know if they did Rumplestiltskin or not but he was certainly in it. I was fascinated by this character. I’d never heard of Rumplestiltskin before and I just loved the name, loved saying the name, the notion of the name, and the fact that he loved names. Suddenly, 45 years later, here he was in front of me to play. It was providence.”

With insect-like movements and an unpredictable temperament, Carlyle’s Rumplestiltskin is a chilling creation guaranteed to send children to bed with nightmares. He’s not the most comfortable of characters to play, admits the Scot.

“Because Rumple has quite an animated face, the make-up cracks a lot and has to be filled in and repaired. I might be the almighty powerful Rumple but I can’t really move very well,” he laughs, continuing, “I love that I have, what appear from the outside to be two parts, Rumplestiltskin and Mr Gold, but of course they are the same person, opposite sides of the same coin. That makes them even more interesting to play.

“Gold tends to be very calm, quiet and intimidating whereas Rumplestiltskin is a box of frogs, he’s all over the place. The wonderful thing about Rumple is getting to play theatrically on film. I’ve never done it before. I’ve never been this big in front of a camera.”

To create Rumple, Carlyle thought back to his days at drama school, and to his five-year-old son Pearce. “I’ve taken a chance playing this way,” he concedes. “I was confronted with this really quirky, strange character who is stuck in a cell. What is he about?

“When the make-up was given to me it was very like a mask. I worked with masks at drama school – you put the mask on, the contact lenses in and it kind of frees you. It’s as if no-one is watching. You can play then, and really take thing to extraordinary lengths.

“So that was the first thing. The second thing was finding some kind of movement for the character. I looked to Comedia dell’Arte, Italian farce, so Rumplestiltskin strikes a lot of poses.

“Then I thought, ‘How does he sound?’ I just heard my wee five-year-old. He walks about the house doing this thing with his voice and I thought, ‘That’s it. Rumplestiltskin has this childlike quality because he is constantly messing with people.”

It was a very different role that first brought Carlyle to the attention of TV viewers in the States, Dr Nicolas Rush in Stargate Universe.

“I came out originally to do Stargate and when that show closed down I thought that was it. So to get the chance to come back out here to do something like this is really what it’s all about and I’m very pleased to be here.”

That said, he’s also missing his family and is looking forward to coming home next month when, who knows, a trip to the Capital could be on the cards.

“I remember coming through to Edinburgh as a wee boy with my dad for the football, seeing the Castle, and being in awe of it. When it comes to Edinburgh, I guess I’m a jealous Glaswegian.”

Once Upon A Time is on Channel 5, Sundays, 8pm

LIAM RUDDEN

Originally published in Edinburgh Evening News 31 Mar 2012

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Michael Praed aka Robin of Sherwood

Two years ago, I popped into the Edinburgh Playhouse to interview Michael Praed, the original star of the ITV fantasy series Robin of Sherwood. He’d long been a name on my interviewee wishlist. Someone to interview face to face – I’d previously spoke to him on the phone. The idea was to chat about his then role as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, however, talk about the strict disciplinarian soon opened the door on his troubled childhood and a tale of horrowing abuse…

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Praed learns about acting the hard way

School brutality gives Robin Hood and Dynasty star the edge

AS the Hooded Man, he was the scourge of the Sheriff of Nottingham. As Dynasty’s Prince Michael of Moldavia, he became a firm favourite with soap fans – two roles that made Michael Praed a household name on both sides of the Atlantic.

The 49-year-old, can currently be found on the stage of the Edinburgh Playhouse, co-starring in The Sound of Music as Captain von Trapp.

Settled, pre-show, in his dressing room, the actor apologises again as he unwraps a fish supper.

“I’m about to commit the cardinal sin of theatre and eat fish and chips in the dressing room,” he had warned earlier, as we traversed the backstage corridors of the Greenside Place venue. Now, defying his take-away to imbue the room with a residual odour, he tucks into his meal and turns his attention to his latest role.

Captain von Trapp, a regimental man with a regimented family, is a part that takes him on “a big journey.”

“As far as his kids are concerned, he is an emotional bankrupt. He can’t bear to be around them because they remind him of his dead wife.” Praed pauses for emphasis, “Then he falls in love with a f***ing nun for God’s sake – when does that ever happen?”

Between mouthful he adds, “Add the spectre of those bastard Nazis and that he has to leave his country, oh, and then he finds redemption as he reconnects with his kids and does the noble thing – it is a big journey.”

Put like that, the good Captain is indeed a complex creation, but then, so too is Praed. Despite the colourful snapshot he has just painted of his character, he boasts a thoughtful stillness.

Tall and thin, he’s rakish, open and charming. There’s also a fragility about him, and right now he’s hungry, so we talk as he eats.

The last time we spoke, he revealed that he had never really experienced the full impact of the popularity Robin of Sherwood had brought him. He quit the top-rated series at its height to star as D’Artagnan in a musical production of The Three Musketeers in New York – the show that closed after just nine performances but not before it had convinced Aaron Spelling to cast him in Dynasty.

Today his childhood is on the agenda, years spent in the contrasting worlds of 1960s Iran and the English boarding school tradition.

Born on April 1, 1960 in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, Michael David Prince, to give him his full name, moved to Iran at the age of two – his father’s job as an accountant with an oil consortium took the family to Abadan.

A sadness flits across his face as he recalls a country very different to the one demonised today. “All my childhood memories are of Iran,” he says. “My life there was the definition of the quintessential glorious childhood. Even a school day was enjoyable.

“After school we would head for a nearby swimming pool, play tennis or simply play with friends. We didn’t have television but all of us had bikes and no-one thought anything of kids just saying, ‘Bye,’ to their folks and heading off on their bikes.”

Idyllic, but that freedom came to an abrupt end when he turned eight – the start of two of the most harrowing years of his life.

“My notion of what home was changed with a discussion about where I would be going to school,” he recalls. “Because there wasn’t a facility in Iran for education after the age of eight, the only solution was to go to boarding school in England. I remember my parents sat me down with various brochures and asked me to pick one.”

A preparatory school in Eastbourne – now closed – was the favoured choice. In hindsight, Praed admits that he had not ‘processed’ the consequences of attending a such a school; he was about to get a sharp lesson in the term in loco parentis – the legal definition which allows a person or organisation to take on parental responsibility.

“That whole thing about teachers being in loco parentis was a nonsense. It existed in name only,” he declares. “When my father put me into the boarding school we got the grand tour of this… well, if you think of any mental institution, that’s the kind of building it was.

“After the tour, my father left. An hour or so passed and all the other kids started to come in. I asked the house master if I could see my dad and he said, ‘I’m afraid not, he’s gone.’ Then I remember asking him, ‘When can I see him?’ And he said, ‘Christmas.’

“Now to an eight-year-old, that’s like saying a year. At that point I realised, ‘I could be in a world of s**t here’.”

He was. For the next two years Praed was subject to random beatings and punishments. “My preparatory school was a vicious regime, peppered with a few very questionable people,” he says, matter of factly.

“If, for example, a definition of a sadist is an individual who likes to inflict pain on others, then I am pretty sure that we had one of those. Add to the mix, the insidious thing of a male teacher who seemingly likes to hurt little boys, and it all gets a bit complex.”

The sadist, he describes as “a tall bastard with a widow’s peak” and “metal segs in his shoes so that you could hear him coming a mile away.

“He would beat people regularly. When you get beaten it hurts like a motherf***er. You get beaten so badly that your a**e bleeds and your underwear sticks to it. It was horrible.

“Now, as a child, your default position when you are in pain is to go to your mother or father. You learn to do that. So it is completely absurd that the person who has just beaten you is the person you are supposed to go to for comfort. That’s where the whole in loco parentis thing falls down.

“And the thing is, if you are beaten, for whatever the reason, justifiable or not, it doesn’t resolve the basic issue – your being a child. As a child you are going to f*** up, to push the boundaries. Those are the virtues of being that age. You are learning. Having the rules so rigorously enforced leaves you with no come back.”

Another favourite punishment meted out to pupils would find them standing in freezing corridors for hours on end.

“Sometimes they would forget about you,” he laughs, ironically. “They’d come back from the pub, p*****, at one o’clock in the morning and ask, ‘What are you doing out here?’ ”

He thinks for a moment: “I once read that torture isn’t actually about pain, it’s about humiliation. If you humiliate someone often enough, you can break their spirit.

“I am struggling to find a genuine reason for any of my beatings. Instead, I have a memory of being a boy whose back was broken. I was hurt physically, brutalised by some of those bastards. Sometimes justifiably in their eyes, but other times absolutely not – they simply got the wrong guy.

“That forces you to make a choice: Do I pine for someone who isn’t there to ease my burden or do I find that within myself? The only way I could do that was by, at a very tender age, divorcing myself emotionally from my folks – there was no point in writing letters because it was not their fault.

“It actually took me two years before I learned not to pine for my mother’s skirts. Then I was fine. I’d still get beaten, but I had reconciled in my mind that I knew how to deal with it. You become very self-sufficient.”

Finishing his fish and chips Praed gets up and washes his hands. Drying them, he reflects, “The aim of that regime was to teach a healthy respect for authority… I think it was an unhealthy respect.

“One of the things I taught my own kids is that you have a moral obligation to question. Not in an arrogant way, but if you do disagree with an adult, plead your case. If the adult has any brains they will listen to you. They may or may not agree, but you mustn’t bite your tongue. That simply wasn’t an option for me.”

His early schooling wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, and Praed smiles as he admits that he “loved doing school plays, almost instantly.”

His experiences also made him “incredibly resilient to circumstance,” a boon for any actor. Which brings us back to Captain von Trapp – regimental, strict and grieving.

“The comparison isn’t lost on me. Perhaps that’s why the army attracts so many ex-public school boys – there is a comfort in order.

“I haven’t consciously drawn on my experiences, that’s not how I work, but we are all victims of our history and I absolutely must bring to him the rigidity that I have emotionally. Yes, I must recall that loneliness of the soul somewhere.”

So what would he say if he met any of those teachers today. Calmly, he considers, “We are all also victims of contemporary taste. In those days, beating kids was the norm. If I bumped into one of them now and if the circumstances were correct, I’d be intrigued as an adult to ask some of those f***ers if they have learnt anything over the years.

“The sadist,” he adds, “is dead.”

Liam Rudden

Originally published in the Edinburgh Evening News 05 Feb 2010

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