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Wednesday 23 August 2017

Coronation Street Blog Interview: Derek Griffiths


The other evening I had the great pleasure of interviewing the legendary Derek Griffiths. It was quite a surreal moment to hear my phone ring and be greeted by that oh so familiar voice from Play School, Play Away, Super Ted, Bod and countless other classic shows from all our childhoods. 

Derek is another one of those actors who is quite simply multi-talented - from straight theatre to musicals, voice overs, children's television, films and and television (drama and comedy), Derek has a career dating back to the 1960s and has worked with the very best. Most recently of course, he spent a year in Coronation Street as mechanic Freddie Smith. I was keen to find out all about his experience at Corrie, but first of all I wanted to go back in time to talk classic British comedy...

First of all, I'd love to know how you got started in the business?

I was at school in North London and while I was there I got into doing a bit of amateur theatre. I enjoyed it and from that I started working in Victorian Music Hall at a theatre in Greenwich. I did that for around two years and I was lucky enough that people from the BBC attended some of the shows, spotted me and agreed they wanted me to come and do some work with them. The rest is history!

I was talking to Robin Askwith a few weeks back and he mentioned a series you'd made together in 1971 called On The House...

That was a very long time ago! I don't really remember that much about it to be honest - Kenneth Connor was the star of the show and Robin and I were the younger members of the cast. I think we spent most of the time having a laugh and a joke which was probably frowned upon by the senior members of the cast. Robin was quite a character!

...and still is! You were also in three of the Frankie Howerd films made back to back at Elstree Studios at around this time (Up Pompeii / Up The Front / Up The Chastity Belt)?

Yes they were great fun to do. Frankie was and is a legend - a very funny man. I didn't get to know him that well when we made those films but he was pleasant, he worked hard and diligently. You knew about it if he wasn't happy with the way something was going but he was the star. It was quite daunting to be working with people like that but great to say I'd made films with the great Frankie Howerd!


I wanted to ask you a bit about the late, great Sir Bruce Forsyth who sadly passed away recently. I think you worked with him?

Yes back in 1978, we did The Travelling Music Show with music from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. It was hard work but great to do. Bruce and I wrote the script together and became very close friends from then on. He was a one off and so talented, in so many different ways. I was gutted to hear he had passed away. Bruce was one of those people who was never ill. I knew he'd been unwell and had taken himself out of the spotlight - I don't think many people other than possibly Jimmy Tarbuck had seen him near the end. Bruce was my idol, quite simply. He was the only artist I ever queued up for an autograph from which says it all. A great loss.

I wanted to ask about another film you were in, Rising Damp...

Oh yes that was great to be a part of. I was originally offered a part in the film but I was contracted to ATV at the time and couldn't do it. I was working for ATV up at Borehamwood and one lunch time they came across and asked if I wanted to film a scene for Rising Damp, so I did the part (of a boxing match referee with Leonard Rossiter and Don Warrington) in my lunch hour, running over from the other studio! It all happened so quickly I forgot I was in the film until it was released! 


You also worked with the legendary Morcambe and Wise at around this time. What were they like?

This was after they'd left the BBC in the late 1970s and moved to Thames Television. I got to know them as I'd see them at the studios while they were rehearsing their shows. I saw quite a bit of them and also The Two Ronnies (Corbett and Barker). Eric and Ernie then asked me to come and be in one of their shows which I was delighted to do. I was doing a lot of physical comedy at the time and I did some mime work on their show. They were the masters really. I also remember being asked by the then Prime Minister (James Callaghan) to attend Downing Street and put on a show to entertain a group of children. Morecambe and Wise and Roy Castle were also on the bill and it was great to work with them again.

When I was reading up on your career I saw you had worked a great deal at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester?

Ah yes I love it there. I first got involved with the Royal Exchange after I'd appeared in The Black Mikado in the West End - it was a smash hit and a complete sell out. The production was directed by Braham Murray who went on to be one of the founding artist directors of the Royal Exchange in 1976. We became close friends and it was always great to work with him up in Manchester. We did a lot of great shows there. I loved the challenge of putting on short runs of different plays. 

Do you have a favourite of all the productions you did there?

Without a doubt The Three Musketeers in 1979, which I wrote with Braham.I also starred in it with Robert Lindsay. It was fantastic. 

So do you have a favourite medium to work in out of film, theatre and television?

I'm going to be greedy and ask for a parcel of each! I love everything I get to do and think one of the most important things is to keep challenging yourself and staying fresh. Changing mediums is the best way to do this. Without a doubt though, you have to hone your craft on the stage.


Now, of all the many children's television shows you have made over the years, my own favourite was Super Ted. What was that like to be a part of?

Oh that was fantastic! We only ever recorded it on a Sunday. The cast would always gather down the pub for a big Sunday lunch and a catch up first of all. It was always a hilarious afternoon and I wish they'd recorded some of our conversations and kept all the outtakes as they were so funny and absolutely filthy!!

...It was only when I looked it up again after all these years that I realised all the big names involved in Super Ted - Jon Pertwee, Melvyn Hayes, Sheila Steafel, Roy Kinnear...

Yes it was a great cast. I got on very well with Jon Pertwee and we stayed mates after we made the series.


And I must mention Play School. I think there was a reunion not that long ago?

Yup we all got together again a couple of years back and it was wonderful to see all the old faces again. And it was the last time I met up with the lovely Brian Cant before his sad death. 

Now, I've got to ask, what it was like to get the call to join Coronation Street?

It was an absolute joy, a proper Rolls Royce of a job from beginning to end. It was a different challenge for me and I loved every minute of it. The cast and the crew are all such hardworking, talented and lovely people. No wonder actors grow up in the show and stay there for the rest of their careers - it's just a great place to work. I'd have loved to stay in the show for longer but I was doing 2000 miles a month to go between the studios and home and in the end it was just too much. 


When you went into Corrie your main storyline was with Paula Lane who played Kylie. What was she like to work with?

Oh Paula was such fun both on screen and off. We got to know each other and really enjoyed working together. She's a lovely person and an absolute treasure. We filmed so many heavy scenes together and she kept it so light and fresh in between and made it a great experience.

You also worked a great deal with two of my favourite actors in the show - Barbara Knox (Rita) and Sue Nicholls (Audrey). What they were like to be around?

Oh so much fun! We kept each other going with so many laughs and jokes and teasing! We all connected and really enjoyed working together. I had known Sue for many years, right back from the 1970s..

...Sue had done a bit of kids telly back then, things like Rentaghost...

...Yup that's right. We've known each other a long time and I even spent a Christmas at her house one year. It was great to meet up again at Coronation Street. We'd stayed in touch over the years but to work together was lovely. She's an absolutely terrific actress. 

From your time in Corrie, do you have a favourite stand out moment?

I think probably all the scenes I did with Paula. I had never played a character like Freddie before - he'd just lost his wife and was coming to terms with all that. It was quite raw and challenging to play. Paula was great to do those scenes with, such a caring person and I think that all came across in the work we did. So definitely my work with Paula Lane.


And finally, what's next for you?

I'm in the next series of the comedy Man Down, my episode should be going out sometime next month I think. And at the moment I'm in rehearsals with Dame Sian Phillips for the thirtieth anniversary production of Driving Miss Daisy. We're going on tour from September until the end of the year. 

I'd like to thank Derek very much for giving up the time to talk to me at the end of a long day of rehearsals! It was fantastic to spend time chatting with one of my childhood heroes and I'd like to wish him the very best of luck with all his future projects.

You can follow Derek on Twitter here and keep up to date with all his latest news on his brand new website here

Derek will be touring in Driving Miss Daisy from next month:

6 - 9 September - Bath Theatre Royal
11 - 16 September - Richmond Theatre
18 - 23 September - Theatre Royal Brighton
2 - 7 October - Theatre Royal Newcastle
9 - 14 October - Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
30 Oct - 4 November - Oxford Playhouse
6 - 11 November - Cambridge Arts Theatre
20 - 25 November - Malvern Theatre
27 Nov - 2 December - Chichester Theatre

And if you are so inclined you can follow me Twitter @GraemeN82

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1 comment:

abbyk said...

Freddie was a character with so much potential and was so terribly underused. Derek's acting is terrific and Freddie got along with everybody. ITs too bad they couldn't find a story for him or way for him to stay.


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