Bernard and the Genie is a BBC film written by Richard Curtis (who also wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill) and directed by Paul Weiland.
I play Bernard Bottle, an art dealer who is having the worst day of his life: he is fired by his boss (Rowan Atkinson) then left by his girlfriend. When he rubs the Christmas present his girlfriend gave him the previous year (a lamp, duh), there is an explosion and he wakes up in hospital with singed testicles!! When he returns home, he discovers a genie (Lenny Henry) living in his flat, and after an initial fight they become fast friends and go off on an adventure round London.
I absolutely loved making this film. I got to work with people I had admired for years like Lenny and Rowan, and I got to fly on a magic carpet! I also got to have breakfast in my trailer with Gary Lineker and to stand on Melvyn Bragg's head. (Yes, I really did. I actually went up to him at a party years later and drunkenly reminded him of this but it didn't go down too well!)
It's also great to have been in something like this that was shown at Christmas and has a really special place in people's hearts. There is a certain age bracket of person who comes up to talk to me and Bernard and the Genie is always the first thing they mention.
Another film I did for BBC2, Dread Poets' Society was based on the amazing Rasta poet Benjamin Zephiniah's experiences of being nominated to be an Oxford don.
In real life, The Sun newspaper suggested that the ghosts of Byron, Shelley and Keats would be turning in their graves at the thought of this happening. In the film, during a thunderstorm, the ghosts of Byron, Keats, Shelley and his wife, Mary, actually appear on the train taking Benjamin to Oxford to find out the outcome of his quest.
The film was shot in Wolverhampton, on a real train encased in a tent to enable the storm sequences to be shot efficiently. Sadly, a real storm blew the tent away, and the rest of the shoot had to be done at night. I remember it being a bit of a nightmare because we were all exhausted and the hotel we were in wasn't finished, but I really like the film. It's weird.
I played Shelley opposite Alex Jennings as Byron, Dexter Fletcher as Keats and Emma Fielding as Mary. Timothy Spall and Benjamin Zepheniah himself completed the cast.
This was a short film directed by Charlie Gormley for Channel 4, which took place at a seaside bed and breakfast in Scotland.
I played a policeman who was having an affair with his boss' wife, played by Susan Wooldridge. Also starring were Katy Murphy (who I had previously worked with in Cuttin' A Rug at Dundee Rep), Iain McColl and Freddie Boardley.
I went straight into The Last Romantics after shooting Prague, without even meeting the director Jack Gold. I felt that was so terrible, and disrespectful, especially because Jack is a legend and had directed some really seminal TV films in Britain, like The Naked Civil Servant. I suppose I should have felt honoured and happy to be swanning from one movie to the next without needing to audition or go for a meeting, but this was the first time it had ever happened and it sat a little strangely with me. (I've got over it!!)
The film, made by BBC2, was based on the life of F.R. Leavis, a real-life critic and lecturer at Cambridge University, played by the utterly brilliant Ian Holm. I played Tulloch, a shy and toubled student whose behaviour turns destructive against his mentor, prompted by his room-mate, Costain, played by Rufus Sewell. Also in the cast were Sara Kestelman, who I had worked with in the London production of Cabaret, and Leo McKern (better known as Rumpole of the Bailey.)
I have two abiding memories of this film...
1: That I am a little porky in it because I was still in the first flushes of excitement of being on movie sets and enjoying all the food that was available all the time, and...
2: One hot afternon we were shooting a scene between Ian and I, and in my close-up he unintentionally made me laugh when he did a line of a T.S.Elliot poem in a slightly different way and I totally lost it and couldn't get myself together to finish the scene. It was a hot, stuffy room and it was a Friday and all the crew just wanted to go home and that just made me worse. Eventually I was sent out to have a walk around the quadrant to regain my composure, but even then i couldn't stop laughing when we went back into the scene. It is the most agonising and hysterical thing to be trying to not laugh knowing that so many people are longing for you to just get through it. I must have managed it eventually, but since then I have really been able to pull it together when it happens. I still am prone to a fit of the giggles, but never to that extent.
Forbes Masson and I did a whole series of commercials as various characters from history for Scottish Power. This was the first one.
I remember finding it galling that the budget for these commercials was many times larger than the budget for Prague, which I was about to shoot next.
But I did get paid more money than I ever had in my life.
In Heavenly I played an angel who came down to earth each week and looked at everyday things from his point of view. The six parts of this series were originally included as segments in the Channel 4 show Club X, but were later broadcast on their own.
Heavenly was written and directed by my friend Mark Cousins who later went on to run the Edinburgh Film Festival as well as presnet many TV shows and write many books on cinema, as well as be a lovely person.
My brother Tom apeared in this series! This is him in the picture with me standing in the puddle.
Automatic Transmission was a pilot for Night Network on ITV in the UK, which I shot with Forbes Masson and Ross King late in 1988.
The premise was that Ross drove a huge old NYC taxi and the guests sat with him in the front, and Forbes and I, in our guises as Victor and Barry, were the car wash men who hopped into the back of the taxi and bitched about the guests in the front. Luckily we shot our bits on a different day from the guests! The pilot had The Boys, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Pia Zadora as guests, but strangely it was never made into a series!!
At the 1988 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Victor and Barry's sell-out show Victor and Barry Say Goodbye was chosen to be part of the Perrier Pick of the Fringe Season at the Donmar Warehouse in London's Covent Garden.
This was Victor and Barry's first sojourn south of the border (though they would be soon appearing south of the equator when they toured Australia) and it caused quite a storm amongst the Scottish media. It's hard to describe now, but in the eighties it was still a big deal to 'make it' in London if you lived in Scotland. And as Victor and Barry had become really succesful in a relatively short time there was much anticipation about their London debut and how they would be received (indeed even if the would be understood.)
So when Scottish TV asked to film us and our preparations for the Donmar debut we decided it would be fun to make it a sort of mockumentary in Victor and Barry's rather surreal style. Our friend Hazel Eadie, who had been in our panto the previous year at the Tron Theatre, made an appearance as a mysterious beauty, and our au pair was played by the actual room-mate we inherited when we rented a half-renovated flat in Stoke Newington from a set designer I had been working with. It is a bizarre little show culminating in some footage from the actual first perfomance. Look out for actor Richard Griffiths who was in the audience for some reason!
I got the call to return to Glendarroch and do another stint on Take The High Road, but this time...yikes...I was to be killed off. It was actually a very great honour as I was the first character ever to be murdered in Take The High Road.
I was burned alive in Mr Blair's peat shed. Natch. They didn't even get me to play my own charred body. They used some old prop from an episode of Taggart. Seriously.
This is Teri Lally who played Carol. She thought she was pregnant so I chopped a tree down on top of her and then tried to strangle her. Duh.
Victor and Barry were co-hosts of the Scottish part of the ITV Telethon in 1988. We had to stay up all night and constantly greet members of the public who got progressively more drunk and carried larger and larger checks. It was very surreal, especially the Vitcotr and Barry Search for a Star parts, where people did things like singing with their heads inside a washing machine!
It was great fun, and actually my first time ever doing live television with people talking to me in my ear whilst trying to be witty and effervescent. No mean feat. I also remember that when day broke we had a couple of drinks and some prawn cocktail and then went on live TV again, a bit pished.