Wednesday 15 May 2024

Exeter Dementia Action Alliance celebrates its tenth anniversary and the work of cartoonist Tony Husband

The cartoonist, Tony Husband, had a successful career as a cartoonist and was mainly known for his work in Private Eye magazine with his work also appearing in The Times, the Daily Mail and the Sunday Express as well as magazines, including Playboy and The Spectator. In later life Tony's father, Ron, suffered from Alzheimer’s and his gradual loss of memory and move into a care home inspired Tony to draw a few illustrations of an imagined conversation between the two of them. The result became 'Take Care, Son The Story of My Dad and His Dementia', which was published when Tony himself was sixty-four in 2014. (link)

The Exeter 'Cosy Route Project' in 2021 was a community wellbeing and dementia awareness initiative created by the Exeter Dementia Action Alliance to signpost people of all abilities to routes on the edge of the city where they can walk and run. Tony was commissioned to illustrate the 'Cosy Routes around Exeter' and in so doing captured the different character of each of the eight routes. (link)

During the pandemic Tony, working with the founder of the Exeter Dementia Action Alliance, Gina Awad, engaged with a number of family carers affected by dementia to create the book he illustrated, ‘United Caring For Our Love Ones Living With Dementia'. It was published in 2022 and was unique in that it featured real-life stories of people with dementia, told by loved ones. The stories reflected issues like : the impact of receiving a diagnosis; the importance of person-centred care and social inclusion; the power of meaningful engagement, partnerships, and peer support. 
The Exeter Dementia Action Alliance is now ten years old and while marking the occasion to mark the occasion the charitable foundation also took time to remember the cartoonist Tony Husband, who had worked closely with EDAA for seven years. He completed what proved to be his last piece of work for the Alliance before dying of a heart attack two weeks later on London's Westminster Bridge. (link)

Saturday 2 March 2024

Britain says "Goodbye" to its much-loved Hairy Biker, Dave Myers

Dave, who has died at the age of sixty-six, found fame alongside Si King, his best friend and work partner of 30 years as part of the motorcycle-riding cooking duo, the 'Hairy Bikers'. Together, they toured Britain and the world in search of new recipes which they then, with their wit and charm, discovered and imparted to their millions of television followers. 

Dave was born in the port 
town of Barrow-in-Furness in the historic county of Lancashire in the north of England in the autumn of 1957, the son and only child of Margaret and Jim, a papermill foreman. Dave said : "I was something of a surprise to my parents. My mum, was 42 when she had me and had been told she couldn't have children. So when she went to the doctors, they thought she had an ovarian cyst. And it was me!" 

Motor bikes figured early in Dave's life and he recalled : ”My father used to go to work on a BSA Bantam, when I was about two, three years old I used to toddle down to the bottom of the back street, he’d be there coming home from work, and he’d let me sit on the tank holding on to the handlebars and pretending to ride the motorbike up the back street". He said : “I loved the smell of oil and machinery and rubber; just one whiff would set my pulse racing”.

Back home, of his mother’s cooking he said : “The smell of fresh cakes and pies always filled the room when I was a small boy. It was magic". Unfortunately, his world started to fall apart when he was seven and he had to put his “Mam” to bed after a fall which was the first sign of multiple sclerosis, a disease which would eventually lead to her death. 

Meanwhile, while at Cambridge Street Primary School, he started to suffer from alopecia-related hair loss 
and was cruelly branded “baldy” and “Uncle Fester” by the other kids. He began to do his paper round with his hood up, using a concoction of chimney soot and Vaseline to cover up the balding areas. He recalled : “One time, I got an air pistol to shoot myself in the knees, just to get a few weeks off school, but I was wearing jeans and I hit the seam, so the pellet didn’t do any damage at all”.

Things improved when he was eight years old. His father was sixty-three in that year, and in his increased spare time, Dave said : "We became inseparable. Our favourite pastime was longline fishing in Morecambe Bay. We'd ride out on his motorbike, attach 100 worms to 100 hooks suspended from a long line staked in the sand, and see what the tide brought in. Sometimes, we'd collect as many as 40 plaice". 

Another happy time was a holiday to see to see the TT races on the Isle of Man, a dream come true for the bike-mad boy who badgered every rider he could, to sign his autograph book. Equally sharp were his memories of the meals at the Metropole Hotel, as he reflected : “Bikes and food were vying for my attention, even then”.

In 'part four' of what was to be his last BBC TV series with Si King, 'The Hairy Bikers Go West', which was aired this week, they visited Liverpool and Wirral, Dave recalled : 
"I once came to Liverpool to stay in a bed and breakfast for a week's holiday when I was a kid. It was funny because they took me on the ferry across the Mersey and when I come back, you know when you do your school diary, me I was always pretentious, I put : 'So Mam and Dad took me on a cruise'. I said we went to New Brighton and they burst out laughing, I was really humiliated. Because I thought the New Brighton ferry was a cruise". To which Si replied : "Well I mean it is, if you want to get to New Brighton that is".

Back in the 1960s, with his mother now in a wheelchair, Dave and his father became her full-time carers. He said : "Bedtimes were the worst. Dad would take her arms, I'd take her feet and we'd bounce her up the stairs. But the first time it hit me that she was really bad was when I was nine. She went to bed and couldn't get up again". Kitchen staples were now tinned mince with mashed potato and marrowfat peas. On one occasion his father mixed them all together and claimed to have created a risotto. Ironically, Dave’s love of food flowered for the first time in this period and he said : “I got tired of my father serving us tinned mince and Smash and peas, so I started cooking myself. It wasn’t a burden. I loved it”.

In 1968, Dave, having passed his 11-plus exam, took his place at the 1930 built Barrow Grammar School for Boys with its stirring school song : Westaway the seas lie open, east away the sun rides high, outward bound in morning glory, free and ready here am I.  It was here that he was taken under the wing of his art teacher, Mr Eaton, who arranged for him to visit the art galleries in Manchester and Liverpool. Dave recalled : "He encouraged me, especially in art club, which we had once or twice a week. I’d do some painting and he’d give me advice and put them up on the wall. He had an incredible imagination and would always broaden my ambition, never stifle it". Money was obviously tight at home and at the age of sixteen Dave said : "I applied to get a job as a photographer after O-levels, but I didn’t get it. It’s just as well because I stayed on and got qualifications in general studies and art".  

By now this was against the background of having to look after both his mother and father, since, when he was seventeen, his father suffered a bad stroke and sometimes fed them fillets of fresh plaice he had caught himself. Dave recalled : "I put Dad in his bed, Mum in hers and wondered : 'What I was going to do ?' When the district nurse came round, she realised I couldn't cope and asked which parent I could manage best ? It was awful to have to choose, but I said Dad because I knew he had a chance of recovery. Mum went into a geriatric ward and never came home again".

By now this was against the background of having to look after both his mother and father, since, when he was seventeen, his father suffered a bad stroke and sometimes fed them fillets of fresh plaice he had caught himself. Dave recalled : "I put Dad in his bed, Mum in hers and wondered : 'What I was going to do ?' When the district nurse came round, she realised I couldn't cope and asked which parent I could manage best ? It was awful to have to choose, but I said Dad because I knew he had a chance of recovery. Mum went into a geriatric ward and never came home again".

At the time he was in the sixth form at school Dave undertook culinary adventures when he created a 'mini curry-club', inviting his friends home after their visit to the pub for some grub, which was concoction created from whatever he found in the kitchen cupboard. Many years later he relived those “30p pub-grub days”, cooking a 'Hairy Bikers' chilli con carne recipe enriched with dark chocolate. (link)

At the age of eighteen he made his way south to London where, when arriving at Euston Station for the first time, he was stopped by police suspicious about the contents of his tobacco tin. With the encouragement of Mr Eaton, he had applied for and now took his place as an undergraduate student studying for a Fine Art degree at Goldsmiths College. In addition to his studies, living and eating in South London broadened his culinary horizons and he discovered the pleasures of south Indian food. 

In his first vacation as a student he recalled : "My first trip abroad was with a mate at the age of 18. My Dad gave me some money, so I booked a package holiday to Paris for £65, but had to hitchhike to Calais because I couldn’t afford the train fare. It was a disaster. I fell out with my mate and got pickpocketed outside the Sacré-Coeur, so I only had £25 to last me the week. But I love art, so I spent my time sitting outside and sketching. I really was a starving artist". For the rest of the
 holiday he returned to Barrow, to earn money by cleaning out the steelworks’ furnaces during the annual shutdown. It was about this time that he bought his first motor bike, a Cossack Ural Mars Mk III, with a sidecar.

After graduating in 1978, he stayed at Goldsmiths for a further year to study for his master's degree. When his father died, he said : "It was left to me to tell Mum and she was heartbroken. By the time I graduated, I'd lost both parents and twenty-three was a young age to deal with a double loss like that. I felt rootless. I remember clearing their council flat, putting some stuff in storage and tying the rest on to the back of my motorbike. I was like one of the Beverly Hillbillies".

Dave said : "Ambition kept me going" and working on the the principle that : “If I can paint a picture, I can paint a face”, he successfully applied to join, as a trainee, the BBC TV Make-up Department, which he described as : "A vibrant, exciting and caring place". However, the caring element wasn't present on his first day he was ordered "to get a wig" to hide his alopecia. Dave responded by deciding to not spend the money on a wig, which would have cost more than a month’s salary and instead shaved his head and bought himself a nearly new Honda 185 Benly motorcycle. 

As the corporation’s only known male make-up artist, Dave appeared on the cover of the staff magazine 'Ariel' with Hamble, the rag doll from 'Play School'. Before long, he was preparing guests for Blue Peter, arranging Des O’Connor’s copper-tinged highlights and painting Adam Ant’s white stripe for 'Top of the Pops'. 

Gradually he branched out into prosthetics, making casts of Patricia Hodge and Julie Wallace’s breasts for 'The Life and Loves of a She-Devil' in 1986 and when filming finished, attached one of the artificial breasts to the back of the catering truck and watched it being driven away. On another occasion he was called upon to trim Roger Moore's hair when he was filming in Luxembourg. (link)

Going freelance he became a regular make-up artist on 'Coronation Street' before moving on to larger-scale dramas with actors such as John Gielgud. In 1987, when Timothy West played Mikhail Gorbachev in the TV movie 'Breakthrough at Reykjavik' Dave had to replicate the Soviet leader’s famous red birthmark, ensuring it looked exactly the same for each day of filming.

After a brief, misguided foray into making money in the antiques trade, Dave returned to his face paints and at the age of thirty-eight was head of make-up for the Catherine Cookson drama, 'The Gambling Man' in 1995. It was now that he met Simon “Si” King, who was nine years his junior and who he described as : “A big, blond-haired Geordie” even though  he was, in fact, from County Durham. They started their twenty-nine year friendship and hit it off with their shared enjoyment of a curry, a pint and motorbikes and before long were riding and cooking side by side as though they had been childhood friends. 

Dave's health problems had continued into adulthood and his hair thinned even more after a bout of pneumonia and pleurisy. In his personal life when, after the failure of his first marriage, in 1998 Dave became engaged to Glen Howarth, a script supervisor whom he had met during filming of another Catherine Cookson tale, 'The Tide of Life'. However, his life was once again blighted by illness, when four months later she died of stomach cancer. He himself now had an emergency operation to remove a cyst the size of an apple from his brain with the curious side-effect that his hair began to grow back in tufts.

It was six years later, in 2004, when Dave was forty-five, that he and Si, a locations manager on the Harry Potter films, pitched their idea for a TV show focusing on motorbikes and food to the BBC. Dave later said : “It was midlife crisis time and you can’t have more of a midlife crisis than going off on a motorbike”.

Dave recalled : “As soon as we came up with the idea, a lass in the production office just yelled out ‘Hairy Bakers’ and the series was born!” Even so, it was two years before the two burly, hirsute motorcyclists who visited foreign locales, often getting off their bikes to cook by the roadside, would reach the screen. In the first episode of 'The Hairy Bikers’ Cookbook' the pair motored through Namibia, stopping off to cook crocodile satay and oryx rolls. Their culinary travelogue ran across three series and took them to Portugal, Vietnam, Turkey and Mexico. The series was renamed : 'The Hairy Bikers Ride Again' for the third series (link) and 'The Hairy Bakers' for the fourth series. It became such a hit with the viewers that a memo circulated the BBC praising the two men for winning over : “A difficult-to-reach audience” to which Si said : “Basically a ‘difficult-to-reach audience’ translates as ‘normal people’”.

It was in 2009, that Dave and Si firmly cemented their partnership when they hosted a 30-part daytime series for BBC Two, 'The Hairy Bikers' Food Tour of Britain' (link), which aired on weekdays and saw them visit a different county each day and cook what they considered to be that county's signature dish. Dave recalled : “As soon as we came up with the idea, a lass in the production office just yelled out ‘Hairy Bakers’ and the series was born!” 

The following year their six-part series titled 'The Hairy Bikers : Mums Know Best' (link) was aired and invited guests were asked to bring along their favourite family recipes and cooked examples which were compiled for the 'Mums Know Best Recipe Board' for the other mums to copy down. In addition, they were encouraged to bring along their indispensable, old- fashioned, dependable and sometimes unidentifiable kitchen gadgets : potato peelers, soda streams, meat mincers and pastry cutters. 

With their popularity now in ascendance, they were commissioned for a new 40-episode series, 'The Hairy Bikers' Cook Off' (link), which included a cook off between two families and celebrity guests. Then in 2011 they had signed new contracts with the BBC for another new series which saw the two of them doing what they loved best : a 5000 mile gastronomic road trip across Europe, the 'Hairy Bikers' Bakeation' (link). Their mission was to discover
 the best baking on offer across Europe, from Norway, the Low Countries, Germany, Eastern Europe, Austria, Italy and France to Spain.

At this stage in his life, Dave said of his school art teacher, Mr Eaton : "I often think about where I’d be if it wasn’t for him. There were three of us in Mr Eaton’s art school gang and we’ve all done alright for ourselves. One became a professional artist and the third is a successful photographer in Hollywood. As for me, he got me into the industry I’m in now. I’ve got him to thank for opening the door to art school, the BBC and for allowing me to do all the bonkers stuff I do now. I’m a very lucky man".

Dave recalled : "I met Lili, my wife, while we were filming 'The Hairy Bikers in Romania'. She was the manager of the hotel where we stayed. As she escorted Si and me up a spiral staircase, I whispered : "Cor, I really fancy her." And he said : "Nah, leave off, mate. She's dead scary". But Lili and I became pen pals and got married in 2011. The cultural difference has never been an issue – we just get on – and she wasn't in the least fazed by the saucy attention I got competing in 'Strictly Come Dancing' In fact, at my age, she thinks it's vaguely ridiculous".

More series abroad followed in 'The Hairy Biker's Mississippi Adventure' (link) and 'The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure' (link). Dave recalled that when they were in Japan : "I fell in love with Kyoto, which feels like old Japan, full of elegant temples and waterways. We stayed at a traditional ryokan guesthouse, where you sleep on a futon mat, but we were banned from the bathhouses because we had tattoos. There are lots of rules like that and I found it fascinating culturally". They were, incidentally, warmly accepted at a “sumo stable” in Kyoto, where they trained in loincloths alongside the wrestlers, who consumed 20,000 calories a day.

In 2013, Dave appeared on TV's 'Strictly Come Dancing', performing a “Tartan tango” to the tune of The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) with his dance partner, Karen Hauer. (link)  He became, in the words of the show’s judge Len Goodman : “The people’s champion”, winning the weekly popular vote despite sometimes low marks from judges and armchair critics deriding his “ungainly boogying”. He didn’t win, but received the longest standing ovation for his Meat Loaf-themed paso doble.(link)

In 2014 with Si, he launched 'The Hairy Bikers Diet Club', which included recipes and tips and tricks to help people to live a healthier and trimmer life, while not starving to be "skinny minnies". In 2015, they co-presented 'The Nation's Favourite Food' on BBC Two alongside Lorraine Pascale.

Dave said, with his usual enthusiasm : “We'd spent two-and-a-half years going around the world investigating other people's cultures. We wanted to get back to our roots and celebrate the food culture we have in Britain. It's just as much an exploration of wonderment for us as it is for the viewers to discover all these local foods. There are some amazing cultural dishes in the UK that have been cooked for hundreds of years that have nearly been forgotten about. We want to revive those great old recipes. Have you heard of Shropshire's fidget pie, for instance? (link)  It's based around gammon and cooking apples with potatoes, sage and onions. Delicious. We've discovered lots of great dishes like that”.

He continued with his eulogy : 
“In Cornwall, we made proper Cornish pasties at the Edenproject; we have made Malvern pudding, Cheshire cheese soup in the jaguar house at Chester Zoo; Cullen Skink soup in 
Moray.(link)  In Scarborough we made my mum's Yorkshire pudding with Si's Mam's gravy; in Wales we made Carmathenshire cockles, laver bread and Welsh salty bacon; in Somerset we cooked Somerset chicken, a traditional dish heavy with apples.(link) These are dishes born out of the land and generations of cooks perfecting the recipes”. He said that by the end of the series : "We had ridden 15,000 miles on our motorbikes – a proper food tour of Britain”.

In 2022, Dave revealed that he had been diagnosed with cancer and had been undergoing chemotherapy treatment. (link) 
He had recovered sufficient strength to handle his motor bike, by the summer of 2023, to take part in this seven-part series for BBC which saw him reunite with Si to make 'The Hairy Bikers Go West'. They traveled together down the west coast of Scotland and through Lancashire, Merseyside, North Wales, Bristol and finally Devon and Dorset.(link)

It was to be, in part, a valediction that took the bikers to places that had shaped them, with Dave even making an emotional homecoming to the county where he was born. Along the way they explored these changing areas through restaurants, recipes and inventive new food entrepreneurs. It was appropriate that they traveled their last 600 miles together on their quest to explore and reveal hidden culinary gems and as usual, the series was replete with recipes : from Chicken Balmoral with truffle mash, poached lobster served with Scottish Bucatini pasta, to Lambchop pakoras with traditional Persian rice and a Lancashire Butter and Potato Pie.

With Dave's passing Si said : 

“I will miss him every day and the bond and friendship we shared over half a lifetime. I wish you God's speed brother. You are and will remain a beacon in this world. See you on the other side. Love ya”.

When once asked how he would like to be remembered ? Dave had replied with perfect self-effacement : 

“Oh, just as a bloke that 'had a go' really. I’ve been lucky enough to do the dreams. And sometimes the nicest thing about our programmes – you look at our shows, and it’s like going away with  your best mate. It takes you out of yourself and you learn a bit and  if people remember that about me, I’ll be well happy".

Saturday 10 February 2024

Britain says "Farewell" to its much-loved actor of theatre, film and television, Michael Jayston

Page views : 275

Michael, who has died at the age of eighty-eight was born in the autumn of 1935, four years before the outbreak of the Second World War, in the City of Nottingham in the East Midlands, the only child of Myfanwy and Vincent. At the age of five he went to the small Catholic junior school, St Joseph's and then, at the age of eleven gained a place at Becket Roman Catholic Grammar School for Boys in West Bridgeford in Nottingham, which had been founded by two Augustinian priests in 1929. Its motto was : 'Labore est orare'/ 'To work is to pray'. Here he was known as "Jimmy" after the 'James' as his middle name. It was also here that he had the distinction of being caned on 130 separate occasions and also went into the school record books for scoring 60 of the school's under-13 football team's 120 goals in a season. 

When he reflected on his childhood he said it had been : "Peculiar in some ways because I never knew my father because he died when I was one year old, in an accident on a rugby pitch. He got kicked in the chest and died of pneumonia. So I never knew him unfortunately". 

"During the War, Nottingham didn't have that many bombing raids. We used to go under the stairs and I was slapped round the ear twice" (Michael was five at the time) because they'd got the radio and this voice came on and there was something about his voice that fascinated me. It was Winston Churchill of course and I became a great fan of his and he wasn't a saint, and I realised why they were listening because you could hear the bombs going off and Messerschmitts flying over the house".(link)  (link) He said he could tell the difference between a Messerschmitt and a Dornier just by listening to the engine noise.

After the War came to an end, trips to the theatre, perhaps the Nottingham the Theatre Royal or one of the five other theatres in the City. They gave him his first love of the stage and he said : "When I was about twelve years of age I wanted to be a cricketer in summer a footballer in the winter and an actor and comedian in my spare time, oh, and a writer". He loved the idea of making people laugh and enjoyed the comic turns of Max Wall (link) and Max Miller, but confessed he was too young to understand their 'double entendres'.(link)

Michael lived with his mother until 1950, when tragedy struck when he was fifteen and his mother died and as a result he went to live with his grandmother and uncle in a large house in Nottingham. He said his uncle : "Never got married because he'd fallen in love with somebody who jilted him and he never got married. He decided he didn't like women". Meanwhile, at school, he said : "I had a marvelous English teacher called John Shearton who used to make us do Shakespeare" In particular he membered 'Julius Caesar' : "Which was an ideal play for school because it's simple. It's got some marvelous dialogue init and we had to learn all the speeches, which was great for getting into exams and things like that". 

At school Michael said"By the time I was seventeen I decided Catholicism wasn't for me or any kind of organised religion"He left school with one 'A' level in Philosophy at the age of seventeen in 1952 and it was around this time that he recalled seeing the comic Harry Secombe at the Nottingham theatre, who sang 'Nessun Dorma' and said that each word translated into English meant "None shall kip".(link)

The following year he was enrolled in the Army for his two years National Service.  It was here that he became involved in amateur theatre and directed a production of 'The Happiest Days of Your Life' which, written by John Dighton, was shown at the cinema in 1950.(link) It depicted the complications that ensue when because of a bureaucratic error a girls' school was made to share premises with a boys' school.

When Michael was demobbed two years later he became a trainee accountant with the Coal Board. At the same time he said : "I got into an amateur theatre company when I was about twenty-one, called the 'Co-operative Art Centre' It was a marvelous company. Ken Loach was a contemporary of mine and was a marvelous actor and he was about nineteen at the time and he wasn't left-wing at all in those days". Michael himself said : "I nearly joined the Communist Party because they were all very left-wing teachers, We used to sing 'The Red Flag' and 'Cwm Rhondda' and 'Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer'".

Now, before he took his accountancy final exams, he left his job at the Coal Board and briefly worked in the Nottingham Fish Market where the bad language he learned was a revelation to him. At the age of twenty-three in 1958, he won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where he now had the distinction of being five years older than everyone else on his course, but doubtless let his maturity play for him amongst his fellow students. 

He now got his first taste of professional acting in reparatory  theatre and said : "In the summer holidays we did ten weeks in Bangor in Northern Ireland. I played Danny in 'Night Must Fall' and loads of farces and comedies". After his graduation in 1961 he made his debut at the Salisbury Playhouse where he played Corporal Green in 'The Amorous Prawn', before joining the Bristol Old Vic for two seasons in 1963. It was here that he was paid £14 a week when he joined and was up to £18/19 when he left. 

In 1965 his next important professional move was to start a five year tenure with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he started on less money than he was paid in Bristol, but was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ian Holm, Eric Porter and Peggy Ashcroft. He started at the Aldwych Theatre with 'Henry V' directed by Trevor Nunn with Ian Holm as the King. 

In 1967, at the age of thirty-two, he made a trip to Broadway to play in Harold Pinter's 'The Homecoming', directed by Peter Hall, in which he replaced Michael Bryant as Teddy, the brother who returns to the US and leaves his wife in London to “take care of” his father and siblings. (link)

In 1968 he made his first step into film when he played  Demetrius in Shakespeare's play 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', directed by Peter Hall. Disappointingly, it was generally poorly received by critics, with  Penelope Houston, reviewing the film for The Spectator, writing : 'Mr Hall's lovers caper in their mini-skirts and flowered Beatle blouses around a stately home so sparsely furnished that you feel the removal men are either assembling or dismantling. Make-up seems to present unlikely difficulties: Peaseblossom, Mustard Seed and their confreres appear startlingly haggard, as though late nights ministering to Titania were taking their toll'. (link) In a conversation with fellow actor, David Warner many years later, the two of them reflected that, of the film cast, they were the only two who had not received an honor.

In 1969 ITV beckoned and Michael joined the cast of the 'The Power Game' for thirteen episodes as the character Lincoln Dowling. It was dominated by the character and actions of John Wilder a captain of industry and on the board of a merchant bank, played by the formidable Patrick Wymark and was a massive ratings success with the viewers.(link) A mark of his rising success can be seen in the fact that Roy Dotrice and Alan Howard had unsuccessfully auditioned for his part. It is interesting to note that both Michael and Patrick had a Catholic upbringing, had been unruly pupils at school and were mature students at drama school.

In the following year Michael's star on television was in ascendancy when he starred in BBC TV's Wednesday Play as 'Mad Jack', the true story of Second Lieutenant Siegried Sassoon, who, on convalescence leave during the First World War he began a strident protest about the progress of the War. In the process he courted controversy in the face of objections from his superior officers and the advice of his friends. Henry Raynor, The Times's Television Critic, found his performance : 'Attractive for gentleness and self-mockery". It was this and Michael giving measured readings of Sassoon's often haunting poetry - in conjunction with Tom Clarke's sensitive script, that so impressed the judges of 1971's International Television Festival in Monte Carlo, who awarded the play their major prize. (link) (link)

It was also in 1970 that Michael starred as Charles Dickens in the 'The Hero of My Life' for Thames Television. (link) In addition, he played Beethoven in a BBC TV series of biographies (link) However, it was playing the character of Henry Ireton, Oliver Cromwell's son-in-law that he came to international recognition in Colombia's £9 million film starring Richard Harris as Oliver Cromwell and Alec Guinness as King Charles.(link)

Finally, in 1971, at the age of thirty-six, Michael occupied centre stage in 'Nicholas and Alexandra', playing Tsar Nicholas II of Russia during his deposition in the 1917 Revolution. Michael said of his role :  "I based it on King Hussein of Jordan as that kind of character who didn't want to be in that situation. I didn't think he wanted to be Tsar, but had inherited all the barbarism of his predecessors. He went along with it because of the whole family background of the ruthlessness of the Russian regime at that time. He was a sort of country gentleman in some ways. He loved his family. He was weak leader. He could have organised something better if his son hadn't had hemophilia. Who knows ? A lot of decisions were made because the son wasn't going to live that long". (link)

He also acknowledged that the film, professionally, did him no good and said : "Nobody made their name from that film at all. I think I could have had success later on if I hadn't been playing such a weak man. I had to play and redubbed bits after because it made the part even weaker". In 1973 he thought that his next film, 'Bequest to the Nation' in which Peter Finch played Admiral Nelson and he played Captain Hardy would improve his standing but it was not a success at the box office. (link)

However, in the same year and back on television, he played Mr Rochester in the five-part BBC television drama serial. Michael would have been pleased that, although considered as not without fault by the critics, it was considered by many to be the best adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s romantic classic, true to the original story, with dialogue taken directly from the novel and with convincing chemistry between Michael and Sorcha Cusack.(link) (link) 

He now went to work for the National Theatre, then under the auspices of Laurence Olivier, and would appear with him in a 1973 TV version of 'The Merchant of Venice', playing Gratiano opposite Olivier’s Shylock. (link) On a lighter note, in the same year he featured in one tale in the film, 'Tales That Witness Madness' in which he admitted to feeling terrified about doing the bedroom scene with Joan Collins, “until the bedclothes fell away to reveal her wearing something that said ‘Do you come here often?’” (link) 

He continued to ride the crest of the TV wave in 1975 when he played the title role in BBC 13 episode drama 'Quiller', working for a British secret organisation known simply as 'The Bureau' and in which he and Rosalind, played by Sinéad Cusack, were dispatched on various missions across the globe to retrieve missing documentation; prevent secrets from falling into the hands of the enemy; safely repatriate defecting agents and eliminate those whom Her Majesty's Government wished to disappear. (link) 1975 was the same year in which he played Edmund in 'King Lear' in BBC TV's 'Play of the Month'. (link)

Surprisingly, of himself, Michael said : “Few people realise that I’m a natural clown with an irrepressible sense of the ridiculous. I love comedy but for some reason I always seem to be cast as the tortured hero”. He left evidence of this throughout his career : He once pretended to be the theatre director Trevor Nunn and offered his services to Bolton Wanderers Football Club as a masseur; wrote suggestive love letters to Dame Thora Hird in the guise of a randy retired colonel;  received a long reply after he wrote to London Zoo posing as a pensioner who owned a parrot that he claimed had once had a vocabulary of 1,500 words but had developed a 'seizure of the tongue'; sent an 'official letter' from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Speaker of the House of Commons, offering to perform Henry V to MPs after which the Speaker duly contacted the RSC, which was forced to put on a hastily-assembled show in Westminster as a result.

In 1978, with Malcolm McDowell he played in a BBC TV adaptation of Dornford Yates’ 'She Fell Among Thieves' by Tom Sharpe.(link) However, it was perhaps in 1979 that he  stepped into his greatest television role as Peter Guillam, in John Le Carré’s 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'. He was totally credible as the poker-faced, hard-bitten but loyal MI6 operative who George Smiley, played by Alec Guinness, relied on to help him uncover a double agent at the heart of British intelligence. At the time of its release in the United States in 1980, Washington Post, television critic Tom Shales called the series : "Intricate and fascinating," and described its episodes as : "Six scintillating and delectable hours".(link)

In the 1980s it was clear that the nature of Michael's contribution to film and television was beginning to change and he was also vying with Robert Powell and Ray Brooks for the title of 'King of the Advert Voiceover'. Few television commercial breaks seemed complete without Michael promoting anything from teabags to cleaning products, all with his signature Shakespearean diction.(link)

1981 he narrated the film 'From a Far Country', the biography of Pope John Paul II which started in 1926 when the boy Karol Wojtyla was celebrating Christmas with his father in Poland and followed the other important stations of the life of the Pope, during and after the Second World War up to his final visit to Poland in 1979 to say "good bye". (link)

In the 1980s he turned in stylish and well-received leading performances in Noël Coward’s 'Private Lives', at the Duchess, opposite Maria Aitken in 1980. The following year, in a West End revival of 'The Sound of Music' he played Captain von Trapp with Petula Clark and reviewers predicted that women would be “swooning in the aisles” after his more than passable rendition of Edelweiss.

In 1984 he played in one episode, 'The best Chess Player in the World', of Roald Dahl's ITV series Tales of the Unexpected'. His character 'GB' lived his life according to logic and he told the story of how he became the best in the world.(link)

In 1986 Michael was viewed by millions when he came to their tv screens in the popular, long running 'Doctor Who' series, playing Valeyard, an evil version of the Doctor, in 'The Trial of a Time Lord', comprising the whole of Season 23. In this the High Council of the Time Lords appointed the Valeyard as prosecutor at the Sixth Doctor's trial, hoping to have him executed and thereby removing the sole witness to their near destruction of life on Earth. (link) Interviewed in 2023 Michael said that at the time : "I keep saying to Doctor Who supporters :"I'm not touting for work, but I am one of the Doctors. I am the evil side of the Colin Baker character. I am one of the Doctors and I'm very proud of that".

On television, he was a favourite side-kick of David Jason in 13 episodes of David Nobbs’s 'A Bit of a Do' in 1989, as the solicitor, Neville Badger, in a series of social functions and parties across West Yorkshire. (link)  Also in four episodes of 'The Darling Buds of May' in 1992 as Ernest Bristow, the brewery owner. 

He appeared again with Jason in the 1996 episode of 'Only Fools and Horses' in which Del Boy and Rodney become millionaires and which reached a television audience of nearly 25 million.(link) In 2009 he played in another collaboration with David Jason in the television movie 'Albert’s Memorial' , a touching tale of old war-time buddies making sure one of them is buried on the German soil where first they met. (link)

When it came to his political beliefs in his twilight years, he had continued to adhere to socialism because, as he said : "I thought humanitarianism was part of socialism" but "I've got very disillusioned. A disillusioned socialist because socialism doesn't exit any more, I don't think". 

In 2007, playing a Catholic cleric alongside David Suchet in Roger Crane’s 'The Last Confession' at the Haymarket Theatre, a play about financial and political infighting at the Vatican, he wasn't afraid to admit that he would have preferred something more slapstick and said :  

“It sounds naive, but basically I love to entertain people. I love to make them laugh. I love to make them cry. And thirdly I like to make them think, but most of all just to entertain”.

Michael sings 'Edelweiss' (link)


Caroline : 'He was one of my favourite actors.  I had forgotten that  he played Tsar Nicholas II, I used to watch it and now those memories have come flooding back.  Its a lovely tribute, thank you for sharing'.

Michael Jayston Site : 'This was a wonderful overview of Michael Jayston’s life and career'.

Paul Deaux : 'Thank you for the link. Excellent piece of writing on your part. I saw him in Nicholas and Alexandria in my junior year of college in 1971. Any time I think of the Tsar, his face is what I see'.

Badger : 'Thank you so much; it was a fascinating insight & taught me a good few things'.

Gina Headden : 'Thanks for this. I knew some of it but by no means all. Michael Jayston was so kind to me the few times we communicated/met, and he was the best Rochester I’ve seen on TV (or film) yet. I also saw him on stage when he toured as Martin Dysart in Equus. He was excellent in that'.

Supplier Strategies : 'Thank you. A very thorough account of Mr Jayston's life'.

Jack Alexander Nisbett : 'That's a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing and thank you for writing such a wonderful piece'.

Graham Barnfield : 'Thanks. A good read'.

Karen Elizabeth Hallman : 'Thank you so much for this, John - just Excellent - he will always be a favorite of mine...and not just for "Eyre"'.

Dr Jan Gorski : 'Lovely, John...Michael was a bit special!'

Arianna : 'Wonderful tribute, thank you!  “It  sounds naive, but basically I love to entertain people. I love to make  them laugh. I love to make them cry. And thirdly I like to make them  think, but most of all just to entertain”'. 

Lawrence Monk : 'That's a wonderful article, thank you'.