All I ever wanted to be was an actor. I’d started my career as a 14-year-old in Song Of Norway in 1946 – (“My God, that makes him over 70, Gladys!”) – and I saw myself as the next Olivier or Brando.
However, fate decreed that, after five years of weekly rep, I was to join Brian Rix’s company at the Whitehall Theatre. Halcyon days! From 1956 to 1960 playing to packed houses every night with my days filled with playing tennis and chasing actresses (I wasn’t married until 1962!)
It was around 1958 that, as enjoyable as the tennis and the chasing was, I felt I should be doing something more productive with my days – so I gave up the tennis. And cut down on the chasing. And started to write. As I hadn’t the faintest idea about the construction of plays I discussed the matter with a fellow actor in Brian’s company, Tony Hilton. I’d got him at a time when he too was thinking of doing something more productive than chasing girls (Tony didn’t play tennis!) so he and I sat down to write ONE FOR THE POT. The writing of ONE FOR THE POT took over two years, which included numerous rewrites plus try-out productions at Richmond, Wolverhampton and Birmingham. But the hard work was worth it. In 1961 it became Brian Rix’s fourth play at the Whitehall and ran for four years.
I then wrote CHASE ME COMRADE by myself for Brian, but missed the camaraderie of a co-writer. So when John Chapman (author of Brian’s two earlier plays) asked me to work with him, I jumped at the chance. What a joy! John and I sat at the desk opposite each other for the next decade or so and wrote NOT NOW DARLING, MOVE OVER MRS MARKHAM, MY GIDDY AUNT and THERE GOES THE BRIDE. I was bereft when John decided to move on to writing for television but, by now, I couldn’t stop the ideas from flowing, so for the next umpteen years I was by myself at the desk coming up with RUN FOR YOUR WIFE!, TWO INTO ONE, OUT OF ORDER, IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY, FUNNY MONEY! and CAUGHT IN THE NET. By now it was 2003 and I was beginning to feel bereft of plots when our number two son, Michael (by this time a successful screenwriter in Hollywood) telephoned me from Los Angeles to say he’d decided to write a stage comedy and had got a bit stuck.
Could he pick my brains? I said he could happily pick what was left of them, yes. He started to tell me the basic premise and I kept interrupting and saying, “Why don’t you do this?”, “Why don’t you do that?”. After about the tenth creative interruption there was a pause and Michael said “Why don’t we write this piece together, Dad?”. I think my pause was even longer than his. Can you imagine the thrill I felt? I was so overcome I didn’t know whether to scream with delight or burst into tears – so, to prevent any outpouring of unseemly fatherly emotion, I replaced the receiver. Michael rang me straight back wanting to know if I was upset at his suggestion! And what a joyous collaboration it has been. But if I thought I was returning to the old days of either side of the desk with pens poised, I would have had a rude awakening.
We spent the six months six thousand miles apart with the pair of us emailing the rewrites to each of our computers. It is probably the first time in history that a play has been co-written without the co-writers ever having the pleasure of a cup of tea together! Still, there was an upside to this new method of ‘co-writing’. We didn't exchange a single cross word and I hope you enjoyed the result of this collaboration titled TOM, DICK & HARRY.