Clive Mantle is a British actor and award-winning author. Known for his role in the highly acclaimed series Robin of Sherwood as well as Casualty, Holby City, Game of Thrones and many, many more. We talked about his childhood spent at boarding school, his TV & film career, his debut novel and far more besides, including anecdotes about Clint Eastwood and Sigourney Weaver.
PC: Where were you born and can you tell me a little about your parents?
CM: June 3rd 1957 was when I was born, in Barnet, in north London to Harold and Patricia Mantle. They already had two boys Keith and Richard and I was very much an afterthought or a mistake – I popped along about 11 and 13 years after my brothers. I think they quite liked me when I did arrive but I was a bit of a shock. And I’m very glad they did have me!
I lived in Barnet until I was 9, when I went off to boarding school. I had a very good singing voice and I was lucky enough to be accepted into St. John’s College Choir in Cambridge. You had to be a boarder to be a member of the choir.
PC: Did you enjoy your time there? I’ve spoken to a couple of people who absolutely hated their boarding school days but others have nothing but good things to say about their time there.
CM: The thing I did love was the choir. I really did, it was fantastic. It gives you such a sense of the majesty of music and the architecture, pageant, all those sorts of things which slowly become part of you. The ceremony, pomp and all that sort of stuff, being part of a choir like that is such a unique experience, everyone singing for a common purpose. You palpably affect people as they are sitting there: you can see they’re moved; you can hear the glory of what you are taking part in; you can see on the faces of the listeners just how amazing the sound is. We were the second best choir in the world then – after the Vienna Boys’ Choir – so it was a sort of unique sound we were producing. A really wonderful experience!
Boarding school I’m less happy with, I think it’s quite an unnatural thing to be away from your parents quite so much, maybe a weekly boarding system would have been better. I do remember being apart from my parents for months almost, it was a bit of a shock being back for the school holidays. I remember my first holiday back with my mum – I was 9 years old – and I remember her tucking me up in bed and saying how thrilled she was to have me back and I said, ‘Thank you Matron.’ I was just so used to the matron doing that. I can still see the look on her face, I didn’t mean to upset her but it obviously hit home to her what it was like, she lost a part of me I think.
So I’m not necessarily a fan of boarding schools. I was one of the lucky ones, I survived the process, it made me very strong, it made me very independent, it made me very driven. I could look after myself. It stands you in good stead for so many things in life, resilience and all those sorts of things. It’s not terribly good for promoting communication with either the opposite sex or the people surrounding you, because you are just trying to survive really.
PC: What about the bullying side of it, or the initiations we hear about?
CM: There was not so much physical bullying in any of the schools I went to, it was more psychological. There were spats and things like that, but it was more the pressure that the strong and nimble of mind put on the sometimes slower, less fortunate people. You didn’t want to have a physical thing that made you stick out – if you had a mole on your cheek – even that was enough in some cases to promote some sort of tirade of abuse from certain quarters. Actually the bullies in my secondary school (a place called Kimbolton) were the people who were the intelligent ones, they were the high achievers, they were the brains. They were vicious, their tongues were vicious, you’d do anything to avoid them really but if it was your turn, then it was your turn; if you went into the common room you would sense it was your day, the laser beam of sarcasm flew around and if it landed on you there was nothing you could do about it. Luckily I learnt to laugh it off; I learnt to give it back a little bit. It was far better to laugh it off or walk away or whatever, even pretend it wasn’t happening. I wouldn’t want to go through it again and I certainly wouldn’t want my son to go through it. But I think that happens in day schools as well as boarding schools. But in a boarding situation you haven’t got a chance to escape.
PC: Did you have a favourite teacher at boarding school who championed you a little bit or who you had a soft spot for?
CM: There were probably three or four… isn’t that terrible to say that in the whole of my schooling only three or four teachers stand out. Most did an adequate (a perfectly average job) but only three or four inspired me, I find that sad. But specifically a guy called Eric Gibbons at St John’s and a wonderful guy at Kimbolton called Geoff Coles, who was my housemaster as well, he was just a very, very wonderful sort of substitute father really while you were away at boarding school.
PC: What sort of boy were you? For example what were you doing in the summer holidays, exploring or a bit of a bookworm?
CM: I was more interested in smoking. My whole objective in life was to smoke as many cigarettes as I possibly could in the school holidays. It seemed to be such a huge thing when I was a child. Now of course we are sensible enough to realise it’s a guaranteed way to kill yourself but then it was the height of… I mean everyone in the country smoked, it was addictive.
Our family always had a dog, so dog walks and I was passionate about cricket and cricket commentary, listening to John Arlott commentating about one of my heroes, Basil D’Oliveira; I was just talking to my son about him, apartheid and stuff like that. They were amazing times – I remember my father explaining things. The two great subjects I remember talking to him about, were Everest and Apartheid. We went to see Basil D’Oliveira play cricket at Worcester. He explained the whole of the South African political system – I think I was 11 – and the injustice of it all, and how Basil D’Oliveira was selected to play for England but as a black player wasn’t allowed to go to South Africa. This was just at the end of the 1960s – it was 1968 – and how wonderful it is those regimes have toppled but really just still in our lifetime.
My father was a staunch socialist, a really lovely man, but a very ill man – he only had one lung. He had TB when he was thirty so he treated everyday after he came out of hospital – he was in Harefield hospital for nearly two years – as a bonus really. He died when he was 61, sadly, but to him he had a bonus of 30 extra years. It was a long time ago, he would have been 100 about a few weeks ago, my brothers and I all got together on that day.
PC: What sort of morals or values did you take from your parents or grandparents?
CM: My mother and father were a perfect match: wonderful, supporting and kind; old-fashioned family if you like. No great luxuries in life really. A shared holiday once a year in a dormobile or something with my aunts and uncles, and their children, my cousins. We were packed into a hired dormobile and off to either Wales, Cornwall or Devon or somewhere. Very simple pleasures, no luxuries, though I think a piano did arrive at some stage. We certainly weren’t the first with a television in our street, I know that. But it didn’t matter because it was different times and we spent our lives doing different things. We weren’t glued to iPhones and computer games, we were outside running about. Just different times really, you can only put it under those brackets.
My son today loves being outside, running about, but he also loves being glued to a game on his iPhone or whatever it is or YouTube and, no doubt I would have been if I was his age now, I’d be doing exactly the same thing.
PC: How old is your son?
CM: He is 14, so he is right in the thick of it.
PC: I think as long as there is a balance and they are getting out it’s fine to do the other stuff, otherwise they become that child who gets bullied because his parents don’t allow him to have the latest gear. It doesn’t always work out for the best not letting them indulge in these things.
CM: He will find his own way. It’s just a neurotic process watching them grow up.
PC: Where do you live now?
CM: We live in Wiltshire. I was born in Barnet, as I said, but then my mum and dad moved up near Cambridge about 25 miles away, whilst I was in St John’s Choir, to be near me because it was my father’s greatest joy, my mother said, that he was able to come and listen to the music. It was just something he found extraordinary, and it was extraordinary there’s no doubt about it.
He bought a tiny, little village post office and general shop and did the post round at 5 o’clock in the morning and then opened the shop and served behind the post office counter all day. My mum was on the other side, slicing ham and serving people at the till. I still remember in the holidays at 6 o’clock or whenever he shut the door, absolutely exhausted (and not a well man) sitting down for a cup of tea with his evening meal and someone knocking on the back door wanting some vital ingredient for their evening meal, or whatever they may need, and up he’d get up again and go and serve them. He was one of those wonderful village shopkeepers. So yes, his greatest pleasure was watching the choir sing.
PC: What about your brothers? What profession did they end up pursuing as careers?
CM: My brothers are both very successful. One started a huge financial accounting practice in South London and retired from that several years ago. He took on a lot of actors, funnily enough, and ended up being a bit of a specialist in actors’ tax and things like that – which is a little complicated just because you are self employed… only about 10% of us ever earn anything so… (laughs). My other brother was a very successful furniture salesman for a number of companies. He had a very long and good career in that and he retired just recently, they both carried on longer than the official retiring age, but have finally hung up their respective boots, and they are enjoying a wonderful retirement.
PC: So being hard-working is something you all got from your father?
CM: Yes, I think so, and from my mum as well, but also from the sort of generation we’re from. There’s not many people of my age that I know who are sort of sitting around waiting for things to happen, and most of us are still galvanised and saying, ‘Well it’s not going to just land in your lap, you got to out there and get it done, or get it started at least.’
PC: You went to RADA [Royal Academy of Dramatic Art]: how did you get into there?
CM: Because I was not very good at school, not because I wasn’t intelligent, I wasn’t terribly attentive in school, I was far more interested in…
CM: The football team, the cricket team, school plays and the school choir. I did all the peripheral activities I was interested in. I didn’t get very many ‘O’levels or ‘A’ levels – I scraped through – but I already knew I wanted to be an actor, so I was just lucky enough to be able to get into the National Youth Theatre when I was 17. A notice went up on the school notice board and, I know hundreds and thousands of people audition every year for a place there and I was lucky enough to be one of the 80-90 accepted that year, so it changed my life, literally, at the age of 17.
For the first time in my life really I walked into a room and I was surrounded by the sort of people I wanted to be with: gentle, kind, funny, creative, sparky, intelligent people; and I thought, ‘This is it. This is where I want to belong.’ I still had a year left at school but I already knew I wanted to be an actor. Following leaving school I was a farmer for a year, a caretaker, a box office manager for a year at a London theatre – all manner of things until I could get into drama school. It was worth the wait because when I did get in I got into RADA, a real stroke of luck because it was then going through a really good time. A purple patch.
In my year the two leading lights were Mark Rylance, and a wonderful stage actor called Richard McCabe, who’ve won several awards between them now. These are guys I was acting with day in and day out. My friends then are still some of my closest friends today – those, and my Robin of Sherwood pals. I was 21 when I went to RADA, 23 when I left and I have been working ever since.
PC: There are a lot of actors I’ve spoken to who have mentioned Mark Rylance, he’s very well-liked, and amongst the American actors too.
CM: He is an exceptional actor. We did an incredible production of Journey’s End at RADA, which was set in the trench of the First World War. At one point in the play a German soldier is captured and dragged down into the trench and questioned by the British soldiers, and I think he only has about 9 lines – Mark played the German soldier – he played it beautifully, the character was heartbreaking, absolutely… he was always absolutely fantastic. He was head and shoulders above the rest at RADA, as you might imagine.
PC: I suppose you wouldn’t have had a career plan B because once you went there you knew…
CM: It was pretty difficult as a young actor to have a plan B because you are more likely to resort to it. It’s not bad to have a skill whereby you can earn a living at the same time, whether it’s waiting tables, working in a bar, being a legal secretary or whatever – there are plenty of jobs where you can pay the rent and at the same time act and if you need to drop everything and go on tour – but if you don’t give it your everything… There’s very few actors and actresses for whom a glittery golden path opens up in front of them; that does happen but it’s one in a thousand, or one in ten thousand, impossible to calculate. The other way of making a success in acting is to be absolutely dogged about your pursuit of work, creating work for yourself, ways of ensuring that you have some sort of sustainable career and some sort of longevity. Again, if you sit around waiting for something to happen, chances are it might happen once or twice but it ain’t gonna happen as regularly as you need it to, you have to go out and pursue the work.
PC: That must be reflected in the prolific career you have had, it can’t be just because you have had a good agent, it has to be because you are employing those tactics actively going after roles.
CM: I think a lot of it is luck but I think actually, just be personable, and because I’ve been lucky enough to work in drama, radio, stage, film, comedy whatever, it’s because I’ve known people from those different worlds and we’ve all got on, or we’ve all become good mates – I’ve been seen as a safe pair of hands in all these different disciplines. I think probably you could be a really good actor and be difficult, and people will still use you because the end result you produce is good enough. But I don’t see the point in going to work and being difficult, I want to enjoy my work. Even after 40 years in the business I can count on one hand the people I wouldn’t want to work with again, or who I wouldn’t want to be on stage with or in front of the camera with. That’s not bad in 40 years, is it?
PC: What would you consider your first professional acting gig?
CM: Well before I went to drama school, I was lucky enough to be in a production of a Tennessee Williams Play called The Red Devil Battery Sign at The Roundhouse; I can’t even remember what year, probably 1977. It was amazing because Tennessee Williams was in rehearsals with us – he was one of the greatest stars of our business ever and there he was sat in rehearsals. He was just an amazing influence early on and after RADA I got a job straight away in a film called The Orchard End Murder.
The Whirligig Theatre which was created by a great and amazing man called David Wood; I think one Christmas he had 40 shows on around the length and breadth of the country. Amazing! He was an actor – still is an actor – he was in if…. and things like that. He was one of the three main boys in it, along with Malcolm McDowell and Richard Warwick. David Wood gave me a job with The Whirligig Theatre, for about six months and it was the first time I was earning proper money, and out on tour, I was footloose and fancy free, no responsibilities, no rent to pay in London ; someone probably took my bedroom at the flat while I was away. Life was like that in those days and I suppose it still is. So a variety of different jobs and disciplines to begin with and slowly built up. I think Minder was my first television role – I got my equity card from doing Minder.
PC: It’s hard to comprehend it’s been 30 years since you first appeared in Robin of Sherwood isn’t it?
CM: Yes, well that was my first big lucky break and again Esta Charkham who was casting it knew me from The National Youth Theatre. Without the luck in getting into the The Youth Theatre, without surviving that process and thought of as a safe pair of hands, as a young actor she would never have put me forward as Little John. I was the only actor seen for the part. The producers Paul Knight and Kip Carpenter had been to see me in a production of Robin Hood at The Young Vic and I think they knew I was the right person, so I tipped up at the interview expecting to be given the third degree and being put through my paces. Paul Knight, who is a giant of a man himself, just got up from behind his desk walked around and gave me a great big hug and he more or less said ‘Welcome aboard,’. It was a wonderful, wonderful thing.
PC: I read that you did many of your own stunts in Robin of Sherwood. Was that fun, or quite taxing, learning the likes of archery, sword fighting and horse riding?
CM: When you are 25-26 nothing like that is taxing, it’s all an adventure. (Laughs) We were gloriously well paid in comparative terms – we had a brown envelope given to us every week for expenses – we could not have been happier. We were so close both Michael (Praed) and Jason (Connery) and all the merry men, and Judy as well of course, and still are to this day. They are the people I turn to, the sort of people I call if I need a proper chat about something, and we are all still in touch. It’s absolutely amazing, we had the most glorious three years, and never to be repeated sadly, but far better to have had that experience, and marvelled and revelled in every minute, than never had it – and far better to have it early on, it set us all up really. I think most of the others spent their money. I was the only one who saved up enough for a deposit on a flat, but I think if you earn big money in your life, one time, you have to blow it a little bit.
PC: I’m sure having a brother in finance probably made you have your head screwed on a bit more…
CM: I did bizarre things: I remember eating 8 curries in restaurants one week, but I also bought life membership to The National Trust which was a wonderful thing (not many 27-year-olds were doing that). I did use my money wisely but also had a wonderful time.
PC: What about when Michael left the show and was replaced by Jason, how did you feel about that and did you gel with him?
CM: We thought it was the finish. Mark Ryan, myself and Michael shared a house that year. It came as a big shock when Michael told us and we naturally thought, ‘Well that’s the end of that, it’s been wonderful while it lasted.’ Michael obviously had his own reasons for wanting to leave. We did screen tests with other actors fairly soon, so we knew they wanted to keep the series alive if possible. We did screen tests with several other actors. Jason was obviously head and shoulders the best possibility for taking over. It was a wonderful transition, they were very clever, Richard Carpenter (Kip) just used another strand of the legend of Robin Hood and took it in a different direction. We should still be making now to be perfectly honest with you, there was so much great storytelling. I think the demise of Goldcrest… they used to put in a third of the money, and after they went bust when one of their films failed, they couldn’t stump up their share, and the other two who were financing it couldn’t make up the budget – that sounds silly now doesn’t it. It was an expensive series to make, it was £450,000 an episode to make and this was in the ‘80s, so it was an extraordinary amount of money. When I was on Casualty, years later, that cost around £300,000 an episode, 20 years later or whatever it was.
PC: I know some of the scenes were filmed in Northumberland which is one of my favourite places on the planet and where I spent my honeymoon many, many years ago. Did you get to enjoy the scenery and the fantastic beaches etc?
CM: Yes and I’ve been back many times since. Bamburgh Castle is one of my all time favourites places, it’s extraordinary isn’t it, whether it’s raining or it’s sunny, every time you look at it it’s different. The only time I haven’t enjoyed looking at it was in a film I did with Jason, called The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, where the British soldiers are meant to be assaulting a German castle and they used Bamburgh for that. Jason and I were dangling off of a wire about 150 feet up on the west side of the castle wall, just petrified, so that’s the only time I haven’t enjoyed Bamburgh castle.
PC: Was Robin of Sherwood a hit in America at that time?
CM: Yes it was, it was on Showtime. They did very well out of it and we did very well, it worked brilliantly all round. Mark and I, and Jason I think as well, have done many conventions in America, they are extraordinary events. There can be 5,000 people in a hotel conference centre all dressed up as characters from the show.
PC: The Americans are mad about all things British anyway though aren’t they?
CM: Yeah I mean massive fans… why not? Thank goodness. That sort of devotion to something is wonderful, we all really, really loved making the series and I’ve never enjoyed a job more. Fans can quote every single line from every single episode, it’s incredible – it was so much a part of their childhood.
PC: You must have felt proud when the fans put together a fundraiser to record an audio play a few years ago using Kip Carpenter’s script Knights of the Apocalypse.
CM: Yes it was lovely to get together again. It wasn’t going to be the same as filming months on end, deep in some Wiltshire forest, but it was glorious for us all to be part of something like that, and more importantly to raise money for Kip’s charities that he’d nominated before he’d died, and in some small sense it was nice to feel like we were finishing things off. We might do more, who knows? It depends on the standards. We don’t ever want to dilute what was there. I’m scared of watching the series, and I’m scared of comparing it to the way television is made nowadays, and I’m scared that it will appear dated.
PC: I saw a clip from This Is Your Life: was it a complete surprise that they chose you to be featured? That programme was massive back in the day.
CM: Vast. By that time I was lucky enough to be in Casualty and that was all obviously going pretty well for me. I loved doing it, it was a wonderful job, it was so lovely to play someone so constructive, it was fantastic and very nice people again, a lot of laughs and a lot of very good work. This Is Your Life came completely out of the blue. I think I’d been working for 21 straight days because of the schedule and I was sort of near the end of my tether… I had this day off and I thought, ‘Thank goodness, I can do some ordinary things and breathe again,’ and this phone call came to say, ‘You have to come in. They’ve messed up the filming from yesterday,’ or whatever, ‘You’ve got to come in and film that one scene again.’ I went a bit grand on the phone, ‘Do you realise I haven’t had a day off…?’
PC: ‘This is bloody ridiculous!’
CM: So I got a bit grand, and I knew there was an equity rule that if you worked 21 straight days you got some sort of penalty payment, so I quoted this to the very nice caller (I can’t remember who it was now) and they went, ‘Oh well Clive we will look into that but we really need you to be here.’ So I turn up to re-film the scene we’d done the day before and we were rehearsing, and instead of the actor who was meant to be standing there with me… of course when we went for a take and I burst in… there was Michael Aspel! It was brilliantly conceived and brilliantly carried off and I’m very glad I didn’t get my day off. It was lovely but it was a long, long time ago.
PC: You had a small role in White Hunter Black Heart and I was speaking with Holt McCallany (who you were in Alien 3 with) about Clint Eastwood’s style of directing, he told me Clint was a very quiet man who didn’t need to say much to get his thoughts across when he was directing. I was wondering if you had the same experience.
CM: First and foremost he’s an absolutely glorious human being, which is the most important thing about him – he’s everything you’d want him to be. He’s a kind and gentle man who absolutely loves actors, and he loves hearing anecdotes and stuff. He’s an extraordinary man. But as a director I think he’s just as impressive: he doesn’t force things; he doesn’t shout at anyone; he doesn’t stamp his feet; he’s relaxed. In fact the only time he came close to losing his temper in Africa – where we were filming White Hunter Black Heart – was when he saw one of the crew shouting at his department, and I think Clint made it very clear that wasn’t the best way of getting good work out of people, and if he was going to carry on like that he could get the next plane home. He is an extraordinary man. If he’d accomplished the day’s schedule by 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon, instead of trying to cram in something from the next day, that was it, ‘We’ve got what we need, you’ve done your work for the day, go. Enjoy!’
CM: Which in the economy of today’s film making or television making or theatre making, it’s just unheard of. Whether Clint is still allowed to do that in his film budget I don’t know, but it felt very special. He refuses to audition actors in the conventional sense because he knows, if you walk into a room and Clint Eastwood is standing there, you’d be more worried about that than trying to act or auditioning well.
PC: So how did you audition for that movie?
CM: I auditioned with the casting director, I recorded a scene on tape, and then a couple of days later I rambled in to the house from my vegetable patch and I got an answerphone message, my agent rang up and said that she’d received a message from Clint Eastwood’s office, ‘Book Clive Mantle. Tell him to keep the beard.’ That was it. When we arrived in Zimbabwe for filming, we were all petrified he was going to say, ‘No, that’s not the one I wanted, I want the other one.’ (Laughing) So yes, glorious, wonderful to work with.
PC: I know he’s a fan of Newcastle Brown Ale…
CM: He was yeah. There was myself, Alun Armstrong and Jeff Fahey, we were in Jeff’s room one night, shooting the breeze, and the phone rang and Jeff said, ‘Yeah sure, come on down. It’s just me, Alun and Clive,’ and two minutes later Clint walks in with a hamper of beer, including the famous Newcastle Brown Ale and, of course, Alun Armstrong, just looked at him and said in Geordie, ‘Aww Clint man, if I had a camera now.’
PC: I wonder how he even got into that drink, I’d love to know, being from Newcastle myself.
CM: Warner Brothers had sent him a crate of beers from around the world, and he was ploughing through them, and he just said Newcastle Brown was his favourite at that time – whether it still is, I don’t know.
PC: It’s not my favourite that’s for sure!
CM: He was a bit alarmed when we told him that there was a story… whether it was an urban myth or not I don’t know – or one of these unproven facts that you spout – that there was a special ward at Newcastle Royal Infirmary for people suffering from brain damage because of the effects of Newky Brown.
PC: I wouldn’t be surprised!
CM: I doubt if it’s true.
PC: You were described as ‘the heart-throb consultant’ on Casualty. I see fans now that go absolutely over the top with worshipping actors: how adoring were your fans? Was there any over zealous stuff?
CM: They were very respectful. I used to get up-to 10-15 letters a day, once every couple of weeks I’d sit down and reply to everybody; they were delightful people, lovely. There were only a few people [who] went a bit mad and would turn up in the village I lived in, in Wiltshire. They would say to the postmaster, ‘One of my old friends is Clive Mantle. Can you tell me where his house is?’ And, of course, they knew not to point people in my direction. There were only a few occasions, I was working in my garden once – which is sort of 100 yards from the main road – when suddenly, up the drive, walked somebody asking, ‘Can I have an autograph please?’ I was so dumbfounded I just signed the autograph, and they just turned around and walked away. I was utterly amazed: people wanted to show me their scars, or talk me through their medical history, or their mum’s medical history. I was there for five years and Holby for two and I can count on one hand the number of bad experiences, and the thousands and thousands of good experiences. It’s quite disconcerting when people are watching you eat though, that’s the only time I really don’t enjoy it.
PC: It’s different times now with social media, it’s good and it’s bad. It’s good for me being able to connect with people like yourself but it’s not so good for the likes of actor James Spader who’s had fans stand outside his apartment in New York, or trail him walking his dog in Central Park, because they’ve shared the information on Twitter and Facebook, that’s too much.
CM: Who knows? Again it is different times. The sort of things I’m doing now as a 62-year-old man, I’m hardly likely to experience that…
PC: Well I don’t know, James Spader is 59 (laughing).
CM: Probably not that many people are in love with a great big 6 foot 5 and a half 62-year-old man but I shall deal with whatever comes my way.
PC: Yes! I interviewed Peter Jacobson from House and he said people often ask his opinion on their medical conditions, you must have had the same experience from time to time.
CM: I still remember, one chap walked up to me and lifted his shirt up, and his stomach was just like looking at the rail tracks coming out of Paddington station, it was just extraordinary, resulting from operations. He went, ‘What do you think of that Doc? ‘ Incredible! I don’t know what I was meant to say, I wished him well and at least he was still walking about. He was certainly one good advert for the National Health Service.
PC: Peter said something like one time there was a call went out over a tannoy asking if there were any doctors around to help someone in trouble and he was ready to get out of his seat…
CM: I was so embarrassed about how little we knew as doctors other than what we needed for a scene. I was in a chemist once in Bath when I saw a man collapse in front of me, I took two steps towards him thinking I knew what to do before a proper first aider stepped in. I made the cast on Casualty do a lifesaver course at Frenchay hospital in Bristol, and at least now we could all, from that point onwards, keep someone going until an ambulance gets there. It’s so important to learn how to circulate blood and oxygen through the vital organs until the paramedics get there with the life saving drugs, and take over. And why that can’t be taught more I don’t know. There can’t be anything more important than learning how to keep your fellow human beings alive I wouldn’t have thought.
PC: That’s true! The worst thing you can do is nothing!
What drew you to reprise your role as Dr Mike Barratt on Holby City?
CM: It was financial (laughing). I’d left Casualty because it had been 5 years and suddenly I was doing stories for the third time. I remember my third Jehovah Witness story of not wanting a blood transfusion and I thought, ‘Well I’ve only been here 5 years and I’m doing the same story for the third time.’ And also I was finding it harder and harder to learn because everything I said was more or less the same as the previous week, except in a slightly different order, and my head was just full. We were doing 46-48 weeks a year – I was really grateful for the work, but if it had been 26 weeks of the year and I could have gone off and done other things, and that would have been wonderful.
So I left Casualty and went off and did a great tour of Of Mice and Men then I did a less successful TV show called Bloomin’ Marvellous with Sarah Lancashire and honestly the reviews we got… Well a mass murderer would get a better press then we did for that – we were slaughtered. Anyway the work just dried up and a couple of mates of mine had set up Holby City and they asked me if I wanted to go back, I jumped on board but sadly they were moved on before I even filmed my first scene, so I was left with a very different regime and we didn’t really see eye to eye, so I didn’t have a great couple of years on that. I went into it for the right reasons and I left for the right reasons as well.
PC: You played a prisoner in David Fincher’s Alien 3 film. I have spoken to many actors from his Mindhunter TV show about his directing skills, and everyone has high praise for how he manages to get you to forget that you are acting by shooting certain scenes over and over, so that it becomes a part of your natural being. What are your thoughts on David?
CM: Alien 3 was his first major feature film. I think he was around 28 when he made it, though I may be be a year or two out but that age sticks in my head. He was an extraordinary man very, very, very capable, very relaxed considering he had all that pressure. He had 7 sound stages at Pinewood, all with incredibly expensive sets; he had the producers hovering over his shoulder; he had some very well established stars in the cast and yet it was like it was the most perfectly natural thing in the world for him. He had banks of monitors in front of him, main unit, second unit, action unit, computer unit – so he could see what was going on. Obviously his concentration was the on the main unit, but a wonderful man, very funny, very kind.
I had a picture taken when I was at drama school, I did a play where I shaved my head and my mate Dave suggested taking a picture, thinking it might come in useful later on in my career. And so it happened, years and years and years later whenever it was that Alien 3 were casting, they were looking for bald monks or bald religious fanatics (I can’t remember what the stipulation was now), so Marjorie, my wonderful old agent, sent this photograph to them. Apparently the story goes, when I went to interview- David Fincher pointed to the wall and there was my picture. He’d said to the casting director, ‘Get me a dozen more like that.’ It’s amazing how fate, or chance, plays a part. Thanks Dave.
PC: The thing is with Fincher he likes to keep people in his back pocket and reuse them, like casting Holt McCallany in Mindhunter, so you might get that call from him. Holt is my top guy, he’s just the loveliest of men.
CM: He is a lovely man. There were a few Americans came across for that and Holt just fitted in: loved England, loved actors, loved talking, loved shooting the breeze. We actually had a ball. We had our heads shaved every morning at 7 o’clock, or whatever, and we had grime thrown at us, plastered all over us – we became a very inclusive group of people. Just an extraordinary group of character actors. But one by one the gang got chewed up by an alien, it was great fun.
PC: And what about the leading lady, Sigourney Weaver, did you get to spend any time with her?
CM: She was fantastic. I’m looking at a picture of me and her now on the wall. I had this line, ‘I don’t give a fuck what she says, let’s go do it.’ I had this idea in my head, because of what she looked like – because she had her head shaved and looked amazingly different – I looked into one camera and said, ‘I don’t give a fuck what Shirley Temple says I’m doing it,’ and the whole set stopped and went ‘uhhh’ and she sort of looked at me with her eyebrows raised then the scene sort of carried on. After Fincher cut on the rehearsal, there was lots of scampering about and whispering. Someone came back and we’d got the nod from 20th Century Fox that I was allowed to keep the line in.
PC: That was cool!
CM: My message from Sigourney Weaver on the picture she gave me says, ‘To Clive, a rapist, a convict, a swell guy all in all, much love Shirley Temple.’
PC: Talking of leading ladies, you had a couple of very funny episodes with Dawn French on The Vicar of Dibley. How was that?
CM: What a great privilege just to be in that rehearsal. In the week leading up to recording something like that can often be real torture. I’ve worked on a lot of comedies where it’s really the least funny process in the world, people scratching their heads trying to work out what’s funny. Working on The Vicar of Dibley is just great, principally because of who the people were in charge: Richard Curtis, Paul Mayhew-Archer, Dawn – they were just supremely relaxed. They were at the top of their game, all of them, and still are. Already by then, at that tender age, they were all firing on all cylinders and Dawn was completely all-inclusive. You really felt part of it, really felt welcome. It was a great joy, and a masterclass I have to say in comedy, I was very privileged to have performed on it.
PC: I read you weren’t available for season 2 of Game of Thrones, having played the character Greatjon Umber in the first season.
CM: Yes sadly, I have to say I was expecting it to be another Robin of Sherwood. For a start I think there were 300 speaking parts in the first ten episodes, of which I was just one. I didn’t ask to be looked after specially but my terms and conditions weren’t as I wanted, so I would only sign for one year and I finished that first year and I got offered a whole year’s work on two other jobs, and you know, I wasn’t in a position to turn that down. My agent kept asking Game of Thrones what dates they wanted me and they kept saying, ‘We don’t know yet. We don’t know yet.’ I mean we did go backwards and forwards about three times saying, ‘Look. Listen, I’ve been offered all this work. Can you let me know?’ And eventually I had to accept the other work, for which I was very grateful and pleased to do, but then Game of Thrones came back and said they wanted me for four days – one day July, one day in August, a couple of days in October something like that. My agent had to say, ‘Sorry, Clive’s doing other things,’ and I’m afraid they weren’t happy and the casting director wasn’t very happy.
PC: That’s the same on The Walking Dead because of the huge cast they have, and by the time you have paid out for travel and accommodation, and even though it’s a massive show, because they are only working in certain episodes they are not making a huge amount of money at the end of it.
CM: We really weren’t either, I made it in 2010 and I was on the same wage as when I’d done a television show in 1985. So that gives you some idea.
PC: Was 2010 when you toured with Jus’ Like That! A Night Out with Tommy Cooper?
CM: I did the tour first then Game of Thrones. He was a great hero of mine on the telly and to be able to study him… I mean I’d worked on it for a good 3-4 months before I ever stepped into rehearsals – probably even longer than that actually, to give myself the best possible chance – I wanted to get the biggest slice of Tommy I possibly could up there on stage, it was just a glorious opportunity and a wonderful privilege to be able to do it. His material makes me weep with laughter. I took all the television performances to bits. I just tried to copy everything I could from his performances, like when to raise my eyebrow and adjust my collar, it was a very, very happy time.
PC: Do you have a preference between TV and theatre?
CM: I’ve always been just terribly pragmatic… I really do like paying the bills. I’m not good when I’m in debt, I worry a lot, it’s not a pleasant experience (as many people realise). Already in my acting career I’ve had 5 or 6 massive highs and 5 or 6 massive lows, when you’re just about to lose your house, some job comes along and saves you. It’s incredible, it’s that absolute roller coaster – exciting – but the older you get… I could do with the ride just evening out a bit.
PC: I have talked about in other interviews how people think an actor’s life is a glamorous one, but it’s really quite difficult and mental health is a big thing with actors, not knowing when their next job will come up and being away from their families.
CM: We had a little reunion of my drama chums recently and I think only 5 or 6 of us out of 23 were currently involved in acting, it’s incredible that we were successful actors from the leading drama school in Britain. The fall out rates are incredible because so many just cannot sustain a career. I have been very lucky over the years, I have managed to do so.
PC: Let’s talk about your recently published and award winning debut novel The Treasure at the Top of the World.
CM: That was planned for a long time, I’d never had time to sit down and do it. I went to Everest base camp with my mate, George Irving, who was in Holby City with me and it was to raise money for a charity called Hope and Homes for Children. It was glorious to get to Everest to touch it, hug it really, that’s what I wanted on do. I got to do that, and the experience of the Himalayan trek, getting rid of all the rubbish from your head. Life becomes quite simple. It’s about keeping warm, keeping fed, keeping watered and looking after the people around you – that’s literally how simple life becomes. So you get plenty of time walking by yourself, or when you’re trekking in a long line of people. It may be that you’re not talking much of the time, so there’s plenty of time to think. And on the way out from Everest I was so moved by the whole thing that I invented the story – granted it was about four or five years later that I even got time to sit down and write the first few thousand words. I was on a job in South Africa on the remake of The Poseidon Adventure. There’s not a person on the planet who knows why we needed to remake it, but luckily I got about 4-5 months of working in Cape Town, but they couldn’t keep flying us backwards and forwards, so I had two or three days between times I was needed on set. So for the first time in my career I had time to sit down and write. The stories just poured out of me. It was far too long, but I got an agent from my first attempts, and we batted it backwards and forwards. I got it down from 125,000 over time and it was published at 52,000 because I’d used an awful lot more words than I needed to first time round.
PC: You said your dad had talked a lot about Everest. Where did his interest for Everest come from?
CM: I was born in 1957, Hillary and Tenzing climbed Everest in 1953, so it was really still part of the national consciousness, it was amazing. The impact in the newspapers on the morning of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation… All these events coincided, it was super-human what they did, still is, even with the advance in climbing gear. But they were two very extraordinary human beings to do what they did. And then of course you start reading about Everest, the Mallory and Irvine stories, and all the brave soldiers who attempted the climb in intervening years. It’s an extraordinary place. I’m really very, very pleased I’ve been there, I’m wandering around my study now and I’m looking at all the pictures of Everest, not a day goes by that I don’t take off there for a couple of minutes.
PC: I get where you are coming from, I lived in the Lake District for a good few years and loved the mountains and got into the climbing stories from Joe Tasker to Chris Bonnington, obviously, but have never attempted any climbing myself. We moved 20 years ago to Edinburgh but live beside the Pentland hills because I always have to have that scenery on my doorstep.
CM: Yeah if I’m visiting Edinburgh I have to go up Arthur’s seat, I like to get to the highest point and look at everything, that’s when you get the feel of the place. On holiday I have to get to the top of the Island.
PC: My son is in his 20s now but when he was young, about 12 -13, he really loved watching Michael Palin’s travels around the world, and Michael came to Edinburgh and I bumped into him, lovely man. He signed his book for my son and wrote a lovely message saying how he wished him a life full of adventure and travels. It really stuck with him and when he was 17 he went to Malawi for a month and trekked up Mount Mulanje, he’s really embraced travelling. I was just wondering about the influence you think your book might have, with it being a children’s book.
CM: I’m glad you picked up on that is because all I want is… obviously I want it to be successful and I want it to be read obviously but I want to inspire. I want to inspire boys and girls to be adventurous, safe obviously, but to be adventurous, to push their own personal boundaries to challenge themselves to do exciting things and visit exciting places, meet exciting people. I think you are obviously a long time dead, but you are also a long time dead sitting in front of the television or in front of the computer or whatever, rather than getting out and doing something, talking to someone, going somewhere. Actually it really fills your lungs with a different sort of oxygen, I think.
PC: I think once you are bitten by it… last year he explored Canada and Hawaii and this year is travelling elsewhere.
CM: That’s great. My boy is climbing Mount Toubkal in Morocco in July, hopefully that gives him the bug but at the same time, you know, I want him to be safe and I want him to be happy, but I want him to have adventure. That is a wonderful by-product of the books. I was lucky enough to get commissioned to write three: number one came out last year; number two comes out this June. The first one is set in Everest and Nepal, and also in Britain in the present day. And then book two is set in ancient Egypt and again in the 21st Century, and book three is set in London in 1665- 66, about The Great Fire of London, so it’s wonderful fun researching all these things.
PC: Are you quite disciplined with yourself, writing a certain number of words or for a certain period of time?
CM: No, luckily because I know the characters, they are all situations I’ve chosen for them to be in and the historical events I’ve researched and read about, it’s really lovely to weave them into actual real historical settings without changing the course of history, but allowing them to be present to be witnesses to those wonderful things.
PC: What kind of feedback have you had from kids who have read your book?
CM: Fantastic! I have done a lot of school talks and you know I take the slides in about Everest, and I shall get some Egyptian ones together for my school talks coming up later in the year. If you spark children’s imagination in class they’ll go with it. If you ask them where my book’s leading character, Freddie Malone, would go if he could disappear on a world map to any place, and at anytime, in history, a lot of them say Ancient Rome or Greece, some want him to go to space – it’s just fantastic, all the different periods they want him to visit and report back on. It is a subtle way of getting them to love history, because it’s not rammed down their throats. They are witnessing history, so I try to make it as interesting as possible.
PC: What age group are you aiming the books at, ages 8-12 years old or so?
CM: 8 and upwards, I don’t think there is an upper age limit. It’s not written down, I’m not talking down to children, there are very few words I’ve had to change, those I have are because the publisher mainly thinks I’m a bit old-fashioned in my terminology, so I had to update a few things, and it’s never because the words are too long.
PC: I think kids do surprise you. My son loved a series of books by Michelle Paver, the first one is called Wolf Brother, the words were long and it was a complicated story set in the Stone Age but he just absolutely loved the books. I think it’s wrong to talk down to kids.
CM: So I’m very lucky, and now I’m never out of work: if there’s no acting on the cards I just go off and write.
PC: What about your own son? At 14 are you still the cool dad in writing this book or is he like most teenagers?
CM: I think he’s baffled by it all, and he’s certainly baffled by me being on the telly and people staring at us in restaurants or in the supermarket, because he’s never really seen me as being famous, I’m just his dad. I think he’s genuinely pleased, it’s not the first question I ask in the morning… ‘Are you delighted that your father is famous or that he has a book out?’ (Laughs).
PC: Has he read the book himself?
CM: Yes, he was nailed to the floor until he did… He loved it, yeah.
PC: I often like to talk about romance… How did you meet your lovely wife?
CM: We met filming Bottom many decades ago and worked together several times before touring on Jus’ Like That, the show about Tommy Cooper in 2010, and we’ve been together ever since.
PC: As a big music fan I always like to throw in a few questions regarding tastes and memories. Obviously you sing but do you play any instruments?
CM: I was very good at the piano until the age of about 12 but the piano teacher kept putting his hand on my leg, he never did anything else but he just kept doing it and leaving it there – it was so awful that I gave up playing the piano. I couldn’t tell my mum and dad. I was at boarding school and it is very difficult, if I hadn’t have been at boarding school I would have been able to find the words. I just told them I wanted to give up the piano, that I’d had enough. I’m very sad and very grieved that I gave it up. He cut off a whole side of my life, rotten bastard – maybe I could have gone on to be a concert pianist, but anyway…
PC: How about dancing? Do you get up to dance?
CM: I do, I didn’t for years and years, my old mate Gary Olsen who is sadly dead now – he was in 2.4 Children – we used to be great Madness fans when we were young and I’d got up once on the dance floor when we were all on holiday after making a film called Party Party in Crete, I got up and leapt on the disco floor and Madness came on and he just rolled around laughing, and from that point I didn’t dance for about 20 years until I got rid of that feeling of being absolutely awful. But now I am prepared to throw myself in and embarrass my son and my wife whenever I do dance. It’s only ever at weddings and birthday parties.
PC: Can you recall the first record that you bought?
CM: I can recall the first one I was given which was the theme to Z-Cars, my cousin Stephen gave me it because I was absolutely in love with Z-Cars to a point where I walked round in a sort of flat hat with the peak. I used to pretend I was an officer when I was a young age, only 5 or 6. The first record I bought was “Band Of Gold” by Freda Payne.
PC: What genres of music are you most keen on? I have it in mind you are a big classical fan but I’ve been wrong many times before.
CM: Everything. I really do love everything, of course I’m a classical fan because I was steeped in it as a child and choral music especially I find very moving, but I’m just as at home with Blues, Rock, Psychedelic Rock, 1970s… anything. I have a little trouble with really heavy rap music but that’s more or less the only discipline of music I struggle with; I can find merit in practically any genre.
PC: I’m pretty much the same. Do you go to many live gigs?
CM: I go to current favourite bands like Public Service Broadcasting, Sarah Jayne Morris; I saw her at Ronnie Scott’s. Other bands include Pink Floyd, Supertramp and Elbow, Led Zeppelin and especially The Who, they are a favourite of mine.
PC: Do you have any songs that provoke special memories?
CM: Well certainly “The Living Years” by Mike and The Mechanics makes me think of my dad, lots of things “Mirrorball” (Elbow) reminds me of my wife, “Paradise” [Coldplay] reminds me of my son, there’s lots of emotions there, it’s fantastic. I have music on whenever I can.
PC: I am the same I have music playing lots of the day but someone said I should be more selective in what I listen to – but I like all different kinds of music.
CM: We sometimes drop everything else and have Radio 6 music on for a couple of hours and it’s so challenging because it’s not in my comfort zone or my safety zone in the musical tracks that I know, but you can always guarantee by the end of the two hours that I’ve written down maybe three tracks I’m going to download or the name of a band I’m going to listen to a bit more. It’s wonderful that music keeps reinventing itself, and long may it continue.
PC: The three final questions we are asking everyone this year… Apart from your own what/which book are you currently reading?
CM: I have been steeped in Ancient Egypt for the last year or so but my favourite at the moment is a book by Claire Tomalin about Samual Pepys called The Unequalled Self – the glorious background to the event I’m writing about for my next book, that’s been a magnificent read. To be honest I’m always reading what someone else wants me to read, I’m looking now at a pile of about 15 books some by friends of mine that I haven’t got round to. The first two I know are coming on holiday with me, whenever that is. They are both written by friends; Flotsam and Jetsam by W E Roberts and A Meeting in Seville by Paul Mendelson.
PC: It’s your final meal – your last supper – what would you choose to feast upon and what would be your preferred tipple to accompany that?
CM: I do really love my food, if I couldn’t have sausage, mash and a particular brand of garden peas with a dollop of English mustard, it would be chicken Pathia and a brinjal bhaji, and to wash it down would undoubtedly be a pint of 6x Wiltshire bitter.
PC: How would you spend your perfect day?
CM: Walking, walking, walking, walking- we’ve got a wonderful working cocker spaniel, so my wife Cara and I would be out on Salisbury Plain which I’m looking at now out of my window, and we’d be out on the top walking the dog.
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This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.