Monday 31 July 2017

Carry On Blogging Interview: Robin Askwith (Part 2)


It's not every day you end up on the phone to Malta for an hour and a half with the actor Robin Askwith. Robin has been in my life for many years, thanks to his incredibly prolific and diverse acting career across film, television and theatre. Robin's career has come to be dominated by the legendary Confessions series of comedy films, however there is an awful lot more to the man than that. 

Yesterday I blogged Part 1 of our chat, which covered some of Robin's early film work and his time on Bless This House and Carry On Girls. Today we're continuing with a look back at the Confessions films as well as more recent work on the ITV soap opera Coronation Street and his blossoming association with the Misty Moon Film Society.

I have to ask about the phenomenon that was/is The Confessions Films. What's your favourite story from the making of those films?

It's virtually impossible to pick out just one story! Of course the most famous one of all is how busy the studios would get on the "sh*gging days". All manner of crew members would appear that you'd never see on the days I was doing scenes "at home" with Dandy Nichols. 

I remember doing a scene with an actress called Katya Wyeth. At the time such explicit scenes hadn't really been done in mainstream film comedies and that particular scene involved me going under the covers, as it were. The assistant director was a guy called Bert Batt, who had probably just come off a David Lean film or something and he really didn't understand what was happening. He had to be taken aside and have it explained to him and I don't think he came back on the set!

Here's a story I haven't told before. We used to do lots of filming out on location on Borehamwood High Street. There was a props man called Cyril who I'll never forget. He was a war veteran and he had a metal plate in his head. This used to fascinate me. Anyway, one day he mistakenly assumed a policeman out on the street was a member of the film crew and went up to him, insisting that he could have his walky-talky radio on him without a licence. No matter what the policeman said, Cyril wouldn't believe him and eventually grabbed his radio and pulled all the wires out! Nobody would believe he was actually a real policeman.

One of the joys of the Confessions films was the guest cast of instantly recognisable actors from British comedy. How important to the overall success of the films were the likes of Joan Hickson, Bill Maynard and John Le Mesurier?

Oh it was vital to have these actors in the films. At the time you've got to remember there weren't many other films being made in Britain so that's probably why we got all these actors. It was terrific to work with them. I had known Tony Booth for years before and having the likes of Dandy Nichols and Bill Maynard involved was just great. Linda Hayden, who I did a show with recent at the Cinema Museum, she was in two of the Confessions films, but before those she had done a lot of serious work and was a prolific actress. I was actually the last to be cast in that first Confessions film and it was mainly seeing the quality of the cast that made me sign on. 


Irene Handl was another one - I had such respect for her as I'd loved all the comedy films she'd made in the 1950s. She was in Confessions of a Driving Instructor and she always had this little dog with her. She used to keep a toilet roll in her pocket, just for the dog. She came up to me on the first day and told me how much she had wanted to do one of the films and how excited she was. She then whispered in my ear to warn me that "she was still a virgin" which made me wonder what kind of part in the film she thought she was getting! She was hilarious with a wicked sense of humour and knew exactly what she was doing! 

You have appeared twice in Coronation Street - once in a storyline filmed in Malta and more recently at Granada in Manchester. What was it like to join an established show like the Street?

Oh I loved it. The first part I did in the Street happened by accident. They were filming a storyline out in Malta, where I live. They couldn't find a suitable actor there to play this part of a slightly dodgy rep and the director Duncan Foster met me and said he wanted me for the part. I didn't have a lot to do and I remember they made me read for it before they confirmed I had the part. I do remember having a lot of fun working with Simon Gregson (Steve McDonald). He is a brilliant actor and a lovely bloke too. I remember we were getting ready to film a scene and he told me he was nervous about acting with me and I told him not to be as I had no idea what I was doing! 

And then in 2014 the role of the faded rock star Ritchie De Vries came along. At the time the casting director was Janet Hampson and I refused to come over from Malta to do an audition as I felt they knew what I could do. I did offer to send a tape though and filmed myself over here. I sent the tape over and they came back to say they wanted me to come over to Manchester anyway. They wanted me to do a screen test with Sue Johnston. I had to learn a six page scene for the test and I remember being really nervous when I got to the studios to do it. I hadn't had much sleep, I'd travelled a long way and I had always been such a fan of Sue Johnston's work. There was a lot of competition for the role but when I went in to do the reading, I absolutely nailed it. I have to thank Sue a great deal for that as she was excellent in the read through and really made it work well. Everyone at Granada was really encouraging when I went in that day.

I went back to Malta only to receive a call to say I had got the part and could I fly back the next day! To begin with Ritchie was meant to be a love interest for Sue's character however by that stage she had handed in her notice to go off and do other things, which was a shame, but my contract was only for three months anyway. People like Philip Lowrie (Dennis Tanner) and Barbara Knox (Rita Tanner) were so welcoming and kind and great to be with. I loved working with Philip, such a good actor and really good in the show. I really rated him and he was a lovely man too. Such a shame he's not in the show anymore. Barbara was great to work with and felt able to speak her mind on set! 


I did think it was a shame that my role became pretty comedic as originally it was meant to be a bit deeper than that. I think in the end they had me play it a bit like a Confessions actor with lots of humour whereas on my first appearance, when I came through the door the character was much more furtive. Ian Bevitt had me play it like that before turning on the big personality when Ritchie met Dennis. It was much more effective that way. I wish it had developed in more depth but I still loved it. I really got into it and was rewriting storylines in my head while I was there. I got on really well with Kym Marsh and thought it would have been great if Michelle had shown an interest in Ritchie - it would have got right up Steve's nose! People like Kate Ford (Tracy) and Ian Puleston-Davies (Owen) were really friendly and welcoming. Kate kept laughing every time she saw me! She seemed to find me quite funny! 

One of my favourite people was the late Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre. We didn't have any scenes together but she was such a lovely presence in the green room. Every time I went in there she'd throw her arms around me and give me a hug. Such a warm lady. I wish I'd got to work with her. I remember her asking if I was staying on and I said my contract was only for three months. She said "they've got to keep you Robin! It's only ink!" which was a lovely thing to say. 

Probably the most mischievious of all was Malcolm Hebden, who plays Norris. I remember just before we were due to shoot a scene he turned to me and told me that his testicles had gone black! He said, "if anyone knows about testicles, it's you Robin!" I loved my time in Coronation Street and would definitely have stayed on longer.

I understand you recently met up with the lovely Judy Matheson at a Misty Moon event. What was it like to catch up with her again after working on Confessions of a Window Cleaner?

Yes it was great to see Judy again at Elstree. She's quite involved with Misty Moon these days. We had known of each other before we met on the set of Confessions of a Window Cleaner so she knows that I was a serious actor before I got into those films. 


Judy often mentions this on Twitter you know...

Does she? I think she was a fan of some of my films before we did the Confessions.

I was in touch with her the other day and she mentioned another of your contemporaries, Richard O'Sullivan...

Oh Richard was a big, big star and a great friend to me. Richard was a good actor and very underrated. At one of the shows I did last year I mentioned him to see what kind of reaction it would get and the audience gave him a round of applause. 

You work regularly with Stuart Morriss from The Misty Moon Film Society. How did that working relationship develop?

First of all, Stuart doesn't have black testicles like Malcolm, he has nice juicy full ones. (Moving on...) I was first approached about doing some kind of stand up show around the time I was tested for Coronation Street but I wasn't keen. I've never enjoyed doing signing sessions or being up there on my own like that so I kept saying no. At an event, Stuart approached me and suggested doing something but I wasn't sure. I was eventually convinced and I did a one off thing at the pub in Ladywell and afterwards my friend Derren Litten (who writes Benidorm) said I should do a one man show. 


Stuart then arranged for me to do something similar at the Gatehouse in London as part of the Camden Fringe Festival. It was a huge success and very popular so the whole thing got on a roll from there. I always thought it would be a risk to go out on my own but my confidence has grown, thanks to Stuart and the reaction from the audiences. We've had some great reviews and people are starting to take notice of it all. Without Stuart, none of it would have happened and whatever happens with it, he'll always be a part of it.

At this point Robin plugs the fact that he has a late night gig scheduled for Tuesday 10 October at the Phoenix Artist Club. He adds that as I've never been to one of his gigs, if I don't attend this one, he'll never speak to me again. Should you wish to attend the gig (I'm obviously definitely going now) you can find out more and buy tickets here

And with that, the whirlwind that is Robin Askwith bade me farewell. It was an honour and a privilege to have a personal audience with the great Mr Askwith, who kept me entertained, answered my questions with thought and flair and was extremely open and approachable. After an hour and a half of unpredictable, fairly ribald chat my mother would once have disapproved of, I staggered off for a large gin. Let's just hope Robin follows through on his Twitter promise. I really do think he could break the internet.

Finally, a massive thank you to Stuart at Misty Moon for helping to set up the interview! 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

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