Sunday, 26 November 2017

Carry On Blogging Interview: Ty Jeffries



I'm thrilled to bring this wonderful interview to Carry On Blogging. Ty Jeffries is the son of the late actor, writer and director Lionel Jeffries. I grew up loving Lionel's performances in films like Two Way Stretch and The Wrong Arm of the Law. He also directed one of my all-time favourite films, The Railway Children. 

Ty is an accomplished entertainer in his own right, with a long career as a musician and more recently as his fabulous alter-ego, Miss Hope Springs. It was delight to find out more about Ty's life and career.

First of all, I'd love to know what it was like to grow up with Lionel Jeffries as your dad?

It was certainly not your average childhood. I was often plucked out of school and whisked off to live for a year in Hollywood, or 3 months in the South of France or 2 in Spain when dad was shooting. He liked to take us all with him. I went from my prep school in Buckinghamshire with cricket bats and earthworms to school in LA with fruit bats and earthquakes! Dad really lit the passion I have for film and photography and movie musicals. And he taught me all about the great stars back in the day when there was a double bill every Saturday and Sunday on TV. We were spoilt for choice back in the day. We would watch Garbo and Bette Davis movies and he would explain all about camera angles and why certain actors and actresses were stars, their technique, the difference between stagecraft and movie acting…I learned a great deal at his knee. 

Can you tell a little about how your dad became an actor in the first place. I know he also wrote and directed - do you know which aspect of his career he preferred?

He was in the Coldstream Guards in his late teens, lying about his age to get in and fought in Burma in the Second World War. I believe, like a lot of actors of that era, he found his calling entertaining the other soldiers in plays and concert parties. He came back from the Far East and went to The RADA, where he met my mother Eileen who was also an aspiring actress with the comic timing of Lucille Ball and the looks of Hedy Lamar (her great pal Diana Dors offered to be her agent but she chose to give up acting to be a mum and wife). He went on to Rep and started making movies in his 20s. Acting in 144 one way or another.

I've read that the family home played host to many well known actors and celebrities. What kind of people did you get to know during that period?

I would sit doing my homework at the kitchen table (my mother had a bright orange Hygena kitchen…all the rage at the time) and I would see Shelly Winters or Shirley MacLaine or Lee Remick or Anouk Aimee pass by in the hallway…they would always pop their head in to say hi. Nanette Newman and Bryan Forbes, John Mills and his wife Mary Hayley Bell the playwright were great family friends. Fred Astaire would often stay the weekend. His wonderful daughter Ava is my Godmother. I remember Morecambe and Wise, Dick Emery and Bernard Cribbins as well as Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl coming to my parents summer evening garden parties. And Sid James! He came over to the house for dinner and I was awe at meeting him…I was an still am often very star struck.It was idyllic in many ways. 

I know that one family friend when you were younger was the legendary Diana Dors, someone who has always fascinated me. What was she like?

She was always in my life as a child. She was my Aunty Di. She was warm and funny and kind and of course super glam - a lot of people see Diana in Hope- she and my mother were great pals. When Diana and Alan Lake decided to convert to Catholicism they asked my parents to be their Godparents…So Diana would my Godsister, if there was such a thing. She is still very much missed.

I think my favourite film role your dad ever played was in Two Way Stretch. Do you know if your dad had a favourite film or performance from his long career? And do you have your own favourite?

I loved those British comedies of the 40s 50s and 60s. Dad did so many. Two Way Stretch, Wrong Arm of the Law, You Must Be Joking even Rocket to the Moon with Terry-Thomas and First Men in the Moon with Edward Judd. All great Sunday afternoon TV fare these days on channels like Talking Pictures TV which I love to watch. The Trials of Oscar Wilde probably was one of my favourites and his performance and also King Pelinore in Camelot. He was extremely versatile. He could play high comedy and high drama, and of course he wrote screenplays and directed with great success too, The Railway Children, The Amazing Mr Blunden...Quite a career.



What was it that made you want to become a performer yourself?

Well, I started writing songs at the age of about 5 years old. American friends left their Steinway grand in our enormous shed for a year or two when they went back to The States. It really was a gift from the gods…I sat at it and found I could play. I was writing melodies and songs almost immediately. Although I have always felt that I don’t actually write my work…that I channel it. But that’s another story. I am a composer and lyricist. I studied piano, violin, voice and composition from the age of 16 at The Purcell School of Music. That was a pretty good foundation. Although being a bit of a maverick I didn’t go through the normal channels. I had something different I wanted to express - so I started doing small theatre projects and found that one man pieces worked best for me. It wasn’t until 2010 that I really ‘came out’ as a drag artist. Not that what I do is traditional drag because I play Hope as a real person. She IS a real person to many. But it certainly draws on the work of the great Danny La Rue and America’s late Jim Bailey.  I write all Miss Hope Springs songs and dialogue and make her costumes…She’s very demanding and keeps me very busy!

From reading about you, I know that you moved to New York in the late 1970s. What are your memories of starting a new life in that great city back in those days? 

In the 70s I was still in school…it was the 80s I went to USA and caught the tail end of the Studio 54 Andy Warhol scene. Andy became a friend. I have one of the screen prints he did of Hope! its worth millions obviously!



Where did the idea for Miss Hope Springs come from and can you describe what your show is like for those unlucky not to have seen you live?

It’s very simple. I was inspired by Victor Borge and Blossom Dearie. Hope sits at the piano and tells stories about her life and plays the piano and sings songs to illustrate those stories. Talking about her life…from the Ritz to the pits her disastrous love life (falling for Liberace was a big mistake) and all those career wrong turnings and dead ends. I love Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton…So there is an element of physical comedy…also Lucille Ball and Martha Raye. Broad comedians or comedians who were broads. But there is an element of Dietrich and Piaf in Hope too and a lot of Peggy Lee. She has a fully formed back story populated by her gay husband Irving his hairdresser boyfriend Carlos and her mother Rusty (Rusty Springs) a one time strip…I mean exotic dancer. They all live together in a camper van in Dungeness…a long way from her heyday headlining at the Pink Pelican Casino in Vegas in the 60s.

What do you think your dad would have made of the path your career has taken?

Although I’ve been writing songs since I was 5 and had my first publishing deal at the age of 16 my path to the stage has been a tortuous one…there was the modelling and playing the piano at Langan’s to earn a crust but I also tried property development and landscape gardening. However, in the end, sequins and show tunes won out! I’ve been very lucky. Since starting Hope in 2010 I have not stopped working. I moved back to London from Brighton and Jeremy King of Corbin and King the hugely successful restaurateurs kindly asked me to open his new cabaret room Crazy Coqs in Brasserie Zedel in the West End and I’ve been resident there one way or another ever since. 



Last year I toured the USA and this year the UK. Some telly would be nice…but it seems a very closed shop these days and no matter one’s success as a live entertainer you have to be flogging a big new record or a movie to get on a sofa - let alone do a number. I do a lot of radio ‘appearances’ which I do in character as Hope. It’s hysterical really being a 7 ft glamazon ex showgirl blonde on the airwaves. Much of the effect is obviously lost. Like being a radio contortionist. Hope has been referred to as a blonde bombshell but also as a blonde bombsite which I think is a hoot. My mother and father were both great friends of Danny La Rue’s and dad played Horace Vandergelder at The Comedy Theatre to Danny's Dolly in Hello Dolly back in the 80s.
 
Do you have a favourite venue you like to perform in and where would you love to take your show next? 

Well Crazy Coqs or Live as Zedel is it is known currently in Piccadilly has been my home from home for 5 years now it’s London’s best kept secret. Magical Wilton’s Music Hall in Whitechapel I do a couple of shows there every year. The magnificent Wigmore Hall was a joy to play. I was amazed to sell out there in June during what was a very challenging week for everyone in London, the London Bridge terrorist attack and awful Grenfell tower tragedy had just happened. But people need entertaining at dark times. Someone very cleverly wrote that I was continuing the war-time spirit and in fact the great Joyce Grenfell (by a strange twist of moniker synchronicity) had played Wigmore Hall during the blitz…I like to think I was doing my bit too.



Do you have more shows as your alter ego Miss Hope Springs coming up and if so where can we see you?

I have several Christmas A Gogo shows coming up. That’s my all original festive musical evening with songs and stories from Hope’s lost 1971 Granada TV special. She reminisces about Harry Belafonte and Mama Cass…oh and Shari Lewis and Lambchop were in it too of course. I have a run of shows at the charming theatre in The Museum of Comedy in Bloomsbury. It’s nestled beyond the little Victorian bar and quaint museum where there are vitrines of original vintage comedy paraphernalia such as Little Titch’s shoes and Charlie Drakes toupee…it’s hysterical. There’s a lovely photo of my father and Danny La Rue there too in Hello Dolly…so I hope they will both be smiling down on me when I’m on.

Finally, what would you like to do next in your career? 

In March next year I am presenting a musical version based on the making of Joan Crawford’s last movie Trog. It’s all about a 45,000 year old stone age man encased in ice who Joan falls in love with. After she’s thawed him out of course, otherwise it would just be silly! The songs are all earworms I am told. Be warned once you’ve heard the song Trog you’ll never get it out of your mind…’He’s short and fat and hairy and he’s very very scary…He’s a Trog!’ Don’t say I didn’t warn you...

Miss Hope Springs is appearing at The 2 Brewers in Clapham on Dec 8th, The Chapel Arts Centre in Bath on the Dec 16th and at The Museum of Comedy theatre in Bloomsbury from Dec 19th 23rd and she is appearing with her special guest Rula Lenska at Live at Zedel in Piccadilly from the 28th to the 30th Dec.

All tickets available from www.misshopesprings.com/concerts

Finally, I'd just like to thank Ty very much for taking the time out of his busy schedule to do this interview. I found it fascinating and thoroughly entertaining and I hope you do too!

You can follow Ty on Twitter @TyJeffriesMusic 

And Miss Hope Springs is on Twitter @followmisshope


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

2 comments:

  1. Fascinating article, I learned all sorts of things I did not know about Ty Jeffries!

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    1. Thank you, I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

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