Saturday 1 July 2017

Carry On Blogging Interview: Patrick Purcell

Thanks to the wonder of Twitter I have had the great good fortune to be in touch with a lovely, friendly man called Patrick Purcell. Patrick, now living in Australia, is the son of that brilliant Irish actor Noel Purcell. Noel had a long career on film, television and stage which included several films both for Peter Rogers and his wife Betty Box. 

Patrick agreed to answer some questions on the life and career of his father. Here's how we got on... 

- Can you tell me a bit more about how your father first became an actor?

He was born about 150 yards from Dublin's Gaiety Theatre, in Lower Mercer Street, a very poor part of Dublin. His dad was an Auctioneer who had a friend who worked there. Dad used to drop in to see the show and got offered a job as the Call Boy. He used to do his homework outside the Number 1 Dressing room. He did school plays and amateur dramatics, but when he told his mother that he wanted to do it full time, she said he should study a trade. So he became Apprentice to Bex and Company, as a Cabinet Maker. His counters are still in use today in the famous Brown Thomas Department store in Grafton Street. When he finished his apprenticeship he started working for various Theatre Companies but ended up mostly with the Jimmy O'Dea Co. 

- Your dad first worked for Peter Rogers' wife Betty Box back in 1954 - he went on to appear in four of the Doctor comedy films. Did he have fond memories of working on those pictures?

He always loved the Doctor films. He became great friends with James Robertson Justice, who loved squeezing 6'4" Noel and himself into his Messerschmitt Bubble car! ( He also used the Roller a lot!) He never came home from those in anything but an upbeat humour. I think it was that all the actors of the day weren't 'A' types. There were a few precious ones, but most were journeyman actors who learned their lines, were on set on time, hit their marks, made the Director happy, pocketed the cheque and on to the next!  They did have a great time, always trying to break each other up.

- In 1961, your father appeared in one of my all-time favourite comedy films - Double Bunk. Do you know if he enjoyed working on that film?

He must have, because when he came home, he wanted to buy an old Dublin Barge and do it up!  Mum soon sorted that out!

- Your dad worked for Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas on three occasions in the early 1960s: Watch Your Stern, The Iron Maiden and my favourite, Nurse On Wheels. Did he share any memories or anecdotes about those films and do you think he enjoyed his time making them?

He loved doing all three.  

WATCH YOUR STERN . He told the tale often that, when he'd be walking from the Dressing Room in Portsmouth(?) to the ship in Uniform,  REAL sailors and Officers would salute him. He did learn from a real Admiral how to respond.  He was once or twice stopped by people who swore they served with him in H.M.S So and So. He would say he remembered her well, and keep going! He never wanted any sailor to feel foolish with him.

Constant hilarity! I know, I was there for quite some time.  Alan Hale, Jr. was exactly as you saw him. Cheerful and funny, but a thorough pro. He took me to lunch in Uxbridge to a great steak place when Dad was busy. They already knew his favourite!  I saw quite a few scenes being done. One stands out .

The 'Dreadnaught" was standing outside the Admirals house (Pinewood's main Door and Portico.   The Admiral's coalman, the local Vicar is at the controls. ACTION!  Away clanks the traction engine in a straight line.  It needs to turn right a bit to line up the lane, but the Vicar is trying to steer it like a car. So a half turn on the chain steering  is doing absolutely nothing. I say to the prop man beside me "Ten Bob he hits the trees"  You're on, says he. I won !
When he got home from that, he wanted to buy a Traction Engine!   Mum again said no, that she would end up taking care of it while Dad was on another film. Sanity again prevailed. 

- Although he worked for both Betty Box and Peter Rogers, Noel didn't go on to make a Carry On film which surprises me. Do you know if he was ever offered one?

He was offered a couple early on, but he was involved with 'Mutiny on the Bounty' in Tahiti (13 week shoot stretched to 13 months!). Other things often clashed with each other. For instance, he turned down Fagin in the Original Oliver Stage Show, because it would have meant years away from Dublin.

- Was he proud of his Irish and in particular, his Dublin roots?

Incredibly so. He did a few major movies for Hollywood in the '50s and'60s, like Moby Dick, Lust For Life, Merry Andrew The Blue Lagoon. After each one, they wanted to offer him a Studio Contract. Mum tried to get him to accept, because it would have meant a stable life. But he always came home to Dublin, saying "If they want me, they know where I am"

- Your father was given the freedom of the city of Dublin in 1984. What was his reaction to that honour?

He was in a wheelchair by now and his voice had faded due to throat cancer, but it didn't stop him attending the Ceremony and giving the following:

FRIENDS! ROMANS! COUNTRYMEN! Ah, that's not my proper cue!             
It's my own Darling Dubliners that I am talking to
Friends Old and New, all tried and true, Who've honoured me today
It makes me feel so humble - but this I'd like to say
If some kind fairy waved her wand and offered me the Earth
I'd rather be a Freeman in this City of my Birth.
My wanderings have taken me to countries strange and far
From Iceland to the Tropic Isles, but, lovely as they are
I didn't weep when leaving them, my heart was never there
T'was calling me to hurry home to Dublin City Fair
To York Street, Cork Street, Meath Street and the Coombe
I know them all, I've walked them all when I was in full bloom
I love the little houses where the decent people live
The open handed people who haven't much to give
God Bless them all, God bless us too and send us all his peace
May kindness and friendship in Old Dublin never cease
Dear Old Dublin! Lovely Dublin! May you ever lovelier grow
As long as leave grow on the tress and Liffey Waters flow!

copyright Noel Purcell

- I gather he has also appeared on an Irish stamp. How did that come about?

It was done as his 100th Birthday approached. Mum was asked for a photo and gladly gave a great one of Dad at his favourite hobby, Laytown Races!

- Do you know if your dad had a favourite role in his career? 

I think he was proudest of 'Mutiny' and staying sane while Brando and Richard harris tried to kill each other regularly!

- Of all his performances, do you have a favourite and why?

Watch Your Stern seconded by 'Iron Maiden"  He did a great Admiral!

- How do you think your father would like to be remembered?

I am very honoured and proud that he is remembered on these wesites. He was so humble, yet proud that he felt he gave value for money

- Finally, I must ask - what's your favourite Carry On film and why?

Carry on Nurse!  No contest!

I would like to thank Patrick for taking the time to answer my questions - it was a joy. 

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


  1. As a young schoolboy I met Noel Purcell a couple of times in Tandragee N. Ireland. What a lovely man he was.I always wondered why he visited such a small town, perhaps he had relatives there?

    1. Dad had a great racing pal, Hugh Glynn McGlashen (I think that was his surname). My brother, GLynn (whom Dad called Hughie!) is named after him.

  2. Always remember Mr Purcell as a Rabbi in the film Fight of the Doves. He looked so stern, but was so kind to the children it made me cry.

  3. Dad was very, very proud that the Jewish Temple in Dublin thought that his performance was so well done, they made him an honorary Rabbi!