Sunday 24 December 2017

Carry On Blogging Interview: Andrew Lynford

I am delighted to bring you my last Carry On Blogging interview of the year, this time with actor, director, writer and now casting associate, Andrew Lynford. Andrew shot to fame twenty years ago when he joined the cast of BBC soap opera EastEnders, playing Simon Raymond. Now based in Los Angeles, Andrew has experienced most areas of the acting world and also happens to be a bit of a Carry On fan. Read on to find out more about Andrew's career and his take on some of the many Carry On actors he's worked with over the years.

First of all, I'd love to know how you first got started in the business?

​I was brought up in Essex and my local rep theatre, the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch, had a youth theatre group. I joined that when I was 11 and the then Artistic Director, Bob Tomson, would use us local kids in shows so we got to work with professional actors quite regularly. I loved it and decided quite early on that I wanted to be an actor. I did my A-levels and then went to drama school, was lucky enough to get an agent and started working, mostly in regional and touring theatre, and a bit of telly.​

You have worked extensively as an actor and writer in the theatre. What's the biggest appeal of performing in front of a live audience?

​I think theatre has always been my main passion. I was lucky enough that my parents, even though they were not from an acting background, took my sisters and I to panto and local theatre when we were young, and later to the West End to see shows as we lived close to central London. That feeling of being in an audience, that experience of responding to a live performance, collectively shared by ​two hundred or however many people, made me love theatre. So that feeling stayed with me, and then being on stage and giving that experience to an audience is very special. And of course, the response is immediate, you know how the crowd are feeling about what you're doing at once. And as Maggie Smith says "with theatre, you can always have another go tomorrow night". It is evolving. With anything on tape or film, you do it, forget about it and move on and hope that it comes out okay!

Many people will remember you for your role as Simon Raymond in EastEnders back in the 1990s. What are your memories of being part of such an iconic show during one of its most popular periods?

​It is hard to remember now that EastEnders really was such a big deal in 1996 when I joined it (as it had been for so long). We only had four channels and so viewing figures were 18-20 million per episode! I naively didn't really think ahead as to what a big impact the gay/bisexual storyline would have, especially involving already well established characters like Tiffany and Grant. I extremely lucky to come in and join a major story - talk about hit the ground running! I had done some TV before, but very little (mostly presenting PlayDays for Children's BBC!) and the speed and immediate visibility of the role took be quite by surprise. It was a happy time in the show's history then, a lot of fun and everyone did genuinely get along well; I suppose as the show was so popular, everyone is happy when they feel like they are part of a success. I have some friends from those days I am still very close to and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. ​

I think you are based in Los Angeles these days, what took you over there and what do you miss most about living and working in the UK?
Yes, I am in LA currently, I have been here for a couple of years. My partner works in film marketing for the major studios and so really that is the reason I ended up here!​ But prior to leaving the UK, I was working as a director and in casting, so currently I working in these areas. I stopped acting full time about ten years ago, by choice, and love being on the 'other side'. I miss the UK a lot and I don't think I'll be in LA forever! Things are different here, theatre and TV is approached in a different way. It's good to do things differently, but I think next year (2018) I may to and fro a bit more, and do a few gigs back home. I may miss the sunshine too much but let's see - !

You have been an actor, a writer and a director. If you had to choose, which role do you prefer and why?
I have been lucky enough to fulfil ambitions in all areas​ - although there is plenty more I'd like to get stuck in to! I don't really miss acting, but I love being in the rehearsal room with actors, as a director or casting director, and encourage and shape them to achieve something which perhaps wasn't expected. My years of working pretty much non-stop as an actor have held me in great stead: I know my way around a theatre, a TV studio, a rehearsal room, etc. and I think now I bring something else to the process of creating a show. So I think as a director is my favourite role to date!

I think you are currently working as a Casting Associate? What does that role involve?

​I currently run the casting department for Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles, which covers the Mark Taper Form and Ahmanson Theatre in Downtown LA, and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. I cast some shows in my own right, or associate/assist outside casting directors who are working on projects for our stages - some in LA and some in New York. CTG is probably the biggest producing theatre on the west coast of America, so it's quite a fancy place to be associated with and I feel very lucky to have come to the US and been employed by such a great organization.​

I think you mentioned that you had worked with several actors connected to the Carry On films. Who have you worked with and what they were like to be with?

​Well, yes - when we first chatted, I got to thinking about whom I know who or worked with who you'd call 'Carry On' actors - and there have been quite a lot over the years:

HUGH FUTCHER - Hugh is one of my best chums. He and I worked in panto in rep over 20 years ago. We shared a dressing room for 10 memorable weeks, and have stayed friends ever since. I have also directed him in some shows since then and was his agent for a while!

PATRICIA FRANKLIN - Patricia and I know each other when I cast her in a tour of the comedy 'Steaming' some years ago. She is a really classy stage actress and now a great friend. Her daughter is the bass player Charlotte Hatherley and Patricia and I went to an Ash concert at Shepherd's Bush Empire not so long ago and were rocking it out- !

BARBARA WINDSOR - Of course I worked closely with Barbara on Enders, in fact I think on my first day, I had a scene with her. Of course, I was quite overwhelmed by the whole first day on such a big show, added to the fact that I was in a scene with an icon like Barbara! She was very nice and welcoming like all the team were. And we were good mates during that period, went out on quite a few socials and had a lot of laughs. I saw her not so long ago, and Scott (her husband) and I know quite a lot of the same people through the theatre.

JACKI PIPER - I have never worked with Jacki, but she is someone who a lot of people I know have worked with. She was in a lot of tours and regional shows over the years, and we used to live near each other in West London, and we'd always say hello.

JACK DOUGLAS - Jack and I did panto together (oh yes we did!) He was Baron Hardup and I was Buttons to Adele Silva's Cinderella! He was good fun and of course had such a wealth of panto and comedy experience, he was always coming up with new gags and ideas to keep us all on our toes.

ANITA HARRIS - I had the great pleasure of directing Anita in a tour of the comedy 'The Cemetery Club' (with Anne Charleston and Shirley Anne Field!) a few years ago. The three ladies were amazing to work with, all very different, but all brought so much experience and expertise to the play. Anita was gracious and lovely throughout.

DILYS LAYE - Dilys was a mate from the theatre. She was lovely and my overriding memory of her was stopping her car on the Wandsworth one way system one day for a natter when she saw me crossing the road; held up all the traffic, didn't care at all! ​We had EastEnders in common as well, as she'd just been in it as Nigel's mum just before I went in. She was a very talented versatile actress, did many great things in the theatre.

MARIANNE STONE - When I was in Enders, I did quite a lot of interviews and so on, and did a few things for Heart radio, where Kara Noble was a host on the morning show at the time. Her mum, of course, was Marianne. I met with them a few times, and when I moved to north London, used to pop round and see Marianne as she wasn't too far away. What an amazing career she had, literally worked with everyone! We had some lovely times, with me asking questions galore and trying to get the gossip about all her days in film. Kara actually lives in LA now and I do get to see her from time to time. 

WENDY RICHARD - Wendy was quite a quiet lady and kept herself to herself - until the day she found out that I had dogs! We were best mates from that day on and she got me involved in many of her dog and pet charities when I was in Enders with her. A funny and kind lady whom I am glad I got to know.

SHERRIE HEWSON - a good mate, directed her in panto, appeared on a few shows together, we chit chat all the time. She is a fine comedy actress, as she gets a bit older, she reminds me of Joan Sims a bit - not in looks, but that kind of clever, versatility that she shows in her performances. 

I recently spent a great evening with JULIET MILLS and her husband, Maxwell Caulfield. It was at a Born free charity event in West Hollywood, hosted by Will Travers. What nice people, Juliet was so much fun. Carry On and the Colbys all in one go!​

Gosh, I do sound like an old theatrical, don't I? I feel very lucky and blessed to have met/worked with these people... and finally, I should mention BERNARD BRESSLAW. One of his last appearance was in 'Me & My Girl' at the Adelphi in the West End. I was a student at drama school, and I worked on the stage crew! He was the most gentlemanly of men, kind and courteous to everyone, including us lowly crew members, who he would always stop to chat to. I can see us now sat backstage, chatting to him and being told to keep the noise down!​
So many of the Carry On team are still highly respected these days. Why do you think, so long after their deaths, these character actors are still so popular?

​I think really the uniqueness of the Carry On series keeps it special - a rep company of comedy actors for the cinema, which will never happen again. Also, although many of the actors were trained at RADA and the like, the style of playing comes from variety and revue, and the rhythm and delivery is perfect for the Carry Ons. You can't teach it!​

Out of all the Carry On actors, do you have a favourite and why?
I think my favourites (if I can have one man, one woman) would be Kenneth Connor and Joan Sims. I think of all the team, they got to show their versatility more than most , playing very contrasting roles. I always love it when actors are seen doing something so different. I very nearly worked with Joan but she pulled out of the project due to ill health (she died not so long afterwards, sadly). I am forever tormented that we didn't get to meet and work together.

I've also got to ask, what's your all-time favourite Carry On film and why?
This is almost impossible to answer, isn't it? I think the thing you have to weigh up is how many 'regulars' are in the cast of a particular film, versus the quality of the film itself - for me, this usually means the ones with more plot over the ones that are a bit more like a collection of vignettes/sketches. Also, the earlier ones (The Norman Hudis years) are more of their era, almost Ealing comedy like in their appeal, aren't they? Anyway, I think probably Spying (Kenny's snide voice and Barbara's uninhibited debut makes it special) and after that probably Cleo.​

Finally, what's up next for you?

​Right now, it is a typical December day in LA - about 80 degrees and I'm about to have a nice salad for my lunch! In the new year, I am working on casting some plays for CTG, then, like I say, I may be back to the UK for a few things. TBC! ​

I'd like to thank Andrew very much for taking the time to answer my questions, it's was a great pleasure to be in touch with him. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @LynfordTweets

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

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