Friday 23 March 2018

Carry On Blogging Interview: Hugh Futcher (Part 1)

Yesterday I had the great pleasure to chat with the actor Hugh Futcher about his long career as an actor on stage and screen. Hugh is well known to Carry On fans for his appearances in seven Carry Ons. Following his debut in Carry On Spying on a bed of nails, Hugh went on to appear in Don't Lose Your Head, Again Doctor, At Your Convenience, Abroad, Girls and finally Carry On Behind in 1975. Hugh also popped up in the film Bless This House in 1972.

First of all, I'd love to know what made you want to become an actor?

Quite simply I liked the attention as a child. I got a lot of pleasure from being the centre of attention and my parents weren't really against it. My mother didn't mind my interest in acting but she still wanted me to go back to school. I wasn't sure what to do with my life but through a contact of one of my teachers I was taken on to do window displays for John Lewis and I spent a very happy three years working there.

I still dreamt of becoming an actor though and during this time I became what's known as a bit of a Stage Door Johnny. i used to hang about outside the local theatre in Hampshire where I grew up. Lots of stars passed through the theatre in those days and one day it was that great actress Diana Dors. One night she invited me in to her dressing room and she talked to me while she was putting on her make up. I told her I was keen to become an actor and she advised that I wrote to RADA to express an interest. I did that, they sent me application forms and I took an entrance exam. I was offered a place but until this point I hadn't told my parents. We were just an ordinary working class family and while they weren't against me going to RADA, there was no way they could afford the fees. RADA suggested I contact my local council to see if they could help but I was told they only had funds to help people who wanted to become a doctor or a solicitor. 

So I went back to RADA and explained by predicament. Fortunately for me they allowed me to audition again, this time for a scholarship, which I got, and the rest is history. The Principal of RADA at the time was John Fernald and he never believed in me. He had no confidence that I would succeed and told me I'd struggle until my forties and would have to settle for being a character actor. As a young man of about 20, that wasn't a great thing to hear. When I got my first big part at the Royal Court I went back to see him and proved him wrong!

Was that role at the Royal Court your big break do you think?

Without a doubt. I played the role of Dodger in Chips with Everything for eight weeks at the Royal Court and then for a full year when it transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre. I really think that part opened the door for me to do lots of television and parts in films. I think people underestimate the importance of having a good agent to find you parts. My first agent took me on straight from RADA, a lady called Marjorie Armstrong. She was new to the business and I was one of her first signings. Some of her other clients at the time were Julian Glover and Henry McGee. Henry became a close friend and remained so right up until his death. 

Marjorie was responsible for bringing lots of casting directors to see me when I was at the Vaudeville and that's how I started to get parts in television and in the cinema.

How did you first come to join the Carry On team?

Well that was down to Marjorie again. She had been in touch with the casting agent at Pinewood Studios, I think it was Weston Drury Jr, and I was asked to come down to Pinewood to discuss what I'd been up to. The next thing I knew I was told I had a part in the next Carry On which was Carry On Spying. I remember Marjorie telling me that she hoped I was looking good as I'd be required to strip off for the part! Fortunately it was only a Carry On and I was playing a guy on a bed of nails in a short scene with Bernard Cribbins. That was the first time I met Barbara Windsor and sadly the only time I've ever met or worked with Bernard.

What was Gerald Thomas like as a director?

He was tough! He didn't say very much on the set. Peter Rogers said even less but he was always watching the clock. Peter was the money man and he would always appear at the end of the day to make sure we didn't go over time! They dreaded any actor asking if they could do a scene again as time cost money! I remember one time on set when an actress, who I won't name, quite loudly stated that she wasn't getting enough close ups as it was obvious they were focusing on the younger talent. After that little incident she was never asked to make another Carry On.

You filmed a scene with Sid James for Carry On Again Doctor in 1969. What was he like to work with?

Sid really took to me. He'd noticed me in a couple of parts before and even asked for me, saying to Gerald and Peter "is there anything for Hugh?" in the scripts. We got on very well and shared a common passion for the horses! We talked about the racing every morning and really bonded over that. We were always putting bets on while we were on set. The other thing that went on between takes was competing to see who could do The Times crossword first! It was normally Hattie, Sid and Bernard Bresslaw. Sid also always had his head in a copy of The Sporting Life. 

Another film you appeared in around this time was the Roman Polanski horror picture, Repulsion, with Catherine Deneuve. What are your memories of that?

It was a great film to have on my CV. The casting director liked me and asked me to go down to Shepperton Studios where they were going to make the film. I went into a little cabin and there was Polanski - very small and quiet, hardly said anything. I knew of him as he'd caused quite a stir with his film Knife in the Water. They were really just looking for faces and mine fitted. I was told that no English director would have cast me as they wanted Chelsea types. The actor I played scenes with was called James Villiers and he was quite posh. He raised an eyebrow at my casting in the part. Anyway it was quite a strange film in the end and I remember my mother could take it and walked out during the premiere, she had to wait in the foyer! 

Around that time I also met the legendary Charlie Chaplin, did you know that?

No I didn't, tell me about it...

I went down with five other actors to be seen for a short scene in a film he was making in England, A Countess from Hong Kong. When we got to the studios we were lined up while Chaplin and the Assistant Director walked up and down. The other four were then told they could go and I was told, "Hugh, you're working today." When we broke for lunch I was told I was done and could go. Sadly I didn't get the chance to meet the stars of the film Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren! As Chaplin and his entourage left the stage he suddenly turned round and walked backwards back towards me. He looked me in the eye and said "thank you so much" and was gone. It was quite a moment.

Watch out for Part Two of my interview with Hugh Futcher, coming up soon. Find out what she had to say about returning to the Carry Ons to work on the likes of Carry On Abroad and Behind and what it was like to go on location with the gang to Brighton for Carry On At Your Convenience.

I'd like to thank Hugh for agreeing to the interview. And also many thanks to Sarah at Beresford Management and to the lovely Andrew Lynford for helping to set it all up!

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