NEWS

Clive Francis
David Garrick: An Actor and His Time.
A Talk by Clive Francis at The Rose Playhouse

An online Zoom event on Wednesday, 16 February, at 7.00pm

BOOK NOW

Clive Francis

David Garrick: An Actor and His Time.

A Talk by Clive Francis at The Rose Playhouse

Clive Francis will be talking about Garrick’s life at Hampton, his strong bond with his muse Shakespeare, his influential marriage to Eva Marie Veigl and his relationships with many of those close to him, be it the formidable Dr Johnson or the unpredictable Horace Walpole.

Clive Francis
Cursed

Clive Francis plays Pope Able in Cursed, a fresh take on the Arthurian legend, where teenager Nimue joins forces with mercenary Arthur on a quest to find Merlin and deliver an ancient sword.
Cursed is now streaming on Netflix.

TRAILER








Clive Francis
Clive Francis: The Man with the Twisted Lip

In this podcast 'A Sherlockian Conversation' Clive shares memories of portraying the title character in 'The Man with the Twisted Lip'. Episode 6 of the TV series 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes'.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

Clive Francis
The Little Stranger

‘The Little Stranger’ Director, Lenny Abrahamson. With Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson.
Available on Amazon Prime Video.

TRAILER

Clive Francis News
Official Secrets

Clive appears in real-life spy thriller ‘Official Secrets’ directed by Gavin Hood. With Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes and Keira Knightley.
Official Secrets is now streaming on Netflix.

TRAILER

Copyright © 2022 Clive Francis. All rights reserved. Main photograph of Clive Francis by Simon Annand. Site design: Langley Iddins
Stacks Image 237420

2 MARCH 2017

by Clive Francis
Clive Francis

It takes a brilliant, diminutive firecracker of an actor to speak out against the ongoing habit of selling and consuming food that is becoming endemic within the theatres of our country.

Imelda Staunton, who has just opened in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, has not only made her feelings known but also banned the practice from the West End's Harold Pinter Theatre, where she is appearing. My wish, now, is that others will follow suit.

At present, I’m performing upon the stage of London's beautiful Playhouse Theatre, where Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man received its first performance in 1894. Though I would imagine in Shaw’s day the only sounds to disturb the ear may have been the faint rustle of a programme or the occasional chocolate being passed to a neighbour.

Today, this same theatre offers its patrons (I’m not making this up) an actual menu, folded across the arm of the seats, allowing them the opportunity to order from a variety of snacks, drinks and confectionary served from the comfort of their surroundings on a little red tray.

Luxury indeed, unless you baulk at having to sit next to someone consuming a neatly packaged bagel ("filled with the finest ingredients") or a two-litre carton of popcorn ("sweet or salt"), or possibly a nice packet of crunchy Corkers Crisps, having at the same time just forked out a fortune for your ticket. I should point out that this "free seat delivery" service doesn’t just stop at food, but also provides you with a wide choice of liquid refreshment: from soft drinks to spirits and whole bottles of wine.

While theatre owners are happy to sell such produce and their audiences are content to guzzle it, a thought must be spared for the actor whose job it is to somehow battle through it.

Occasionally it's a minefield of plastic squelching, paper crinkling, cellophane rustling and straw sucking. I suppose the only consolation is that the produce is at least consumed and not projected as missiles as it was in Elizabethan days. That said, Bernard Shaw was once hit on the nose by a sausage. He told his assailant: "Throw vegetables next time, as I’m a vegetarian."

Clive Francis
Caricature by Clive Francis

Throughout the ages, actors have had to put up with any number of disturbances, whether it be stones, rotten, stinking produce or the dreaded mobile. I witnessed Kevin Spacey pacing the stage during his brilliant Clarence Darrow at the Old Vic while a phone rang continuously, until he snapped: ‘If you don’t answer that, I will!"

Many actors have had similar experiences, myself included. I sat next to a man who actually answered his phone with the immortal line: "Can’t talk now, I’m watching a play." On one occasion the late, lamented Richard Griffiths asked a woman to leave the theatre after her phone rang for the third time, adding that the audience would be quite justified in suing her. Patti LuPone got so fed up one night during Shows for Days on Broadway that she marched into the stalls, grabbed the offender's phone and confiscated it backstage.

But it's not only phones that have driven actors to confront their audience openly: incessant giggling and talking have done so as well. More recently, Ken Stott famously halted a performance of A View from the Bridge after being driven to distraction by the noise of youngsters, eventually having them removed. Nicol Williamson once told a party of schoolgirls in the middle of Hamlet to "shut up and listen", threatening to start his performance all over again unless all chattering ceased "forthwith".

The only time I found myself halting a performance was during Somerset Maugham’s The Circle, at Chichester in 1976. During a rather tender love scene with Susan Hampshire, a gentleman, obviously the worse for drink, stood up and began shouting at what I can only assume was his wife. The noise became so intolerable that I had no compunction but to ask if the gentleman in question could be removed from the auditorium, at the same time apologising to the audience, who greeted my intervention with an immediate burst of applause; after which I could do no wrong for the rest of the evening.

Mind, rowdy audiences have always had a place in history. Charles Dickens attended Samuel Phelp’s opening night of Macbeth in 1844, and recalls watching "amidst the usual hideous medley of fights, catcalls, shrieks, howls, oaths, obscenities, apples, oranges, biscuits and pipes. Pints of beer were carried through the dense crowd at all stages while fish was fried at the entrance doors".

Clive Francis
Detail from ‘Spectacle Gratis’, G. Engelman, early to mid 19th century

If it’s not phones that is the mainstay of our grief, or chomping, talking or latecomers etc etc, then we can always fall back on the good old English cough, which, if not controlled, can become strangely contagious, floating around the theatre like a Mexican wave.

Ralph Richardson once considered the art of acting as "preventing your audience from coughing all evening" and James Agate once observed that nobody went to the theatre unless he or she was strumming along to their own catarrhs. The American actor John Barrymore was so incensed by the constant bronchial hysteria during his performance of Hamlet that he came on for Act II carrying a large fish, which he hurled into the audience, crying: "Here, you damned walruses, busy yourselves with that for the rest the play."

Clive Francis
Donald Sinden, Barbara Ferris and Clive Francis, ‘There’s a Girl in my Soup’ Globe Theatre,1966

What about booing, which began its life during the annual festival of Dionysia in Athens – a practice, I’m glad to say, that has fallen out of fashion with audiences these days.

The only time I experienced it was when the Gallery First Nighters' decided to boo during the curtain call of my first West End play, There’s a Girl in My Soup, in 1966. They booed with such relish that it provoked the stalls (who were politely applauding at the time) to retaliate by booing them, until it was impossible to know who was booing whom. Anyway, it didn’t matter as the play went on to become the longest-running comedy in the history of the West End.

Let me conclude by saying that actors down through the centuries have had to suffer interruptions, criticism, condemnation and abuse since time immemorial. After all, it was only 400 years ago that we were openly referred to as rogues, vagabonds and the scum of the earth, and if caught performing without a licence could have been grievously whipped and burned "through the gristle of the right ear with a hot iron of the compass of an inch about". It wasn’t until Henry Irving received his knighthood for services to the theatre in 1895 that the actor became acceptable.

But that was all a long time ago. After all, this is the 21st century. So please, "no more cakes and ale", phone ringing, texting, sweet wrappers and the like, but make it possible for each and every one of us to enjoy the experience of theatre in peace, allowing everyone "gently to hear and kindly to judge, our play".

by Marianka Swain
My image
Photographer: Mark Douet

Clive Francis's varied stage and screen career includes A Clockwork Orange, Entertaining Mr Sloane, the original Poldark and upcoming Netflix drama The Crown. He's currently starring in Stephen Daldry's lauded revival of An Inspector Calls at Playhouse Theatre, which begins previews on 4 November.

M.S. What was your first theatre experience?

C.F. I vaguely remember it being a pantomime at the Golders Green Hippodrome. I was around four years old at the time. The star was a comic called Robert Moreton, famous for his Bumper Book of Jokes, all of which were quite terrible, which of course made them even funnier.

M.S. Did your parents encourage you to go into acting?

C.F. Certainly not. My father knew how tough and unrewarding the profession could be on occasions - he had been a greatly respected stage and television actor all his life - but when he saw my determination he introduced me to the man who ran the local repertory theatre. And that's where I started. My mother, on the other hand, was terrifically encouraging, as she had given up her acting career to raise a family.

M.S. Where did you train?

C.F. Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

M.S. What was your first professional acting job?

C.F. On leaving RADA my first job was as Cecil Sykes in Bernard Shaw's Getting Married for the Prospect Theatre Company at Cambridge.

M.S. What are some of your highlights from an incredibly varied career?

C.F. Goodness, that's tough, as there have been several. Working with John Gielgud on a number of occasions. Illustrating Laurence Olivier's 80th birthday brochure. Working alongside Graham Greene on his last play, The Return of AJ Raffles, for the RSC. Being directed by Harold Pinter. My first play at the National Theatre, Ayckbourn's A Small Family Business, which earned me Best Supporting Player Award. Ebenezer Scrooge in the RSC's A Christmas Carol, a book I've now turned into a one-man show and which I tour around the UK most Christmases. Denis Potter's Lipstick on Your Collar, etc. etc. etc.

M.S. Have you watched the new version of Poldark?

C.F. No. Not out of spite, but I have so many fond memories of the original, and have lost so many dear friends who were part of it, that I'm happier just remembering what we created back in the 1970s.

M.S. Did you know An Inspector Calls well before coming into the cast?

C.F. Indeed, I saw it at the National many years ago and remember being blown away by the production. Not long before I had been appearing in Dangerous Corner at the Ambassadors, and one night at the curtain call JB Priestley took us by surprise by coming onto the stage to join us. Another memorable highlight.

M.S. Tell us about your character

C.F. I play the head of the Birling family: a hard-headed businessman, who represents the capitalist ruling class. Many think arguably the main subject of Priestley's social critique.

M.S. What appealed to you about Stephen Daldry's version?

C.F. To see what could easily have been regarded as a fairly outmoded play being presented in such an original and exciting way.

M.S. Why do you think the play has survived, and what does it say to a modern audience?

C.F. That's hard, because I'm not so sure it would have survived so well if it hadn't been presented in the way it has. In fact, there are a number of plays I would like to see the dust blown off and re-examined again. I was given permission recently to partly rework Ben Travers' Thark - a delightful farce of the 1920s now completely forgotten. The result was a triumph, and like An Inspector Calls now being enjoyed by a larger modern audience.

M.S. What's it been like doing The Crown for Netflix?

C.F. In The Crown I play Lord Salisbury, nicknamed Bobberty Salisbury. He was a hard-line imperialist who helped to bring Churchill into power and then for getting rid of him, he did the same with Anthony Eden. Not a man to get on the wrong side of!

M.S. Any more future plans?

C.F. Just to keep working on wonderful projects like these and being directed by the likes of Stephen Daldry.

M.S. Finally, any advice for budding actors?

C.F. Have faith. Never stop listening to those with experience. Be prepared to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again. But more important than anything, be nice!

FILM SERIES
The Crown
Season 1, 2, 3 & 4 now streaming on Netflix
The Crown is a television series for Netflix; a biographical story about Queen Elizabeth and the prime ministers who shaped post-war Britain. Based on Peter Morgan’s play The Audience and starring Claire Foy, Matt Smith, John Lithgow, Eileen Atkins, Harriet Walter and Clive Francis as Lord ‘Bobbety’ Salisbury. The series is created by Peter Morgan and directed amongst others by Stephen Daldry.
clive francis
Clive Francis as Lord Salisbury. Photograph Courtesy of Netflix
Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam) and Lord Salisbury (Clive Francis) at the wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
Stacks Image 237558
by Nick Smurthwaite
Clive Francis

Young actors looking at Clive Francis today, still fit and funny and youthful at 70, must feel in awe of his extraordinarily varied career on stage and screen that has scarcely stalled in half a century. It is exactly 50 years since Francis appeared in an early BBC adaptation of David Copperfield, opposite Ian McKellen, the first of many classic TV serial roles that included Poldark’s posh cousin in the original 1970s version, and Randolph Churchill to Richard Burton’s hilariously miscast Winston in Churchill’s People, also in the 1970s.

Stagestruck from an early age, Francis was in awe of Burton’s screen charisma when growing up, even though his own father, Raymond Francis, was himself a high-profile TV actor with his own long-running series, No Hiding Place. While his peers were listening to Cliff Richard and Marty Wilde, the teenage Francis’ most prized recordings were Gielgud’s Ages of Man, and Olivier’s Hamlet.

“I knew every speech by heart,” he reveals. “Years later, when I worked with both of them, it was a dream come true. They’d been my childhood heroes. I worked three times with Gielgud and got to know him quite well. I edited a book in honour of his 90th birthday.”

Having left school at 15 with one O level (art), Francis was packed off to Bexhill-on-Sea by his father to join the Penguin Players, the local rep company, as he was too young to be eligible for drama school. “I was a student assistant stage manager and wasn’t allowed to utter a word on stage for my first nine months. My first role was a village idiot in a play called The Red Tent.”

Despite his luxuriant blond hair and pretty-boy looks – there is a London Film School production somewhere in which he is Romeo in a RADA production of Romeo and Juliet – Francis always preferred character roles. “I loved playing bounders and villains, so my looks were against me for years. I’ve never minded getting older because the parts get more interesting the older you are.”
He describes his two years in rep as “an adventure playground of learning” and regrets it is no longer available to young actors emerging from drama school. “The kids I speak to now all seem to have this vision of becoming stars and doing movies. But it’s not just a question of having a burning passion to act, you have to really work at getting better and honing your craft. One or two may make the big time, but so many fall by the wayside because they become disillusioned and disheartened.

Clive Francis
Clive Francis in his own production of A Christmas Carol.

“One of my bugbears is that drama schools don’t give students a grounding in the history of acting. If you go to art college or music college you’re taught about what’s gone before, but not in drama schools. I’ve even suggested to Edward Kemp [principal] at RADA that they devote an hour a week to the history of drama and acting. I believe it is important to understand your heritage, how styles of acting have changed, the parallels between old and new styles. We’re all moving into a great big family of acting, and to not know who your ancestors were seems to me crazy and short-sighted.”

Another thing you’re unlikely to learn at drama school is how to deal with unemployment. Again, it is an area in which Francis has been unusually resourceful.

“I went to see a clairvoyant when I was feeling particularly low,” he says, “and she asked me if I’d ever thought of writing. I replied that I couldn’t even spell, let alone write. Some time later I was appearing in Giles Havergal’s adaptation of Travels With My Aunt, and I was so impressed with what Giles had done with Graham Greene’s book that I went home and took The Hound of the Baskervilles off the bookshelf, flicked through it, and thought ‘Right, I’ll have a go’ ”.

That was the start of his second string career as an adapter of classic texts. He followed Hound of the Baskervilles with Three Men in a Boat, Our Man in Havana, The Lavender Hill Mob, Ben Travers’ Thark, and his own solo performance of A Christmas Carol, which he has done every festive season since 2000. Every festive season, that is, until the upcoming one.

This year, he will be ensconced at the Playhouse Theatre, London, playing the patriarchal Arthur Birling in the latest revival of An Inspector Calls, Stephen Daldry’s clever reinvention of J.B. Priestley’s mystery-cum-socialist-polemic about an affluent Edwardian family called to account for their casual indifference to the fate of a girl they all regarded as their social inferior.

Though previously unacquainted with the play, Francis appeared in a 1980 London production of Dangerous Corner when he got to meet Priestley on the first night. “He was coaxed up on to the stage at the end of the performance and we all met him backstage afterwards. My recollection is he was charming and funny and self-effacing.

Clive Francis
Clive Francis and Carmela Corbett in rehearsal for An Inspector Calls, now playing at Playhouse Theatre, London. Photographer: Mark Douet.

“I think when Stephen [Daldry] suggested doing An Inspector Calls at the National, Richard Eyre was extremely sceptical about it but gave Stephen six months to work on it with the designer Ian MacNeil. They took it apart and put it back together again. It’s now played all over the world and the play has been a GCSE text for years. I think we’re even doing some schools matinees at the Playhouse.”
Francis himself is no stranger to deconstructing classic texts and reassembling them in his own image.

One of the positive by-products of a truncated education is that he has always been a voracious reader and hungry for knowledge. “I felt inferior to properly educated people for years and I’ve always worked very hard on scripts to make sure I knew exactly what the author was saying. I’ve read nearly all Dickens several times, which is an education in itself.”

A self-confessed workaholic, Francis always has umpteen projects on the go, and shows no sign of slowing down. Three of his adaptations – The Hound of the Baskervilles, Our Man in Havana and Susan Hill’s The Small Hand – will be going on the road next year, and a new show about Dickens and the theatre is awaiting a try-out, with Francis himself as the great man. “He was a frustrated actor and he poured all his love for the theatre into his writings. It pops up all over the place. Many of his best characters are virtually variety turns.
“Even though they can be quite lonely, I love doing solo shows. I sometimes recite them to myself on long train journeys, just to keep my hand in. The other passengers must think I’m a bit barmy.”
He can also be seen as the ruthless Lord Salisbury in the new Netflix series The Crown, directed by Daldry.

The third string to the actor’s bow is, of course, his brilliant theatrical caricatures, which have adorned biographies of Gielgud and Guinness, among others, as well as being collected into a book, Laugh Lines, published by Hodder and Stoughton.

“I’m so lucky to be able to do the three things I love most – acting, writing and drawing – with a modicum of success. Even when I was growing up as a kid in Eastbourne I used to have a sketchbook with me at all times. When you think about it, character acting and caricature are quite closely related.”

CV: Clive Francis
Born: 1946, Ealing, London
Training: RADA, 1964-66
Career highlights: Theatre: A Christmas Carol (2000), 84 Charing Cross Road (2015)
TV: Entertaining Mr Sloane (1968), Sense and Sensibility (1971), Poldark (1975), The Piglet Files (1990), The Crown (2016)
Film: Mr Turner (2014)
Agent: Simon Beresford

Clives caricatures can be seen and purchased at www.clivefranciscaricaturist.com
An Inspector Calls is at the Playhouse Theatre, London, from November 10, 2016 to February 4, 2017

We use ‘cookies’ on our website. They are small text files that are placed on your computer to help the site provide a better user experience. In general, cookies are used to retain user preferences, and provide anonymised tracking data to third party applications like Google Analytics. As a rule, cookies will make your browsing experience better. However, you may prefer to disable cookies which you can do by clicking the Dismiss button.