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October 31, 2016
by Marianka Swain
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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!

An Inspector Calls is at Playhouse Theatre 4 November-4 February, 2017