“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