When it comes to top acting roles not many can claim to have been both James Bond and Dr.Who. Probably only one. And that's Michael Jayston, whose varied career means his face is instantly recognised by many. He's heading to Norwich's Theatre Royal to appear in a play called Quartet, about four ageing opera singers in a retirement home, which is about as far as you can get from being the dashing 007.
He told Places and Faces how, in the 1980s, Roger Moore wasn't certain about continuing as Bond. Other possibilities needed to be explored and Jayston was seriously considered for the role. 'It was me and, I think, Patrick Mower. I met Cubby Broccoli (the producer of the series) but then Roger Moore decided to carry on' .
He may have been denied big screen stardom as the world's most famous secret agent but later he did get to play Bond in a radio adaptation of You Only Live Twice. And then there's his time as Dr.Who - well almost. .
Michael Jayston appeared in 13 episodes in 1986 as a character called The Valeyard who was the 'dark side' of the then sixth Doctor, Colin Baker. 'I was the evil side of Colin Baker, so my claim is that I was one of the Doctors'. Lynda Bellingham and Brian Blessed also appeared in what Michael says was 'a hell of a cast.' He adds: 'You could hear Brian a mile and a half away. I loved doing that Dr.Who. I still get about three letters a week from fans and I still go to Dr.Who conventions'. .
He gives a big thumbs up to former UEA student Matt Smith as the latest incarnation of the Doctor. 'I like this new guy, he's good.' He also welcomes the latest producer of the series, Steven Moffat, who is also a noted scriptwriter. Michael Jayston appeared in Moffat's first TV series, Press Gang, about a school newspaper, 20 years ago. 'I knew then that he had a great talent' he says. .
Michael reprised his sinister role as The Valeyard some years later for an audio version of Dr.Who with Bonnie Langford which, he tells me, still sells well. Such is the timeless appeal of the Time Lord. Audio books have played a big part in his career. 'I'm doing all the P.D.James detective stories and all of John Le Carre's spy novels too'. .
So what's it like performing in this way without an audience? 'It's that old thing - it's simply an actor telling a story'. He spends a lot of time preparing and developing the characters before going into the studio. Sometimes the author doesn't entirely help. One character was described as 'half Bronx, half Chinese' which wasn't easy. 'You've got to think of the character, for Le Carre's George Smiley I always think of Alec Guinness. I worked with him on the television version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It was marvellous stuff, he was so dedicated. He put on a stone and a half to play the part but no-one would really notice unless he turned sideways'. .
Michael Jayston recently turned up in Holby City although he tells me he had a 'lovely long speech' which was drastically cut before transmission. 'But I enjoyed doing it. It's a good series' he says, adding he feels sorry for younger actors now that other long running series in which he's appeared, like The Bill and The Royal have been axed, taking work opportunities with them. .
He was born in Nottingham in 1935 and worked for the National Coal Board as an accountant after doing National Service. It wasn't for him. 'I liked the people but not the work' he says, and it also gave him the chance to pursue his passion for cricket, playing with colliery sides. Visiting the theatre changed his life; he decided to be an actor, applied for drama school and has never looked back. .
He's worked regularly in films, television, radio and on the stage. A highlight was the first major revival of 'The Sound of Music' in 1981 at the Apollo Victoria in London's West End. He was Captain Von Trapp alongside Petula Clark, who made her stage musical debut in the show. Despite doubts about her ability, in her 40s, to play the young Maria, the show was a triumph, breaking box office records. .
'I love Petula and doing that show. I got paid a lot of money for doing it but I missed out on other parts because I played it for a year. I kept turning other things down.' .
To prepare for the opening the cast were taken to Austria to soak up the atmosphere, have photographs taken and to meet Maria Von Trapp, upon whose story the musical is based.'I met the real Baroness. She was an amazing lady and nearly six feet tall. She asked me if I was going to wear a moustache for the part (which I wasnt going to do)..
The Sound of Music is a tear-jerker and of the biggest lump-in-the-throat numbers, Edelweiss, falls to Captain Von Trapp. There was a lovely speech beforehand about it being a national song. It is a really tricky song to sing and hard to sing if you have a cold. If the orchestra played the wrong note that was the one I sang!.
Before that Michael Jayston had another long run in the gripping play by Peter Schaffer, Equus, about the stable boy and his relationship with his horses. It began life at the National Theatre where he took over the part and then continued to play it, in the West End and on tour, for around 500 performances. He was the psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, an intense role but again one from which he drew great satisfaction..
Equus came to the Theatre Royal, Norwich in 1976 and brought Michael Jayston into contact with Dick Condon, the genial Irishman who transformed the fortunes of the Theatre Royal in the 1970s from an ailing civic venue to one of the most successful in the country. I was in his office one day and he was going to take out an advert. He was going to say The Best Theatre in England and then he changed his mind to The Best Theatre in the World. Typical Dick Condon, a man who combined showmanship with hospitality and a gift for publicity..
He insisted on billing me as The Star of Quiller which was a TV series I was doing at the time. I hated the series. But he was right and we did such good business with the play..
Michael Jayston returned to Norwich a few years ago with a production of Sheridans The Rivals with Kate OMara and now he is back again with Ronald Harwoods Quartet. The play, based around ageing opera singers in a retirement home, was first seen a decade ago with Donald Sinden in the lead. This time that part will be taken by Timothy West. Its a very funny play and Tim gets all the laughs says Michael. Susannah York plays a once-famous opera diva. Shes one of the biggest names in the opera firmament. But why did she retire so early? You will have to see the play to find out..
Michael Jayston is looking forward to being in the city again, and staying at the same digs. I like Norwich a lot and I like Norwich audiences. They are excellent. Praise indeed from one who knows..
Quartet will be at the Theatre Royal from Monday August 9 to Saturday August 14 as part of a national tour prior to the West End..