Michael Jayston is having a hard time losing his ladykiller image of The Power Game. He plays a butler in Thriller on Saturday, but later returns for another episode in which he plays a multiple murderer.
Those who remember Michael Jayston as the ultra-cool operator with an eye for the ladies in The Power Game series, will get a shock when they see him in Thriller on Saturday, Ring Once For Death - as a butler. And Jayston, 38, provides another shock in his second Thriller episode, to be shown later this year, in which he plays a schizophrenic who marries and then murders a succession of ill-fated ladies. The ladykiller has become the killer.
Jayston in one of those fortunate actors who is constantly in demand but who manages to avoid being typecast. He has played in Peter Hall's A Midsummer Night's Dream, starred as Tsar Nicholas in Sam Spiegel's film Nichoals and Alexandra, appeared in Cromwell and has had an enormous amount of television work, from playing Rochester in Jane Eyre to Mr. Royce in the story of the famous Rolls-Royce partnership. He also lends his voice to television commercials and is currently rehearsing for a new stage production of J.B. Priestlsy's Eden End, which opens at The National Theatre, London, in April.
"It is difficult not to be labelled according to what you have done before," he says. "After The Power Game I was offered nothing but smooth-talking, bowler-hatted roles, but you have to make people realise you can do more than one thing."
Jayston entered the acting profession at 23. He was born and brought up in Nottingham - he still retains a soft Northern accent - an only child whose father died when Jayston was still a baby. His mother died when he was 15. "I don't remember being lonely as a child," he says, "but perhaps being alone made me rely on my imagination more than other children. I always enjoyed imitating people," (something he still does with great expertise). "I was doing take-offs of Churchill and James Stewart when I was nine - they must have been quite appalling, too. I'm a bit better at it now."
It wasn't until he joined the Army that Jayston's desire to be an actor crystallised. He began doing amateur dramatics and staged a production of The Happiest Days of Your Life. After the Army, he joined the National Coal Board as a trainee accountant. "My family thought it was more secure, with regular hours and a good pension scheme ... ironic beginnings for an actor!
"I didn't last long. It seemed to me that a bomb could have dropped on the place and nothing would have changed, so I went to work for the local fish market to try and make enough money to go to drama school."
After a year of getting up at 4 a.m. every day, Jayston won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He was 23 at the time, some five years older than most other students in his year. "Oddly enough it worked in my favour," he says. "Because I was that much more mature I tended to get the best roles."
Since leaving the Guidlhall, Jayston has rarely been out of work, the longest period so far being about six weeks. "You've got to have luck," he says, "but more than anything else you need a sense of humour. Without that, you're almost certainly finished before you start." Jayston certainly has humour in abundance. The most famous story about him concerns a time when he was with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Without telling anyone he wrote two letters - one to Buckingham Palace and the other to the House of Commons - offering the services of members of the company to entertain the palace kitchen staff and M.P.s. Buckingham Palace sent grateful thanks but regretted they did not have the necessary facilities, but the Commons said they would be delighted. So, much to the dismay of the R.S.C. but no doubt to the delight of the M.P.s, a group of actors were dispatched to Westminster to give an evening's free entertainment.
Jayston is very much a home lover. He and his ex-model wife, Heather, and their two small sons, Tom and Ben, have recently moved into a large rambling house in Surrey. No matter where he is working, Jayston always prefers to travel home each night rather than stay at an hotel. "In spite of all his fan mail he really couldn't be less like the smooth operator he played in The Power Game series," says Heather.
Both want a large family, and are hoping to adopt children. yet in spite of the responsibilities involved, Jayston does not believe an actor should worry about such things as mortgages, rates and monthly bills. "You must try to keep apart from all that, or else you start functioning like a civil servant. Money should never be a criterion for doing a job."
When he is not working, Jayston enjoys a variety of other interests like horse riding, cricket and playing the stock market. He has become something of an expert at it and although he says his shares are down at the moment, he is still showing a profit on his original investment.
Professionally, Michael Jayston has no plans for the future. "I would like to do comedy - I almost prefer that to anything else. The timing is so important and it is a great challenge to get it right. I would also like to play Hamlet before I am 40. I doubt whether I will though ... I haven't got much time left for one thing.