INTERVIEW: Tony Glynn chats to Likely Lad Rodney Bewes
RODNEY Bewes returns to North Devon on Friday. He heads to The Plough in Torrington with a performance of Dylan Thomas stories, A Boy Growing Up. Tony Glynn chatted to him
FOR those not well versed in British national treasures, Rodney Bewes is best known for being one half of The Likely Lads, the hugely popular 60s and 70s sitcom. But that is my best attempt at summing him up, for he truly is a-hard-to-pin-down artist, performer and human being.
"At my age, it's really daft to be going to the Western Isles of Scotland, and Wales, and Devon, and Richmond in Yorkshire, but I just love doing it," says Rodney. "I also love meeting people."
"One journalist said my shows were 'interactive'. I'd never heard that expression before, and thought it sounded a bit rude," (by this Bewes meant "naughty" I think) "and then he called me a 60s icon. A 60s icon in an interactive show? Hmm, I thought, the audience might get the wrong idea about this."
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Raconteur that he is, Rodney tended to veer from giving a straight answer to some questions, but such meanderings are always welcome if they expose a bigger truth. In discussing such hilarious interactions with spectators such as shining a torch in latecomers' faces and making them sit on a boat on stage, we moved on to the more pressing subject of his latest tour.
In A Boy Growing Up, Rodney narrates and brings to life stories from across the Dylan Thomas repertoire. The idea behind the show is that Dylan Thomas is delivering the stories in a BBC radio studio.
"It's important to know that I'll not be reciting poems. I'll be telling nine Dylan Thomas stories in a recreation of the 1940s BBC studio which he used during the war for radio broadcasts.
"One tells the tale of a young Thomas being taken on a drunken men's coach party because they couldn't just leave him at home on his own, while the others are about his life in Wales, going off to Swansea and London, and then returning to see if anyone remembers him."
So is Bewes playing the part of Dylan Thomas?
"No I'm not. It's funny stories about a boy growing up. I'm not being a short, curly-haired chain-smoking alcoholic poet. Some may think 'Oh my God it's not a lot of long bombastic poems is it?', but it's not."
The 75-year-old is a man of the world who relates to all manner of folk, so adapting Thomas's works to his own unique style is his aim. But his personality shines through not just in the performance itself, but how it is publicised to the public beforehand.
Bewes understands that some audience members may have been merely dragged along by their wives who say, "It's him from the Likely Lads, you'll like it," when in reality they would much rather be at the pub. For these persons, he has devised a cunning plan:
"In my programme I have about ten staff that I made up, they don't exist. I have a press agent called Alexandra Crewe and a stage manager called Stanley Accrington.
"They are of course football teams, so I want this man to start thinking. He might like the show then."
Such tendencies for practical joking are very much part of Rodney's make-up, and fame hasn't made him take himself too seriously.
He is humble, and just as happy to talk about his wife Daphne and four children as he is reminiscing on his numerous theatre exploits and TV appearances on the likes of Z-Cars, Doctor Who and a certain popular lad-based sitcom.
"I once told Gloria Hunniford on her show that my boys' names were Falcon, Storm and Tarquin. She said 'Oh what lovely names'. The cameraman laughed so much the camera wobbled.
"It was an honour because cameramen are bored silly, they've seen it all before."
And there you have it. It's not the fame but the fun that floats the boat of Rodney Bewes. Making the world a happier place is his aim, and, dare I say it, result.
A Boy Growing Up is at the Plough Arts Centre, Torrington on Friday, March 22, 8pm. Tickets: £11 (full), £10 (concession), £9 (Plough supporter). Box office: 01805 624624.
"It's funny stories about a boy growing up. I'm not being a short, curly-haired chain-smoking alcoholic poet. Some may think 'Oh my God it's not a lot of long bombastic poems is it?', but it's not."