EDUCATION & TRAINING
I wanted a space on my website to jot down the chain of events and good fortune that got me started on such a long and enjoyable career.
There are also so many people to thank. Not least my Parents who have been a constant source of encouragement and love.
So 'Thank You' Anne , Barry and Mel , I had the best start in life anyone could wish for.
But here goes...
So excuse the indulgence, or skip forward if you wish.
I was eleven when ‘The Muppet Show’ first hit our television screens.
In the UK at that time, we had never seen anything like it.
Hard to imagine these days, when ‘mouth-sync’ puppets are on every channel - although all too often they are not in sync !
( But that is another story).
By the time Kermit first waggled his green flippers and said “See you next time on the Muppet Show” I knew I wanted be a Puppeteer on Television. After all, there were people operating those puppets, and I figured they were having a good time.
Well I have been lucky enough to achieve that dream.
And yes, I can confirm, it is a good time. But it is also a great deal of hard work and requires more skill than many people realise.
In over 20 years of working in the Industry, I have puppeteered alongside a great many gifted performers. I hope those I don’t name will forgive me, but the ‘wagglers’ who have been my most frequent partners in crime are : Francis Wright, Phil Eason, Simon Buckley and Nigel Plaskit. And to them, and all the others I say a big ‘Thank You’. It’s been Fun - and if Computer Graphics doesn’t eat up all the work... long may it last too!
I was even fortunate enough to have worked with Jim Henson ( Kermit himself) before his all too early passing in 1990.
A lovely warm hearted man, who is still greatly missed.
Sondheim buffs will recognise the next question;
“How did you get there from here? How did you get to be You?”
Radio is not a medium I have worked in, however it was a radio programme that got things started.
BBC Radio 4s’ long-running magazine programme “You and Yours” provided a lucky escape from staying on for 6th Form at the Geoffrey Chaucer School in Canterbury.
One of my teachers, Martin Hague, heard their radio item about a 2 year Drama based A-Level module at The South Warwickshire College of Further Education in Stratford Upon Avon, which had only been running few years, but was already accounted a huge success.
I travelled up with my family and took part in a selection weekend, and was chosen to be student of the ‘Drama & Liberal Arts Department’.
This pioneering course was the brainchild of its’ Senior Lecturer,
Gordon Vallins, a man of immense talent and infectious enthusiasm.
Several other FE Colleges had taken up the module, but Gordons’ Department in Stratford was not only the Pilot Course, but also the closest to where we lived in Kent.
Kent Education Authority was unable to offer anything comparable within its own Schools or Colleges, and at Gordon's request, agreed to sending me away from home to do my A-Levels.
The days of such luxury are alas long gone.
The D.L.A operated from within a new block of study rooms and a huge purpose built Drama Studio cum Theatre space.
Here I studied A-Levels in Drama/Theatre Studies and English Literature. These were the compulsory part of the Course.
In addition to which, there was a free choice of any 3rd A-Level from within the rest of the College.
I studied Theatre Design, which I sat and passed a year early, allowing me to spend my time in the second year making puppets rather than designing sets.
There isn’t a great deal to do in the town of Stratford, and not being a driver at the time, and being a poor student, I ended up going to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre a lot in the evenings.
Back then Equity members and the College Drama Students, could stand at the back of the auditorium for just £2.
It was a cheap night out... and absolutely awe inspiring. I watched everything, many more than once.
I owe a lot to Stratford and to Gordon. The whole experience was a wonderful springboard into a creative adult life. And if nothing else the Internet has at least given me a chance to publish my Thanks.
Gordon's aim was to turn out well-rounded young adults, who had experienced an interesting, theatre-based education.
This he achieved splendidly.
He did not necessarily want to churn out acting fodder for drama schools. But that turned out to be a by-product of the course nonetheless. Two of us from my D.L.A group made it through the rigorous auditioning process and into Drama School.
Jonty going to ‘Chappies’ in Birmingham, and me going to ‘The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’.
What a wonderful 3 years that was!
I was on the Full-Time Acting Course and had the time of my life.
B.O.V.T.S already enjoyed a great reputation, but I joined at the start of an especially golden period for the School.
Chris Denys had just taken over as Principal , and his style of leadership was right out of the Gordon Vallins’ mould.
Mine was the first year-group that Chris had auditioned personally, and we did him proud I think; taking like ducks to water to all the extra singing, dancing and specialised skills classes he added to the course.
The final year students dubbed us the ‘Mickey Roonies’, as we would have a go at anything and everything without complaining.
It wasn’t strictly meant as praise, but we wore it with pride.
More than 20 years later Mickey Rooney had a cameo part in “Babe 2”, and in one scene, I was operating chimpanzee puppet sat next to him.
During a long pause for some light adjustment, I told him about our group being dubbed the ‘Mickey Roonies’ and why, and it gave him a little swell of pride too! Who would have thought I’d ever have the chance to do that?
As with Straftord, drama students from the Old Vic School enjoyed preferential rates at the Bristol Old Vic Box Office... and again I took the opportunity to devour every production.
When Neil Rhoden arrived as the Schools’ new Musical Director, magic really started to happen. I think all of us will always remember fondly touring at the end of our second year ,with a musical revue: “ Blowing the Blues away”. They were wonderful, happy ,creative days.
And again worthy of acknowledgement and Thanks.
When I left B.O.V.T.S work took me to Polka Children's Theatre in Wimbledon. What a wonderful place for a newly released Drama Student to land. It deserved its title of ‘The Enchanted Theatre’.
I have no doubt I got cast in my first production there because of my puppetry skills. Polka was then still under the direction of its’ founder Richard Gill. When Richard formed Polka, it mounted almost as many puppet-only productions as it did regular plays . By the time I did my stint there , puppets tended to feature only within human plays, and currently the accent has shifted towards actor only productions with just occasional puppetry or mask work.
This is all to the good, places must evolve and change with the times and their audiences. If you live in London , beg, steal or borrow some kids and get along to Wimbledon. It is a wonderful venue and mounts great shows.
It is a small world too, as one of Polka's Artistic Directors Roman Steffanski, ended up working with me years later on several Honeymonster commercials for 'Sugar Puffs' - him inside the huge yellow fur suit , while I operated the Animatronic System that worked the head.
O.K that is my walk down memory lane over.
If you have ploughed through all the Film and TV side of my site to get this far , then pop over to the other side and have a look at my exploits with our National Puppet "Mr Punch" .... Enjoy!