Mr Roy's Brush with fame

To many he'll always be 'Mr Roy' the friend of Basil Brush, but Roy North tells Steve Pratt about the years of Shakespeare that have followed TV fame.

AS a double act, it was very different to Morecambe and Wise. There were two of them, but one was an animal - and a glove puppet at that. All the same, actor Roy North talks about his "other half" Basil Brush as if he was human which, to many of us who used to watch, he was.

Suggest that playing straight man to a fox on his BBC-TV show was a diversion from his acting career and Hull-born North agrees while adding, "It was a terrific diversion".

He'd been appearing in the London West End production of Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when he got the call to audition to replace Derek Fowlds as the fox's companion.

"I learnt to be myself which is quite hard to do," he says. "It was an acting job but the one-to-one relationship was like a double act really."

Unlike the guest stars who queued up to appear on The Basil Brush Show, a children's show that attracted just as many adults, the main presenter was an unknown. "Basil didn't want to be upstaged by a name or an ego," he explains.

He spent four years with the fox, including summer shows and tours, including one to New Zealand. He enjoyed being a presenter so much that he wanted to do more and did with shows like Get It Together and a junior version of Tomorrow's World called Craft Design And Technology.

"I was really keen to make the transition to presenting from acting but it didn't happen. Presenters were getting more journalism-orientated and I didn't have that ability, so it was back to the boards," he says.

At present, that's on stage at York Theatre Royal in the world premiere of The Man With Two Gaffers with Northern Broadsides, the company of which he's been part since actor-director Barrie Rutter set it up 15 years ago.

"I knew Barrie, not very well but through the years, and when he set up the company a mutual friend recommended me. The message Barrie left me on my telephone was, 'if the job is on, you are in'."

It certainly was on and North has been with the Halifax-based company aiming to showcase Northern talent ever since. The Man With Two Gaffers is his first non-Shakespeare play for nearly 15 years, as Broadsides normally concentrates on the Bard.

North plays a vicar, the Rev Lumb, who's "a bit of a Bible basher" in the comedy which Yorkshire poet and writer Blake Morrison has adapted from Goldoni's Servant Of Two Masters and relocated to Skipton.

He describes Broadsides style as "in your face Northern", recalling that the first production featured the likes of Rutter (who also comes from Hull), Mark Addy, Brian Glover and Liver Bird-turned-Emmerdale actress Liz Estensen.

North comes to the new play from a six-month tour with the company's Shakespeare marathon Wars Of The Roses. The beard he grew for that has given way to mutton chops as the vicar.

He's North by birth and by name, changing his name from Roy Stathers to Roy North when he became an actor. "I lived down South for years and trained at drama school there, but I'm very confident with my Northern accent. At drama school there were quite a few Northerners trying to talk posh. I can do that but it's another accent," he says.

"I hadn't done much Shakespeare before Northern Broadsides, hardly any at all. I've learnt a lot about Shakespeare and how to do it Barrie's way," he says.

He began acting in his home town in amateur dramatic societies in the late 1950s. "Deciding to act took a bit of courage because I worked in a bank and that was a bit of security. But I had a mate who went to drama school first, and he said, 'come in, the water's fine'."

He'll always be remembered as Basil Brush's Mr Roy, although he has mixed feelings about the fox's recent TV comeback. "I've only seen it once. I didn't like the format. The one-to-one relationship was much better," he says. "I suppose they use more technology now but it does lose the relationship between the man and the fox."

* The Man With Two Gaffers is at York Theatre Royal from August 26 to September 16. Box Office: (01904) 623568 or online at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

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