Simon Williams promises to dish the dirt on stageBy Phil Creighton
January 14, 2010
After a successful career spanning decades, a housewives’ favourite is ready to spill the beans on the other side of showbiz. Simon Williams shares some terrible indiscretions with Phil Creighton.
Simon Williams is a bit like Ernie Wise.
The actor – fondly remembered by millions for his roles in Upstairs Downstairs, Holby City and the sitcom Don’t Wait Up –is constantly thinking up ideas for new plays and his latest production comes to The Mill at Sonning this week.
While the curtain is about to rise on his new show, he’s already got his eye on the next one. And it could come from his voicemail message as we attempted to set up this interview.
“You’re probably trudging through snow,” he says in his voicemail to me.
He’s not wrong ... attempting to rearrange the interview, I end up calling his dressing room at the National Theatre not realising that he’s actually on stage at the time.
Thankfully, the following morning we’re both in the same place at the same time and can talk about It’s Never Alright On The Night, a revue he’s written and directed, which opens tonight at The Mill.
The show features carefully remembered bits and bobs from almost 40 years of sitting in stage-door pubs after closing time and in theatrical digs up and down the country.
Simon has brought them together in this musical revue, which also stars Mill favourite Issy Van Randwyck and comedy actor and composer Philip Pope (he wrote Spitting Image’s Chicken Song as well as appearing in numerous comedy shows including Blackadder and Only Fools and Horses).
As I tell Simon the planned questions about the play, he quickly, politely and enthusiastically interjects.
“It’s not a play, it’s like a caberet,” he says. “It’s everything you want to know about backstage life.”
Simon comes across as a happy chappy, full of life as well as being willing to share in his excitement about It’s Never Alright On The Night.
Despite appearing at The National Theatre the night before in a very demanding play, he’s full of beans during our early morning conversation.
Picture an intelligent, charming and unfailingly polite bouncing Tigger sharing the ins and outs of stage life and you’ll get a measure of the man who is clearly enjoying preparing for curtain up.
“We’ve had a wonderful time rehearsing. We’re sitting on stools telling wonderful stories,” he says, revealing that there’s been much fun and laughter with his co-stars.
Rehearsals haven’t been that affected by the weather – “people have come in in four-wheel-drives” – and “everyone [at The Mill] has been wonderful”.
Then when rehearsals have finished at 4pm, Simon makes the drive to the South Bank in Central London, where he’s currently appearing in David Hare’s The Power of Yes.
That’s a busy day in anyone’s books, let alone a 64-year-old actor battling through bad weather to ensure that the show goes on.
Simon promises that It’s Never Alright will be a frank, revealing and witty evening.
“There are some terrible indiscretions about famous names, most of it is very affectionate,” he promises, before adding, “But we have to dish some dirt.”
He promises to tell tales about Noel Coward and Zsa Zsa Gabor, among others, and Simon will shed light on his career with stories of life in glamourous acting locations including Hollywood and ... erm ... Wigan.
As well as It’s Never Alright, Simon has another six plays to his name, which is why I tease him by suggesting he’s a bit like Ernie Wise, constantly trying to produce a new play wot I wrote. He laughs and reveals that The Mill has been instrumental in getting his plays off the ground.
“I’ve had six plays here that have all done well,” he says before adding that one of the reasons why isn’t just the backstage team (for whom he’s full of praise, especially artistic director Sally Hughes) but the people who come along to see his shows.
“There’s a very good audience here,” he says.
Although busy on stage and off it, Simon is probably best-known for his television appearances, his most recent being last week’s Lynda La Plante drama Above Suspicion, shown on ITV1.
“I played a serial killer,” he says, something that seems a world away from the upper class nice guys he tends to portray. “He’s one of the nastiest people I’ve ever played.
“It was very difficult,” he admits, “but Lynda does such wonderful research and she filled me in with the background.”
The programme was a hit with viewers, who watched on the edge of their seats, wondering if he’d get away with murder.
One of his most well-known roles is Dr Charles Cartwright in the 80s sitcom Don’t Wait Up, in which he co-starred with fellow smoothie Nigel Havers.
There’s talk of a reunion show along the lines of the recent To The Manor Born Christmas special, broadcast in 2007.
“I didn’t think much of it,” he says of that Christmas special. He’s much more complimentary about the potential Don’t Wait Up revival.
“There’s a wonderful script that Nigel and I have read,” he says. “It would be great to do it.”
It’s awaiting the green light from television bosses. Simon’s hopeful that it will happen because “George [Layton, the show’s creator] is such a good writer”.
Despite his TV fame, he seems to prefer the stage. “I’m happy rehearsing,” he says. “It’s just wonderful to know you’re going to go on stage.
“It’s your responsibility to give a live audience a fun evening,” he adds, something that will be on the cards when you see his latest show at The Mill.
He promises that it will go alright on the night and The Mill assures me that the theatre will remain open throughout the snow.
As for Simon’s next play, as per his phone message to me?
“Press the hash key at any time,” he says in his phone message. “That sounds like a great title.”
Remember, you heard it here first.
- It’s Never Alright On The Night is at The Mill at Sonning from tonight until February 20. For tickets, call (0118) 969 8000 or log on to www.millatsonning.com.