IN recent years Rodney Bewes has become a familiar face in theatres across Britain with his one-man shows Diary of a Nobody and Three Men in a Boat. His latest show A Boy Growing Up, which visits Newport Riverfront tonight, sees him turning to Welsh poet Dylan Thomas for inspiration.
But to find how Rodney discovered Dylan we have to travel back six decades to the beginning of his career. His love of acting began following a serious childhood illness and responding to a letter in his father’s newspaper froma BBCTV producer for child actors to appear in Children’s Hour.
Rodney was offered a role in a TV play, and more work followed before he went to a drama school in Highgate at the age of 14. “All the kids were posh,” he remembers, “and they were the children of actors in the West End of London and I’m just this boy from Bingley, near Bradford, and broad Yorkshire. I felt common which is something I’m proud of nowbut we’d go to see theatre plays.”
It was one such theatre play that brought Rodney into contact with the works of Dylan Thomas. “One Thursday afternoon I was walking down Shaftsbury Avenue and I saw Emlyn Williams in A Boy Growing Up, which was an entertainment fromnine stories of Dylan Thomas, it’s been with me ever since I was 15. I saw it six or seven times and got fascinated by Dylan Thomas poems as well. My copies of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog and his collected poems are falling to bits. They both should be in the British Museum.”
Rodney is keen to emphasise he’s not playing Dylan Thomas in his new show, “I tried to get Emlyn Williams original prompt script and I couldn’t get it. I was glad because this ismyversion, it hasmycharm. I do it with a BBC big bronze microphone and a cue light which I work with my foot so if I get a line wrong or fluff it, I take the cue light off and put it on again but I want the audience to think ‘oh he got that wrong!’”
You can’t chat with Rodney without mentioning his best remembered TV role – Bob Ferris in Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais 1960s/ 70s sit-com The Likely Lads and its successful sequel Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads.
“It isn’t false humility, it was so well written,” says Rodney. “I wrote an autobiography about seven years ago and I had about 30 pages of scripts in it.
The editor was a bit worried about it, but I thought the public would love to read what Dick and Ian’s script looked like because it just came off the page at you. I used to tell such lies to journalists who would say I suppose you’ve added a lot to Bob fromyour own character and I’d say ‘oh yes,’ but I didn’t add a comma or a full stop. I didn’t need to because it was so well done.”
No more adventures for The Likely Lads have been made since 1976, but Rodney is still fondly remembered by fans and some of them even give him a chuckle: “A woman said, ‘Oh I remember you, doesn’t that date me? I said well if it dates you dear, what does it do to me?’”
- Catch RODNEY BEWES in A Boy Growing Up at Newport Riverfront on February 28, call 01633 656757 for more details and Abergavenny Borough Theatre on March 3, contact 01873 850 805 for ticket information