Colin McIntyre

Pomegranate Theatre Oral History

 

Liz Woodall – Interviewer

 

History of Colin McIntyre – 24 October 2009

 

Interviewer

So Colin, can you tell me how you came to be involved with the Pomegranate Theatre?

Colin

I had been working at the old Memorial Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, which is now the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  I had been general stage manager there and somebody had actually worked here and heard that they were looking for a stage manager and they said would I like to go over to be interviewed and I was interviewed by Richard Scott and really it wasn’t an interview, he just said you’ve got the job, which was really nice.  So I came here, and I think it was about February, very cold, it was a steam engine and for those who remember them, it took quite a while.  I got out, I was staying with a Mrs Eccles in Compton Street and she had sent me a letter, I was coming actually not from Stratford then, I was coming from Middlesboro.  I had closed the theatre there, but Adrian Lloyd-James, my lovely friend over there has opened it again, it’s now a brand new theatre. In those days, television was taking over the theatre and they were closing.  She sent me quite a wordy letter and I just said, do you take lodgers in, theatricals, and she wrote back and said  -

Dear Mr MacIntyre, that you very much for your letter, I am delighted to put you up, we have a lovely back room, which Arthur has now redecorated, it has a single bed in (we don’t have visitors in this house), don’t wash your socks in the basin, don’t come in late, and by the way I shall be in bed when you arrive.  Nobody knows this, but the Yale lock key is on a piece of string through the letterbox.

So I thought, well this sounds pretty usual, so I went to the pub there and had a whisky as it was cold, that was my excuse, and I went up to Compton Street and put my hand through the letter box, and as you know my hands are rather large – and you know what’s coming don’t you – and my hand was stuck in the letter box and I couldn’t get it out nor could I find the string, it was awful.  I eventually got this bit of string out and there was the key, it was all gas, and I opened the door and tiptoed in, there was just a little glimmer in the hall way, a smell of Jeyes Fluid and dust. 

I go in and there’s a letter on the hall stand.

Dear Mr MacIntyre, I hope you had a nice journey and that you managed to get in.  I will be asleep, come up the stairs quietly, my Arthur’s now dead so I am not used to men staying in my house.

So I went up the stairs and I heard a voice saying oh is that you Mr McIntyre and I said yes it is.  She said you can come in, don’t be afraid.  So I said I’m fine.  Her light was on a glimmer and she sat up there in bed all wrapped up. The house was freezing and she said hello and I said hello, and she said did you have a good journey, I’ve left you some cold ham and a bit of milk downstairs, it’s in the larder and we’ll talk in the morning.

So that was that.  She was a great theatregoer, a great landlady and in those days, everywhere you went – if Liz had been in Blackpool you would say, what was it like, who would you recommend?  Oh, try Mrs Greenhalgh in Market Street or something.  So you went there and if you didn’t like them, as Arthur Askey says, a good tip is to leave a kipper behind the piano.  Because he said, when summer comes the smell is extraordinary, and they’ll pull the place to bits but they’ll never think to move the piano where you put the kipper.  Well, you don’t want to go to those sorts of digs.  So that’s how we got to know which were good digs and which were bad digs.  I think the lady here charged me £1 17s 6d a week, I won’t translate that because I’m so old I’ve forgotten what that is in modern money but that was room and attendance.  This meant that you had to bring your dinner in and you always had dinner at night after the show.  That was a big thing because pubs closed at 10.00 then and there was really nowhere else to go.  So you bought your liver, bacon and potatoes and you cooked them.  If there were four of you staying there you actually, if I was the first there, I would put that on the first stair with your name on a bit of paper or on the paper bag, and if Liz was next she would do the same, and she would take them and cook all those different meals.  Of course you never ended up with your liver or your sausage, you got a little bit of everything and at the end of the week you got an extra bill that said, room and attendance plus extras and the extras were – you won’t believe this but it’s true – cruet, for use of, a bit like the army, 2d, hot water.  Now they had a great habit with hot water, I’ve never known to this day whether it was specially done but you could be in the bath running your hot water and it would suddenly stop.  You would probably put about that much in and that was it, but this lovely lady in Chesterfield wasn’t a bit like that, she was a great theatregoer and she took people in for many years, and she used to say – oh will you be coming back in the afternoon and I said no we would be rehearsing, oh she said if you do come back, she said, and the aspidistra is in the window, don’t come in because the milkman has promised me an extra pint.

So she was a jolly lady and a nice lady and then I came down here and you really want to know what it was like then.  Well it was totally different obviously, we carried nearly, I think probably, 18 – 21 people in the company that included two carpenters.  I was stage manager and associate director - that sounds posh - it meant I painted the scenery and got the props, did everything really and loved every minute of it.  It was a really big cast and it was still weekly then and that first season was with Penny Keith and one or two other people.  She was lovely, I never thought she would make it but she did and she was very posh even then, she came from Putney.  Anyone from London who comes from Putney is just, well we don’t talk about them where I live!  She was lovely and I was just telling Liz before that we are still in contact, and she tells a lovely story.  She did two seasons here and she was useless.  She used to wear the Marigold gloves just to collect envelopes and coffee cups and things like that and she used to say, I’m sure many of you read it, she said when she was being interviewed, that she was so desperate to get work that she was frightened to empty the bins in case the telephone rang.  I think that’s really nice and in those days it was all done by telephone.

Sometimes, the old actor/managers and Richard Scott was an actor/manager here, and I worked for a lot of actor/managers, were a pretty unique lot.  They were very bossy, and you just had to get on with it.  I’d been in the army so I was used to being bullied and thrown about but the actor/manager, and for some reason not that there is anything against them, but every actor/manager, when I played for Frank H Fortesque, which was the famous repertory company, with whom I stayed for nearly 12 years, and I wasn’t out of work, they were all northern.   In fact, people like Arthur Leslie, who I worked with for nearly 7 years, went on to become, really when he was my age or even younger than me, and he just thought, well what are we going to do now.  There were not a lot of rep theatres, they were doing all variety shows and things like that and people who had made a bit of a name, like it is now, were filling the slots that we used to fill.  Leslie eventually got a lovely lease of life, late in life, when he became the landlord in the Coronation Street pub for years and years and they were pretty unique.  I never thought that I would actually, I suppose now it’s a bit dated, but even people like Olivier were really actor/managers.  Adrian at the back there, Tabs Theatre Company, a plug there, I might want to borrow something from him, they are all actor/managers.  I am, I like to think, although I haven’t been on the boards for some time.  I suppose I have become an actor/manager.  I like to think I am a little more pleasant than they were.  They just had to get it on, we were twice nightly.  We were three matinees a week and the governor, Frank Fortesque would come in and say in August, business isn’t very good, what are we going to do Arthur?  Arthur would say, I don’t really know, why don’t we do Aladdin and I’m thinking, it’s August – Aladdin? So he says to me go out back to the stores look out Aladdin.  Now he was one of the biggest touring pantomime companies going and he had hundreds of Aladdin sets and I went back and I said, governor I can’t find the Aladdin set, and he said, that doesn’t matter, put Cinderella on and I was thinking … well you don’t actually argue do you, you can argue with a sergeant major or somebody but you don’t argue with Frank Fortesque. So I looked the Cinderella set out, which actually turned out to be Aladdin, which was a bit confusing because it had all of the titles on the back of the flats and where they had played, Blackburn, Acton, Rochdale, Keighley all those plays, so one just got on with it and you opened on the Wednesday.

Now, how do we know it, well all the people, most of the people, I was quite young then,  and they were all quite well experienced, they were playing the same parts all over the place and that’s what Frank did. He would employ you if you had played the part before and I well remember going to St George’s Theatre Cambridge, which is no longer there, and he rang me up and said, will you go and play the inspector in a thriller or something and have you played it before? I hadn’t played it before but I needed the work, so I got friendly with the stage manager and he gave me a script so we did what we call winging it, you just learned bits of the script oh there’s a phone call there, and you go to do it.  People find this very difficult to believe, but I had not actually met the company, so I’m coming on to interrogate someone, I’m Inspector Spooner, now where were you on the night of the murder, and they would say, under their breath, where to go next and what I should do. I was petrified, I keep saying about the army and those who have done it will know there is nothing quite like the army for discipline and telling you where to go and not liking you and all that, but that was absolutely terrifying.  I remember going in the bar afterwards and I thought I hadn’t been too bad and I hadn’t got a lot of experience, I had set up a theatre company in the army in Singapore, Kualar Lumpur and Hong Kong where it was an all-male cast.  Now if anybody has actually done that, that is unique because I thought, I’ll do something I saw ages ago at the Empire Theatre Glasgow, when I was a lad, and it was called Passing of the Third Floor Back and I heard someone say yes, and it’s about Jesus who comes to this boarding house and he converts everybody and the tart is made good and I was playing Harry Secombe, the pianist, variety, not to be spoken to, totally different.  Jesus won’t talk to him, Jesus can’t make him good, well it’s a bit like that.  So I thought why not do that in Hong Kong, so I did this in Hong Kong and I played Jesus, because I had hankered after playing Jesus and the tart was played by the pretty boy in the battalion and there is a sort of romantic moment, and if you can imagine playing to 800 squaddies who haven’t seen a woman for 100 years and in that time you just didn’t know what to do when they approached you and all that. This scene started and it was an absolute riot, I can’t tell you because there are ladies present, but it was words like – go on get ‘em off – go on kiss him – and it was mayhem.  So when it was all finished and everyone cheered, the Commanding Officer came to me and said, McIntyre you did quite a good job there, it was quite a laugh.  Terribly, terribly, good.  Have you thought about Macbeth?  I thought well the lady is going to be a problem.  He said that young boy was rather good, I thought.  But we didn’t do Macbeth, but we did do the Passing of the Third Floor Back. 

I became an actor/manager and we had an awful long stay in Chesterfield, when I say that I had a delightful stay here and it was a springboard for me.  When I came here it was Chesterfield that gave me a chance.  It was three months of the year and it was the Board of Management that released me to go to Dundee, Pitlochry and the Citizens Theatre, back to the Memorial Theatre, back to Sadler’s Wells and places like that, so I owe an awful lot to Chesterfield so my heart has always been here.  If they hadn’t been so kind, I wouldn’t have actually probably have gone to the National, which again was a sort of fluke in a way.  I had met and become chummy with a guy called Donald McKecknie who was actually working at the National and because going back, when I was at the Memorial Theatre, Olivier was there and my hero, who I mentioned, was Charles Laughton, who I paid 1s 9d to see and I thought he was brilliant, but little did I know I was going to meet him.  I thought, my God.  Where did I meet him - in the mass of corridors in the old Memorial Theatre!  He came up to me asking for the restaurant and I panicked because I didn’t know where the restaurant was.  So I said, follow me and he said to the ends of the earth.  And we set off and I am panicking because I have never seen a restaurant, and the Memorial Theatre is just this concrete building and the corridors just go on for ever and ever and I saw a door.  I opened the door and said here we are Mr Laughton, and this is actually true, it was the biggest broom cupboard you ever saw and fortunately somebody came along and I said Mr Laughton is looking for the restaurant, do you know the way?  Follow me he said, and that was really lucky.

So I knew that sort of set up so I was now going to go to the new National Theatre, formed by Olivier, which my friend Donald McKecknie had recommended to him.  I had the interview there, just a letter saying would I come and meet Sir Laurence to see if he likes you.  So I went to the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre in London for the interview.  Olivier was an hour late and somewhat mellow when he arrived.  Frank Dunlop said he was waiting for me now and I wanted to say that I had been waiting for him, but I thought no.  So I went in and he was very charming and he said why don’t you tell me a little about yourself.  So I started to tell him and he said, oh you’ve done repertory, you know I’ve never done repertory, I’d love to go and do repertory.  So I didn’t hear anything for ages then Donald McKecknie rang up and said you’ve got the job and that was it.  The next thing I knew was the production manager rang me and said when are you coming, you were due here on 3rd February but I told him I had received no correspondence at all about this.  He asked me was I joining and I said yes, I’m coming.  So I joined the National Theatre, and of course what was really lovely about it at that time was that I knew an awful lot of people because they were old rep people, Bristol people, Sheffield people, Chesterfield people, Cardiff people, Glasgow Citizen people so it was really a lovely big rep company and I was lucky I got to direct Dance of Death and Way of the World and things like that.  They were lovely really great people, and then I think I went all over the place after that – I’ve been everywhere.  I did go back for a short spell to the New Theatre but that is very big and concrete and a bit prisoner of war-ish and I wasn’t really happy.  But then, and it was really nice, they had me back here.  So I am like the guy that goes home occasionally, and enjoys it and its warm and generous and I’ve been really, really lucky. I feel most fortunate, and it’s lovely to see so many people, that you asked me to come and record all this, and John am I on camera? Yes. Without make-up! This will be horrendous.

 

That’s it – I’ve grass-hopped and I could go on for ages but I would just like to thank you all for coming along and if anyone would like to ask anything, quickly, not too difficult, I would be delighted to answer.

I must just say one thing, it’s really lovely to see one of my best friends here, Jean Turner, you’re all my best friends here, and Alma Coleman who with Derek ran this place for a long time and are my dearest friends.

Answer to a question

We were doing a Man for all Seasons and I was playing the Judge and I was summing up and they had got me an old wallpaper sampler and done it up as ye olde book, and I had everything written out on it and then we were two weekly and we were on the last Saturday.  I opened the book and went to read it and it wasn’t there. Now you would think after all of these performances that you wouldn’t go blank, actually I had to make it up, which I’m brilliant at and I made them all suffer.  I went way off the script and I said – I may have to keep you here a little longer because unfortunately what I have here changes all aspects of the case, so I’m afraid my judgement will have to wait several minutes while I deliberate on the circumstances  - and I went on and on.  There was a guy in the company called Michael Cochrane and all I could hear was – oh Jesus.  So I made them suffer and cringe and when the curtain came down he said, they had written on it – Dear Colin McIntyre, it would lovely if you learned your lines.  We are all really sorry about this, no one in particular did it, but perhaps it will teach you a lesson.

Thank you Alma for the question, the other one was genuine, Under Milkwood, I had a plate with the words written on and I went to lift the plate and it was the wrong plate.

Answer to a question

I have had nothing published but I’ve written – I suppose at home I have 12 plays just in the drawer and places like that, and I’ve been lucky enough that in Chesterfield the one that has been done the most is Where the Brass Bands Play.  I had one done in the old Granada days called There is Something about a Soldier, about the First World War and then I’ve always wanted to but it’s something that I thought I may do when I retire, but I haven’t done that yet so there’s not a lot of time left.   You’ve got to be really committed and the answer is I’ve been very lucky I wrote them and had them done and I liked one or two of them and George was in one of my greatest successes Kiss me Goodnight Sergeant Major and Sleeping with a Stranger, all sexual romps.  Deadly Lovers, again you see you know where we are going.  You missed them all, Jean Turner.

When you do bad plays and people and directors say, oh this is terrible, I think you have no other recourse but to say, well I’ll try and do it myself.  All my plays, one of the things which they don’t know about is that there wasn’t a great deal of scenery involved and there wasn’t any 10% and I think that’s what drove me along a bit didn’t it Adrian, you’re a bit like that now – who did you learn it from?

Answer to a question

My most loveable play, that I’ve done here twice and twice in Nottingham, was Fur Coat and No Knickers, and that is like the McGill postcards ripped quickly through, you know, if you don’t see it, hard luck.  But it’s all there and it’s an absolute joy to do and I think mainly, it’s not a great play by any means, but mainly because of the laughter and it’s like, if you do it properly, comedy is difficult, we all know that, anybody can do Chekov and Shakespeare but comedy is the most difficult and unless you can bring that – if you bring comedy to comedy you can forget it, go home, nobody is going to come, but if you have an awareness, which I always tell my actors – listen to the audience, bring them into you, listen, they will take you along the sunny side of the street.  It’s like a trolley full of lovely cakes that is passing you by and if someone wants the juicy meringue go for it, if they’re not there, they won’t, and the trolley will go on.  So Fur Coat and No Knickers really for me was just an absolute joy because it was like watching Manchester United playing and scoring 6 goals in two minutes, and if it’s done properly it’s there, if you do it badly, forget it.  Thank you Sue.

Karen Henson.  If any of you are thinking after this speech, my God he’s had a good life, I think I’ll set up a rep company, please do but don’t engage her!

Answer to a question

I think that’s it mainly because you know what I like and because we did have one director a few years ago, and I gave him a chance, and it was a risk but he wasn’t aware of the way we do it, which is we don’t throw it on, it’s done with fun, humour and above all really hard work and I think they know that.  As someone at Nottingham now I think all my people have got certainly 15 or more years’ experience and that does help. You don’t have time and they know my signalling, like I can go to the footlights and George is being particularly bad, which is pretty often, and you can actually, without holding up the rehearsal, say psst George come down here … go down there … got you!

I love the story about Alan Ayckbourn because we were both stage managers together so we stage managers always used to get together say, do you know Liz Woodall? So that was really nice to do.  Alan Ayckbourn was directing that thing about a vote at the National and Greg Hicks was in it and Alan would say in the end – that’s all right George, just move that in a bit but he hadn’t given Greg Hicks a note and he said, oh Mr Ayckbourn I am in this you know, and Alan said yes of course.  Greg said, well what do I do and Alan said well just stay up there and hover a minute or two whilst I sort you out.  Of course he waddled back like a shot duck and this went on until the end and he said, Alan I’m so worried you’re not giving me …  Give me until Thursday said Alan and I’ll sort you out.  Now I know that doesn’t sound very funny but I know what I’m getting to.  My actors will know what I mean.  If I say to George, I’ll sort that out later on, nobody says, I want to sort it out know, you know, and anybody that comes out with that, we’ve had one or two dangerous moments.  There was a lovely woman years ago, and I actually take all the blame, she was lovely, but she got on and said four lines and had an awful panic attack.  People on stage were trying to say, helping her out by suggesting moves and things to say, but in the end she had to go unfortunately and we faxed a girl who came up and went on the following night.

Many years ago in the Theatre Hall, Margate, which is now a bingo hall, and we were playing to the summer people, we were doing something like a Butlins show, and we were doing a thriller thing with a hundred thousand people in it and I was playing the Inspector.  I didn’t get it because I was talented I got it because I was tall, and I had started on this long speech that I was making up because I hadn’t learnt it – if you were in the village at ten past nine and your wrist watch said ten past eight and the village clock didn’t actually chime – sergeant next one please, come in.  So John Rakine, who was playing the sergeant goes out and he comes back and says, quietly, can I have a word with you sir?  I thought, God where’s this going.  There’s nobody there, he said.  I said, sergeant, what was that?  There’s nobody there! Long wait, put a call into the station, I wasn’t a butler but I shook the cushions as you do when you’re waiting, tapped the fireplace, looked in the mirror, suave, debonair, elegant, and then the door opens and June Wyndham-Davies, long gone, came on, she was playing the char, and she said I hear you wanted to see me sir?  Of course, she wasn’t supposed to be there.  I asked her if she knew anything about this business and she said, frankly no I don’t.  And we did have a saying when we got in an awful mess, which was very often, and you become … you have what we call, which none of my lot are … rep actors.  I mean I had done 10 years at rep, that’s pantomime and a play every week and then go into variety on the end of Blackpool pier and Skegness pier or something like that, and you had to do that.  I was a terrible singer and dancer but that was how you earned your money.  There is that sort of panic … where are you …and if you have a dry on stage, and I’m sure everyone would agree here, if someone asked you what your name was, you wouldn’t know it, it’s the most awful panicky feeling.  But it has been good.

I want to go on a bit longer – not here – I mean in life!

Answer to a question

My worst moment?  Well there was so many really. That’s not being funny about your question. I remember in Ma’s Bit O’ Brass with Arthur Leslie, and that’s a north country comedy, they win the Pools and this family decide that they will buy a posh house.  I’m playing the butler and I come on and I say, anything else sir, and he says yes Charles before you go, poke the fire.  So I go down, get the companion set, poke the fire but unfortunately I broke wind, loudly, which got a bit of a laugh.  Arthur Leslie looked at me and I thought I was going to be in trouble, but I couldn’t help it, and he says, while you’re there Charles put another log on the fire.  I though oh God, I know I’m going to do it again, so I banged the log on and I did it again, encore, which got a roar and as I went off I got a round of applause.  Now you don’t do that when there’s an actor/manager and his wife, who’s 82 and still playing juvelines, who tries to stick her tongue down your mouth if you’re playing a love scene.  Her husband says, don’t you touch my wife!  No sir, I wouldn’t touch your wife.  So I was summoned, Arthur Leslie said, get him here, so I went.  He said, I suppose you think this is funny, and I said no governor I don’t.  He said, did you know what you did, and I said I’m really sorry I broke wind.  He said, you know you got a round of applause, now I can get a round of applause; Amy can get a round of applause because we are the bosses, but you don’t get a round of applause so you’re out.  So I was fired.  So I went away and I thought about this, being a fairly intelligent guy and I thought they’ve got the Saturday evening performance so I went back.  Knocked on the door and heard, come in, and all the actor/managers never look at you, I get a bit like that now and then, you do it from the mirror, you see them come in, oh that’s George Telfer, this is going to be bloody trouble, and you are usually putting your make up on.  Hello George, what is it?  I was wondering governor who is playing it tonight? That’s my problem, get out.  So I went away and thought what’s going to happen because the butler was really important.  So I go down in my room and there’s a knock on the door and it’s a girl called Betty Appleby in the company and she said, the governor wants to see you.  I went down and he said, now I’m going to do this and I’ve never ever done it before, he said, you’re on tonight but you go Monday.

I did stay much longer; I stayed 7 years or something like that.

Interviewer

I was just going to say that this is just one story about you being a butler in Rebecca when a storm was on.  Apparently you came on stage just as someone did a sound effect for the foghorn, and you opened your mouth just as the sound issued forth for the foghorn and you corpsed. 

Colin

Rebecca is awful for that.  I mean in the old days when it was, what’s called a panatrome, it was like a LP and you used to kick this if it didn’t go and I remember as the butler, I had to say, there’s a car coming up the drive now – no car – never mind I said, it will be here in a minute (now the sound of a car came through) oh it’s here now!

Interviewer

Colin thank you very much for coming.

Colin Mc Intyre