Simon Oates played John Steed in the short-lived stage production
of The Avengers. Best known as John Ridge in the BBC's
environmental thriller series, Doomwatch, Simon Oates enjoyed a long
and celebrated career in the performing arts. He made his popular
breakthrough in the BBC thriller series, The Mask of Janus and the
Spies, before making memorable guest appearances in The Three
Musketeers and several ITC
series, appearing alongside such luminaries as Jeremy Brett, Peter Wyngarde and
Richard Bradford. He also guest starred in The Avengers episodes, You
Have Just Been Murdered and Super Secret Cypher Snatch and, in The
New Avengers, Hostage.
On Saturday 1st November
2008, Simon and his lovely wife Jaki kindly welcomed Alan and Alys
Hayes of The Avengers Declassified into their home in East Sussex to
conduct the following interview.
Maybe we should start off with
your earliest days in acting, Simon. How did you get your big break in the
"I was at Drama School and we were
invited to be in a Mystery play at the Everyman with Robert Eddison. I
was seeing a girl at the time who was actually a pro actress. She was
working at Chesterfield for Gerry Glaister, who became a big TV
producer and director, and she met me and saw this, knowing I wanted
to turn pro. Her father, who was very wealthy, had arranged for her to
have her own repertory company for a period of time. She said, 'I'll
tell you what, you were my leading man in my company, and I'll give
you a list of the plays that you did', which of course I hadn't done
at all! She went back to Chesterfield, where she was a juvenile lady,
met Gerry and recommended me to him. He took her word for it and so I
started in Chesterfield on 18th July 1954 in a play called Someone
at the Door. I went up there as a fully fledged actor only having
done amateur stuff before, but I blagged my way through it and that's
how I started. Fortnightly rep at Chesterfield, York, Birmingham and
all over the place in various rep companies."
Did you find rep gave you a
strong grounding in the business and helped you later when you came to
work in television and film?
"Totally. You had a week to learn
your lines and moves, then you played them. When you were playing
them, you were rehearsing the next week's play. You were in rehearsal
at ten o'clock until five o'clock, then on stage at half past seven.
When you went home, you learned the next day's act, which used to take
me until about one in the morning. It was hard, but if you could do
it, you could do it. But it was, obviously, great experience for a
young actor. If you've done four years or so in rep, nothing can
happen on stage that you hadn't already had to deal with in that
learning curve. As for television, I treated it exactly the same,
except I didn't have to talk so loud to reach the back of the
Did you have a particular
approach to acting?
"I wasn't a method actor, I was a
me actor. I remember doing one rep show and I went on and tried to
play myself. I'd thought about all the big stars. If you saw John
Wayne, you wanted to see John Wayne. When you went to see the stars,
they were who you wanted to see. The character they were playing may
have been interesting, but you went to see the man. So, I realised
that if I'm the leading man in the rep, the audiences are coming to
see me in this, playing this part, so I thought it was a good idea to
play myself and as far as possible, that's what I've always done."
Has this policy ever made
approaching any particular role difficult, if there were parallels
with your real life?
"The one part ever where I had a
hard time of it for this reason was in a Doomwatch programme.
At the time, my father was dying and I had to leave for a couple of
days to be with him. Coincidentally, the storyline for that particular
episode replicated that situation and my character's father was dying,
too. I said to the producer, Terence Dudley, that I couldn't do the
scene until it was all over and asked if we could shoot that scene
last. Terry understood and agreed to it. So, we shot that scene last.
I did it, got it out of the way, and was cuddled away to my dressing
room. I knew I couldn't have done it until then. Another Doomwatch
that was tough for me was Tomorrow, The Rat. It was about
mutant rats that had become super-intelligent and there was one scene
where I had to go and find the woman who I'd been having an affair
with, dead on the floor from all the rat bites. Again, I said to Terry
that it was a scene I couldn't possibly do twice and so we did it
just the once. Certain things are so close that it's so difficult to
recreate or live with them. I know I may sound like an over-the-top,
farty old actor when I say that, but you know what I mean."
You've directed a very large
number of productions for the stage. Did you ever entertain the
thought of doing likewise in television or film?
"No, not really. I like the freedom
of directing on stage and I've had dancers and singers, actors and
technicians working with me. It used to get bloody noisy sometimes and
I'd boom out, 'one voice and it's mine'! Instant silence! They all
realised I knew more about most things than they did even on the
technical side. I knew what I was doing and I liked the control. On
the stage, it's one man's view. If it's bad, you get the blame and if
it's good, the cast get the credit. Well, there you go
That's the way
it works, but it's got to be as seen in one man's eyes. What you put
on is what you are seeing, and you can't blame anyone else for what
happens. I like that very much. I've been very lucky with the things
I've directed. I directed Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat
and played the narrator a number of times and my production is still
playing today in various places. I loved it."
Here To Read Part Two: On The Telly
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and Alys Hayes, 2009