How did you make the move into television, and can you remember anything about your early work in the medium?

"Well, I came down South and it kind of happened. I can't really remember a lot about my early television work. I did a couple of Armchair Theatre plays. Sydney Newman really had a grip on TV drama. Single plays like those were so beautifully done. They had the choice of who they wanted because they were so well thought of. They were very, very professional and I loved every moment of them. You were working with mates most of the time, too. You knew everybody and you were all aiming for the same thing."

In the mid-Sixties, you were a regular in the television series, The Mask of Janus and its sequel, The Spies. Do you feel these series were a landmark in your career?

"I think so. I look back on them with enormous gratitude. They were very important for me. At that time, I first realised just what fame means. You've got a company of regular actors including Peter Dyneley and Dinsdale Landen, and you're rehearsing at the Acton Hilton – as we called the BBC's rehearsal rooms in Acton – and recording them. You're walking about and someone might recognise you from something, but once the programmes go out on air, you just can't go out. You can't go on the Tube, can't get on a bus because suddenly it's instant recognition – 'ooh, it's 'im!'. It became very embarrassing. People would come up to you, want to talk, want autographs. I was in the Army & Navy Stores at one point, buying something, and all the girls I could see had sussed me, but the woman who was in charge of the department knew my face and thought she knew me – but of course, she didn't! We had this long conversation – I asked her how her mother was. She thanked me for asking. I enquired if her mother had the same old trouble, because all mothers have the same old trouble, don't they? So, she told me about that and said how nice it had been to see me. I said it was nice to see her too, asked her to give my love to her mother, and walked out. I stopped for a moment and saw the girls were telling the woman who I actually was. That was quite good fun."

Around the same period, you were also making guest star appearances in several filmed series – Ghost Squad, Man in a Suitcase, The Avengers, Department S and Jason King. These series are still popular nearly fifty years later. Did you feel they were anything special at the time?

"They were solid entertainment and you did them as well as you could, but you were a working actor. You were just doing a job. You didn't think it was going to last forever. It's not as grand as people think it is. I think there was a bit of prestige about them, but I'd be thinking, 'I've got a job' – and that was my motivation. What you do is go there, say the lines and don't bump into the furniture as Noel Coward said."

In the Man in a Suitcase episode Web With Four Spiders, your scenes are almost exclusively with the series star, American actor, Richard Bradford. Bradford was famously an advocate of the controversial Stanislavski 'method' approach to acting. How did you find acting opposite Bradford or other performers who would immerse themselves in their roles?

"They played their game, I played mine. I just behaved and they acted. And boy did they act! They acted all over the studio and I just stood there and did my bit. I didn't want to join in, because for me, less is more. You don't need to emote all over the stage to get the emotion across to people. It's all in the eyes, all up there, in the mind. That may sound pretentious, but it's true. If they want to act out of every orifice, fine, if it works for them. It just wasn't my scene."

You also worked with Peter Wyngarde on his two starring vehicles for Lew Grade's ITC, Department S and Jason King. What are your memories of working with him?

"Of what we did, knowing my memory, not a lot until I see them again, but working with him was a pleasure. He was a lovely, lovely man. Of course, he was gay. We all knew that. So what? But he had a country house and he called it Camp Cottage, which always gave me a bit of a laugh. A beautiful man, inside and out. Speak as you find. We got on terribly well together. And the ladies loved him. What a waste! I almost wish I was gay – I mean, who wouldn't?"

You also did a couple of episodes of The Avengers. In your first, You Have Just Been Murdered, you played a silent assassin, who before committing the deed, would convince his victims that they were exceptionally easy to kill… How do you approach a role without dialogue?

"Who needs dialogue? You do it with your demeanor, your body, your eyes and your face. You can terrify someone, without pulling faces or anything. You can make them think all sorts of things through the simplest of techniques. A good actor can make you feel all sorts of emotions, just with eyes and simple movements. Marcel Marceau didn't have too many lines – and he worked! You don't always need verbiage to make a point – unless you're doing Shakespeare, of course. You couldn't stand there all night as Hamlet and say 'you know what I'm thinking?' of course. It worked for me anyway, with my sort of acting – which is non-acting, really."

Later in your career, you went on to appear in series like The Professionals, Remington Steele, Bergerac and other genre shows. Do you feel that you were suited to light-hearted thrillers and were you concerned about being typecast in that sort of show?

"I wouldn't have minded at all. I'm a light-hearted sort of person! I'm not a dour type who says give me something serious to do for Christ's sake… Comedy is so much harder than doing it straight. Anyone can go on and scowl, but it's harder to do a scene with a twinkle in the eye. It's worked for me. The Bergerac I did has been shown so many times… It's always on some channel somewhere. People at the club I go to know the dialogue in that episode more than I ever did. I played a villainous businessman on Jersey and there's a scene where I'm in an inflatable armchair in a swimming pool. We were filming and the inflatable got a puncture. I'm saying my lines and slowly going down like the Titanic! Good times…"

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© Alan and Alys Hayes, 2009

The Stage Show:
Introduction
Storyline
Scene Breakdown

Full Production Credits
Biographies
Press Coverage

Interview: Simon Oates
Tribute to Simon Oates

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Interview: Simon Oates
1. Early Days
2. On The Telly
3. Doomwatch
4. The Avengers
5. The Cockney Comic
6. Looking Back