Archive for the ‘Robin Ellis’ Category


This weekend the classic comedy series Fawlty Towers celebrates its 40th birthday!

In December 1974 John Cleese cast me as cockney detective Danny Brown in the pilot episode of the series that is now celebrated as one of the great comedy shows of TV history.


Quite why he cast me I have never been able to figure out–until this morning!

The only time I’d met him before was when we were both in an undergraduate production of Much Ado About Nothing directed by Trevor Nunn at Cambridge University in 1961. Although we were both in the same scene–Act IV Scene II–I can’t remember spending any time with him.

He was on the comedy side of university theatre in The Footlights and I was on the straight side, the ADC–the Amateur Dramatic Club.

This morning I pulled out my volume of The Works of Shakespeare (purchased, second hand, in 1960)–and looked up the scene.

John played a member of the Watch (comedy) and I was Borachio (straight)–a henchman of the villainous Don John.

Borachio and his fellow fixer, Conrad, are being arraigned by Constable Dogberry, having been caught red-handed by members of the watch.

Was John so impressed with my cockney accent that 13 years later he reincarnated a reformed Borachio as Detective Danny Brown?!

I was too nervous to ask him in rehearsal–seems the likely explanation though.

A week’s TV work just before Christmas after three years earning peanuts in the theatre was very welcome.

But it involved recording in front of a studio audience–something I’d never done–and I was nervous!

Snooty Basil didn’t like having his hotel foyer polluted with Danny’s broad Cockney accent, but was forced to show him a bit of respect when, failing to make Manuel–the waiter–understand his instructions to take the luggage upstairs–Danny steps into the breach with a surprising display of fluent Spanish.


I don’t speak Spanish–so I learned the lines by rote.

Come the “take”–nails biting into my palms–I managed a faultless rendition of the Spanish lines–only to be told by the floor manager that there was a camera in shot–and we would have to go again!


There I am on the DVD, speaking fluent Spanish, so I must have managed it again–but I have no memory of it!


I had just been cast as Ross Poldark and after Christmas began work on the epic that changed my life.

It wasn’t the end of Fawlty Towers for me though.

The pilot was approved and the series got the go-ahead. Six half-hour episodes were in the can, but a late plot change involving Polly–played by Connie Booth, John’s writing partner and wife at the time–meant they had to re-record part of my dinner scene exchange with Polly.

My hair had grown and changed color for Poldark–so for one afternoon at Television Centre in mid-summer, they dyed my hair dark brown and pinned it up at the back–and I was briefly Cockney Danny Brown again.


I just read a newspaper piece about the anniversary, in which actor Nicky Henson, who appeared in a later episode, rejoices that 40 years later the residuals (those were the days!) are still enhancing his pension.


Nicky Henson with John Cleese

I concur–we were lucky boys!

I doubt playing Borachio has ever paid off so well in the life of an actor!





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Yesterday the audio version of Making Poldark became available for download via Audible, Amazon or iTunes.



Below, I’m re-posting my account of recording it way back in January.


Just back from UK where I recorded my memoir of Poldark as an audio book–with an extra chapter about taking part in the new BBC/Mammoth version–40 years after doing the original!


Two days in a small, soundproof booth in a basement recording studio in Hove in Sussex, while the wind and the rain raged above ground.

I was fortunate to have three helpmates in the studio running the show–and keeping my nose to the microphone.

Chris Daniels, sound engineer, owns the studio and is a member of that fraternity of calm console operators who are never flustered.


They have seen it all before–and behave as though they read the first verse of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, IF, before sitting down to work:

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And you’ll be make a Sound Engineer, my son!
(With apologies to Mr. Kipling.)
My old friend, Constantine de Goguel Toulouse-Lautrec–his grandmother was in St. Petersburg in the October Revolution of 1917 and survived–sat in the producer’s seat and guided a rusty performer through the sessions with grace and years of experience.
He’s a fine actor and an experienced dialogue coach for movies.
He also runs Spoken Ink–subtitled “The Home of Short Audio“–well worth checking out.
Meredith made up the triumvirate as back-up producer keeping a beady eye on the script and an ear out for things that could be better (like the American pronunciation of “Potomac”!).
Her occasional ripple of involuntary laughter was a morale boost for The Man in the Sound Proof Booth!
The project is in post production now. When complete, we’ll announce it here.

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Surfing the net for a bit of Poldark news this morning (I’ve become a groupie!) I chanced on a series of wonderful photos, many of which I had never seen before.

They were taken during the filming of the original series by a gifted young photographer, Ian Barnes, who was just starting out in his career.

Here’s his story and the photo slide show, published today by the Western Morning News: http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Unique-record-set-original-BBC-cast-Poldark/story-26324743-detail/story.htmlEbony the Horse

The slide show reminded me that  I had written the story of two of the photos depicted in my memoir Making Poldark. [Also available on Amazon.com]

 My steed for the second series, Ebony, was supplied by the wonderful horsemaster, Ben Ford  (the back of his head is visible in the photo below).

I had more riding to do in the second series, so Ebony and I saw a lot of each other. She never threw me like Dennis (my mount in the first series, an ex-Steeple chaser), but I’m sure she knew she had a novice on board.

Our most difficult day was the first shot of the second series—Ross Poldark‘s return from Holland.

In real life, I had been in London the previous day to see my then girlfriend play Cordelia at the opening night of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of King Lear, which had transferred from Stratford to the Aldwych Theatre. After the performance I caught the overnight train to Cornwall.

So I was there, fresh as a wilted daisy, at 8am on the beach at Caerhays ready to film. It was pouring with rain.

Ebony and I waited until 3:30 in the afternoon before we could even get on the beach. Neither of us was in very good shape by then. The wind was blowing the sea into a frenzy,  and I had great difficulty in keeping my over-large hat on my head. Screenshot 2015-04-17 14.33.12 Ebony, quite sensibly, was none too keen on the conditions. She could see the waves out of the corner of her eye and thought they were coming for her.

With difficulty, trying to control my hat, my flowing cloak and the reins, I managed to get her facing the right way. The camera was mounted on the roof of a Land Rover and we were supposed to follow it at full gallop across the beach. Screenshot 2015-04-17 14.37.37 It should have been an invigorating experience. Instead it was a nightmare.

Ebony HATED the sound of the Land Rover and decided the SAFEST place was her horsebox—so that’s where we headed.

We passed the Land Rover with ease and I managed to stop her only a few feet from the end of the beach. Exhausted I fell off into a puddle!

I remounted. (Well, I was the hero!)

Ben, experienced in such things, placed a sister equine on the seaward side of the Land Rover track, hoping Ebony would run towards her. We tried again and Ebony rejoined her friend rather more quickly than the cameraman anticipated.

By this time, I was losing confidence and my fingers were losing their grip.

We tried once more. Ebony did an impromptu gavotte, crisscrossing the Land Rover, and then another mad gallop.

I decided she’d won the day and walked back to the coach.

Two days later we had a perfect sunny day and managed the shot in one take.

I think Ebony had worked in television before.

Poldark filming seems to attract characterful beasts. Aidan Turner’s steed Seamus (Darkie in the series and Irish, like Aidan) is enjoying his new found fame!

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My memoir of MAKING POLDARK–with a chapter on how I got involved in the 2015 adaptation of Winston Graham’s romantic saga, and behind-the-scenes photos taken during the shooting of the new series–is NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER on Amazon.

(The book is currently available only on Amazon USA.)


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To celebrate the ‘first night’ of the new Poldark on British TV this evening, here’s a roast chicken even Prudie* could cook in the kitchen at Nampara**!


From my first cookbook,  Delicious Dishes for Diabetics:

Every cook has a version of this classic–roast chicken.

This one is inspired by Jamie Oliver’s simple, tasty and robust recipe.

Serves 4/5

1 free-range chicken

olive oil

salt and pepper

6 bay leaves
3 cloves of garlic – unpeeled

a  lemon – halved
a glass white wine

Heat the oven at 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.

Rub the chicken all over with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper

Stuff the cavity with the bay leaves, garlic and lemon halves.

Roast the chicken for 1  1/2 hours.

Halfway through, baste it thoroughly.

When it is cooked, it should be nicely browned and the juices should run clear, not pink.

At that point, remove the pan from the oven and move the cooked bird onto a platter to rest for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, tip the roasting pan and spoon out most of the fat/oil—leaving about a tablespoonful in the pan.

Pick up the bird carefully with a pair of oven gloves and up-end it, letting the juices run back into the pan. Add any juices that have settled in the platter too.

(A little tricky—but worth it for the taste of the gravy.)

Park the chicken and cover it with foil to keep it warm while you make the gravy.

Add the glass of white wine and scrape any residue sticking to the pan.

Gently stir over a low-ish heat for 2–3 minutes.

You could add some stock or more wine to make it go a little further.

Taste and pour into a warmed jug.

We had this for lunch today!

 * Prudie and Judd are Ross Poldark’s old retainers who have let **Nampara–the family “seat”–go to wrack and ruin, while Ross is away soldiering in vain to save the “American Colonies” for the King.
Prudie’d do well, cooking this to get back into Ross’ good books!

Tonight we’ll be raising a glass to Aidan, Eleanor

and the whole wonderful cast!

Go well and bon appetit, mes braves!


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Diabetes Logo

This week marks the end of the testing season–feet, heart, liver, kidneys, prostate, skin–you name it!

On Monday it was the annual love fest with Dr Nguyen Ngoc Luong, my opthamologist.

A man of few words, Dr Luong sits on a swivel chair with an alarming revolving table to his right.

At the push of a button this table goes in to action, swinging round to position a new chin rest at eye level between me and the good Doctor. This happens three times in the course of the test.

Then comes the checking of my long sight.

Reading off the numbers or letters projected on the wall opposite, as Dr Luong slips different lenses in and out of the “pince-nez” he fastens onto my nose.


I feel like a schoolboy keen to answer teacher’s questions correctly.

Now it’s time for the most intimate moment of the session.

We both shift nervously on our chairs preparing to stare into one another’s eyes for a few breathless moments.

My freshly shaved chin juts towards his as he points a penetrating light at my pupils–shining  it into every corner of my cornea and beyond.

Breaking the spell, he leans back and utters three precious words. To my relief–a few days short of Valentine’s Day–not “I Love You” but…

“Pas de diabétes!”

I uncross my fingers–and feel foolish again for indulging in the Superstition Game.

Another year CLEAR!


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Meredith shows me a Breugel 16th century winter scene reminiscent of the world outside our windows at the moment–except for the skating.


It leads her into thinking of other artists’ depiction of winter.

“Who was that painter we liked at the Metropolitan after we saw that Matisse exhibit a few years back? Industrial landscapes and the boxers. Remember?”

Club Night by George Bellows


I use my hands to mime the thing that fans a fire into life.


“George Bellows–brilliant realist painter–died too young–42, he was. Painted winter–town and country.”



Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 7.20.01 PM

“Wow!” says Meredith. “Nothing wrong with your memory!”

Next day this article appeared in the newspaper–explaining why…!

Apparently the antioxidant, resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes, some berries and peanuts, has a positive effect on the hippocampus–the part of the brain vital to memory, learning and mood.



Cheers! Santé! Good health! Chin chin! Salud! Prost!

Now what did I say was for supper…?!

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