Robert Powell: A Modern King
Robert Powell has recently completed a successful tour of King Charles III. 50 Plus Magazine had the pleasure of catching up with him just before the tour started…
FOR a lad from Salford, playing the King of England is quite a step up – but it’s just a further page in the very varied history of actor Robert Powell..
Even anyone who didn’t recognise that strong face and haunting eyes would know the wonderful, warm tones of his voice.
A combination of that and a prodigious and chameleon acting talent have also helped ensure a lengthy and successful career in both theatre and TV.
But Robert as a modern king?
Well, audiences from the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre to the Manchester Opera House are able to tell you that this characterisation in the fascinating play “King Charles III” is brilliant entertainment.
Written by Mike Bartlett, who also wrote last year’s TV hit “Doctor Foster”, it looks at Prince Charles as he takes over the throne and reveals the people whose names are so familiar to us.
Oddly, it’s a role tailor-made for Robert Powell because he does actually know the Prince; he’s met him several times socially as an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust.
“Prince Charles is an absolutely delightful man,”
“He has a conscience and he follows it. He’s very principled but he’s also very charming.”
As to Robert’s own interpretation of the Prince, when he first started in the role he realised that it could not be an impersonation.
“I do a bit of a party piece for fun being Prince Charles, actually,”
“But the role had to be played in a different way, so that the audience aren’t so busy with an impersonation that they are distracted from seeing the character.”
As he is explaining this, however, he does unconsciously sound very like the Prince. Audiences, though, have accepted his interpretation so well that they have stayed entranced throughout.
Challenging roles are nothing new for Robert Powell, now 71, as his career is littered with a varied catalogue of parts.
He was born in Salford in 1944 and started his acting career while attending Manchester University. He made his film debut in 1967 and landed his first starring role in “The Italian Job” in 1969.
His film career has included Franco Zefirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” in 1977, which for many was a defining role for Powell. He has been quoted in the past, though, as saying:
“I hope Jesus Christ will be the last in my line of sensitive young men for quite a while.”
He’s certainly not been typecast. When he took the lead role of Richard Hannay in the re-make of “The Thirty Nine Steps”, this sparked an eponymous TV series for him in the ‘80s which not only went straight to the top of viewers’ favourite programmes but which, as he admits, was really his favourite role in his career so far.
“The writing was wonderful and I really loved being Hannay,”
“Today, all the crime heroes are flawed beings with problems, but Hannay saw the world in black and white and was very straightforward, rock solid – I liked that.”
Sadly, Thames TV which made the programme lost their licence not long afterwards and any further series disappeared.
He’s had numerous other TV roles, including the popular series “Doomwatch” and he enjoyed a lengthy role as the hospital boss in “Holby City.”
Robert does, however, talk fondly about probably his most unusual career move, when his pal and golfing partner comedian Jasper Carrott suggested he join him as two incompetent detectives in sketches for Carrott’s own hit TV series. This proved so popular that a separate series, “The Detectives”, resulted , showcasing Robert’s humorous side and acting skills even further.
For what could often be classed as a “serious actor”, he admits that humour plays an important part in his life. He loves the old Goon Shows – something he has in common with Prince Charles – and ‘50s and ‘60s radio favourites like Round the Horn and Ray’s a Laugh.
“When I’m driving and I get fed up with Radio 4, I switch on Radio 4 Extra and listen to all those old comedy programmes for miles, laughing away,”
So, is there no chance of “The Detectives” coming back?
“You can never say never,”
“but it’s finding the writers. Steve Knight, who helped write the original series, is a famous screenwriter now and very busy so I don’t think he’d want to do this again.
“I did feel that we could take that formula to a new series and have The Gardeners, The Chefs or The Doctors with two incompetent, idiotic characters but it’s just an idea.”
Robert Powell is married to former Pan’s People dancer Babs Lord and they have two children. It’s plain that he’s very much a home-bird, and that he really doesn’t enjoy touring
“although it’s good for the bank balance.”
“You tend to eat out a lot – I usually have a good breakfast in the hotel and that lasts me until after lunch. In the past, I’ve gone out to eat with chums in the cast after the performance but these days the cast are mainly young and just want to go to the pub!”
He’s generally fit and healthy.
“I had an NHS check-up and the doctor said I’m fine. He did ask me, though, if I’d ever smoked and I said I had but I’d given up 30 years ago. He said that my lungs were actually a lot younger than I was, which is strange!”
He’s always enjoyed sport and only gave up cricket 10 years ago. These days, he plays golf “although not in the Winter.”
At the end of March, “King Charles III” opened in Sydney. He’s been to Australia many times and likes it so he’s happy about that, and afterwards he’s taking three months off.
Then, he’s going to tour with his good friend actress Liza Goddard in the Alan Ayckbourn comedy “Relatively Speaking” – “and Liza and I will go off in her car in the daytime to visit museums and castles, which is what we always do, “ he says.
All of which seems perfectly fitting for an actor who currently daily slips so easily into the role of our future monarch.
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