PART ONE: EARLY DAYS
I was born Michael Anthony to a Student Nurse in Warrington between 8.00pm and 9.00pm on July 21st 1946. Seven months later I was adopted by loving parents Marjorie and Jack Judge, Christened Ian Paul - and spoiled rotten. A childhood of puppets, marionettes and toy theatres followed. Birthdays with strawberries and American Cream Soda (with ice cream dropped into it) and what seemed like endless sunny holidays. We lived in the Northern seaside resort of Southport. Miles of beach and sand dunes, The Pleasure Beach, Peter Pan’s Playground, rides on the pier, the Model Village (The Land of the Little People - I felt rather at home there!) and a Miniature Railway. Christmas shopping and visits to Santa in huge department stores in Liverpool and Manchester were highlights and, most importantly, constant trips to the theatre. After all Blackpool with it’s many Summer Shows was only a few miles across the estuary.
It all began with PETER PAN (Margaret Leighton) at the Garrick Theatre, Southport. A seat in the perch position backstage seduced me with all that was tawdry and magical about the theatre process. I was six. My big hobby was collecting autographs every Monday at the Stage Door of the Garrick Theatre. The much loved autograph book still has its first pages signed by Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall in BELL BOOK AND CANDLE. I took time off school at the age of nine to see the film of Olivier’s RICHARD III three times in a week. Revelation. How could anyone be so frightening and funny at the same time? I had to do something about this. I had to be a part of it.
My father helped me build a theatre in my bedroom. Old cinema seats were taken from a closed-down cinema, curtains were put up, a follow spot was given to me as a present, my bed was moved out, and the first of many productions opened to a small but enthusiastic audience. I played the title role in a much shortened version of RICHARD III. I played it with a hump and a hook - I was still very impressed by Peter Pan - and reinstated the horrible scene in which Richard gored the Twins in the Tower to death with his hook. It seemed impossible for me to understand how Shakespeare had missed out on this opportunity! Huge success. A major transfer to the local Junior Schools followed, accompanied by a number of letters to my parents from concerned Head Mistresses about the amount of ketchup.
MACBETH, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE BOYHOOD OF DAVID COPPERFIELD and the KING AND I continued the repertory. A bit of a battle on the last one as to who should wear the hula-hoop crinoline! Then came the Operatic Society and the Dramatic Club (at the time of writing I am the club’s President). Starting as a Call Boy on THE WHITE HORSE INN, I moved up the ranks to play Boy with Monkey in CHU CHIN CHOW (not a nice experience - not a very nice monkey). More chorus parts, and then - finally - Flute in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. At last Shakespeare, my hero. Oh, frabjous day! I left school at 14 and joined the Local Rate Office. Dickensian, fustian and humourless, the experience gave me something to rebel against. I moved next door into the design studio of the local department store. Much more fun. Glorious friends.
In the fifties and sixties Southport was full of cinemas. The Gaumont and the Regal for first run movies. Programme changes on a Thursday. The Trocadero and the Palladium for revivals and classics, and the Grand for big screen epics (THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH) and musicals (SOUTH PACIFIC) - sometimes with Souvenir Programmes! The “flea pit” Palace (the last of the great Southport Cinemas to close) was my favourite. We knew the manager, and got in free sometimes. THE WIZARD OF OZ, LILI and TRAPEZE seemed to be life changing experiences.
In 1960 my fascination with Shakespeare was still growing. I saved up to buy the copy of PLAYS AND PLAYERS on display at the local Railway Station. On the front cover was a photograph of Dorothy Tutin and Derek Godfrey in TWELFTH NIGHT at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford. I pestered my parents, and at the Whit weekend we drove to Stratford in the Austin Cambridge to see the production. On arrival I was stunned to find out that there was a different play on in the afternoon - THE MERCHANT OF VENICE with Peter O’Toole! I begged Mum and Dad for a return ticket, and while the family went for a boat ride I got the thrill of my life. I can remember almost everything. The romantic designs, the vibrant energy of it all, and the humour. Especially O’Toole’s suggestion as to where “the pound of flesh” should come from. TWELFTH NIGHT in the evening re-enforced the conversion. Nobody could get a word out of me on the drive home. It had happened. The pleasures of my life have been intense moments such as these. Many years later I was to direct TWELFTH NIGHT myself at Stratford, and work twice with my adored Dame Dotty. Once as Shakespeare’s Katharine in HENRY VIII, and again as Desiree in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.
PART TWO: DRAMA SCHOOL: Follows shortly.