Paul McLain has kindly shared his memories of playing Seymour:
- How did you come to be cast in the series?
I think I heard about it through a conversation I was having with an agent, not my agent, but an agent who I bumped into who suggested that I contact them and it went from there. I sent in a CV and was asked in to have a chat with them, and they asked me to stay behind and gave me some extra scripts and really that was that. It’s a bit strange actually sitting there staying behind and watching all these other actors go in and out and feeling slightly guilty but I expect everyone has been on both ends of that.
2. How did you go about emulating Michael Aldridge’s performance as Seymour? Did you meet him?
I didn’t meet him, no. They gave me a number of tapes, it was back in the days when you had tapes, it was so long ago, to pick up some of his mannerisms and little vocal habits. I had quite a lot time listening to that to pick up the way that he spoke and the way that he moved but to be honest all of us put our own stamp on it. Last Of is simply iconic but of course it is when they are a lot older. We had a bit of an excuse, that when you’re 16-17- 18 you talk and move in a slightly different way to when you’re 60-70.
3. Which locations did you film at and what are your memories of location filming?
Apart from obviously London for the studio stuff, on location – Halifax, and around Huddersfield, out in Holmfirth of course. We’d all grown up with Last of the Summer Wine so going there and seeing some of those iconic venues transformed back was quite astounding. In terms of personal memories, I always remember the very early morning starts, which in your late teens – early twenties you don’t like getting up early in the morning, and the cold, and the stunning scenery, absolutely beautiful scenery when you’re out, with the hills and the dales. And a couple of late nights, quite early on we went up to the tram museum and that was a very long day and particularly cold and it was pitch black doing the night shots as well as the day on the tram shots. A harder personal memory was when we were in Huddersfield and a really beautiful Victorian house and we did a couple of scenes and I had to climb up a ladder and do a bodged Romeo and Juliet thing and I am petrified of heights and I can manage about three or four steps up a ladder and then I start to shake, and of course this was up a few storeys house, and having to climb up that. So I was in a complete funk all day preparing for it and having somebody underneath. So I didn’t enjoy the beauty of the house and the architecture and some of the original features were majestic, some of the tiled floors etc.
4. What are your memories of studio filming?
Obviously we rehearsed during the week and worked around the different camera settings, the crew were so professional bearing in mind most of us were in our late teens – early twenties, a fairly novel experience for them. But actually having an audience there when we were filming live on the Saturday night, Sunday night, whichever day it may be, was a huge boost, for me and for everyone else. You’ve practiced these moves and these lines and these reactions, and actually getting an audience responding to that was a real, real boost for us all. One particular studio, I remember when we were filming there was a co-production in another studio with the Japanese and the BBC, and going in there with some of the crew and looking at the kit which the Japanese had brought which was ten years ahead of everything we were using, and the crew sort of waxing lyrical about look at the stuff, look at that camera, look how light it is. Not huge special memories about the studio, great fun working with an audience.
5. Can you tell us a bit more about the costumes, sets and vehicles used?
It was great, the costume designers were a huge help. They just let us run riot. The first time I met, we talked about what Seymour might wear. I take credit for the scarf, whether I’d been watching Doctor Who, I don’t know, and the scarf got longer and longer and of course then the writer, Mr Clarke, starting actually using it as part of the scripts. I remember watching them rough up, distress is the technical phrase, Compo’s clothes, starting with quite a nice piece of material and then they’d sandpaper it and spray it and make it look grotty, and messy and smelly and it wasn’t. Huge credit to the costume people to be able to do that so effectively, particularly when they need several sets of clothes for weeks on end, on location. I think certainly looking back on it, I think the very different styles of what you wear, braces rather than belts, different cuts of clothes, the economies around. Historically very interesting, a bit of a challenge at times. Just a very, very different approach. I guess we’re in more of a consumer society, so clothes are cheaper, more throw away and the idea of having your Sunday suit and your work suit, any work clothes, and that’s it, fascinating.
- What was it like driving the vintage three wheeler?
Oh, that was a lovely car. We had the specialist drivers and mechanics to maintain them. We had a bike at one stage and some of the dressing vehicles. It was a Raleigh three wheeler, it was supposed to be a Morgan in the original script. It was beautiful. I couldn’t drive, when I first started driving it. With living and working in London at the time, no need, we’d got bus service, train service, underground service. I had to learn pretty sharpish and then moving from what at the time was a modern car to one of these double declutch things. Great fun, I was always petrified of breaking it! It was odd because both the brake and the gear lever were fairly open to the floor so you could actually peer down and literally I could put my hand onto the road underneath. The only other thing at one stage one of the scripts asked us to haul a huge cart full of belongings because we were going camping, behind the three wheeler and it was just too heavy. In one of the stunts, I think quite rightly, I asked one of the professional drivers to do that bit for me because I didn’t trust myself either not to wreck the car or break myself.
7. What are your memories of working with the older cast members? Peter Sallis, Maggie Ollerenshaw, Derek Benfield
Peter in particular we all knew from Last of the Summer Wine and he was just fantastic. Maggie and Derek were just such brilliant character actors and we all knew them and had seen them in so many different shows. The benevolent, not just ability, but professionalism that they brought, because bear in mind that the rest of us were so young, most of us had probably only been working for six months, twelve months, eighteen, except for Paul Oldham who’d been working in the business as a child star for a while. So hugely different for us and it took us a while to get into the swing of how professionals worked. We’d done stage school stuff and odds and sods here, there and everywhere, but actually that professionalism, turn up, know your lines, do your work, try different things. We learnt so much from watching them plus we were in awe of them. Great to be around. David Fenwick of course did most of the work with Peter and Maggie and that must have been fantastic for him. Most of the rest of us, set in the Co-op bit, working with Derek and he was just a joy. Always doing something, a good cover with variety to make you laugh each time. Fantastic to watch and in terms of actually acting, you believed he was the character he was playing, great for all of us. He was great, he could switch on and off and put the fear of Mr Scrimshaw into us and get a much better performance out of us, I owe a great deal to him and such a nice guy A couple of times, when things weren’t working, I and a couple of the others had a chat and said what do we do here, and he always had time for us.
8. Do you keep in touch with any of the cast?
No, I don’t. After I left London, which is the source of all information actor wise, I occasionally I see someone’s name pop up when I’m watching TV.
9. Do you have a favourite memory and/or favourite episode?
Favourite memory, no, so much going on. Favourite episode has to be the last one, which sounds slightly odd, Quiet Wedding, because it was slightly different to the other ones. Poignant, certainly for me because it’s set on the eve of the war and the weather was nice. And sort of wandering round filming some of those scenes, particularly on location, the idea of what would be going through a young person’s head, is war inevitable, is war coming, 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock, the Prime Minister’s radio broadcast, we are war with Germany. What must they have thought? It was lucky because at the time of filming it was very similar to the weather and things were slightly different, Mr Clarke always writes fantastic scripts, especially for Last Of, but he had some sad stories in there, it got a bit more romantic, the wedding and the chap suddenly he could be dead tomorrow, sort of thing. In a funny way I found that quite moving, yes it was comedy but there was genuine dramatic stuff and I think it brought it home to me in a way that nothing else did as to what it might have been like back then.
10. What have you been doing since FOTSW ended?
I did a little bit but acting, to be honest, wasn’t for me, there were a lot of great actors, not just the odd character stuff, a lot of the young guys, they were bloody good actors, really good actors. I hold my hand up, I enjoyed doing it but it wasn’t for me, I always felt a bit of a con being there. It was something I wanted to try and I was incredibly lucky to get that role and a number of other ones and I went on tour and did West End and RSC for a bit. But after that I grew out of it a bit too much, I realised there was something I wanted to do more, so I went and worked in media and the press office, and gradually got swept into politics, both national and a little bit of local stuff. I’m Cabinet Member for Children and Young People in Gloucestershire and sit on the LGA (Local Government Association) Children and Young People’s Board. I do quite a lot of work with children in care and social work retention. For me that’s something that I find more fulfilling than taking someone else’s role, acting. There are much better actors out there.
I can understand the reason why FOTSW ended. It was a shame because as a cast we were starting to really bond together, because of the ages it took a while. That camaraderie that you’d expect in a small village, with a bunch of boys and girls who had grown up together, because we weren’t that experienced was difficult to just switch on. We were just starting to build that closer relationship. It costs an awful lot of money to do period, watching the fantastic props guys and girls go in and dress the place and transform it back was hugely costly and even when we were filming out on the dales, there was a plane flying overhead, or in the far distance you could see a car along another road, so just stuff that if you were doing a modern day sitcom wouldn’t be a problem. I think it worked out about three times as expensive as Last Of to film the location stuff. It was doing well and we would all have wanted to make another series, there was a lot of talk about it, but funding didn’t pan out.
Many thanks to Paul for providing this contribution and supporting the site.