The Man Behind The Mask
From Storm Mines to Battlewagons, David Bailie Talks to Alan Stevens About Blake's 7, Beautiful Women and the Return of Taren Capel.
"Why did I become an actor? Why else-- because I like the attention!"
Born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) David Bailie's first chance at acting came with an amateur production of Doctor in the House. "And that was it. Bitten by the bug - utterly. After that I told everyone I was going to become an actor, and gave myself a year to achieve that aim. At the time I was working for an airline, and then fortunately I was posted to what they called a one-man station. It was right out in the sticks, on the banks of the Zambezi River and I had nothing to spend my money on. So I saved my entire year's salary from running the Central African Airlines station, and then I came to 1960s London."
Having only appeared in one amateur show, David knew from the start that if he hoped to work at all he would have to be somewhat economical with the truth. "Yes, certainly, bullshit was high on the agenda, as I knew nothing about the business. An actress introduced me to an agent and I just went in and told them that I'd done various bits and pieces back home. It worked and I got an audition for a play called Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma's Locked Me in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad, with Stella Adler and Steve Berkoff. It failed after a few weeks, but then I got a job as the juvenile lead with a repertory company in Barrow-in-Furness. After that I went to RADA, where I met Terry Hands and he asked me if I'd like to join him and Peter James when they founded the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. I spent a year there, came back to London, auditioned for the National Theatre and got in. Another year passed and by this time Terry had joined the RSC and he asked me if I'd like to also come along, and so it was there that I spent the next six years."
In 1974 David was asked if he would like to play the part of a forthcoming villain in Doctor Who. "I was offered the part of Davros, creator of the Daleks. However, I was working for Stomu Yamashta at the time. Stomu Yamashta was a bit of a cult figure, actually, who ran the Red Buddha theatre. I was to play the lead in a show he was doing called Raindog and really, it was crazy for me to have agreed to it. I was 33 and far to mature for the part, which involved me having to do everything from singing and dancing, to performing Aikido, and doing various gymnastics, and really I was absolutely out of my depth. It was while I was doing that, David Maloney offered me the part of Davros. I had first known David Maloney as an assistant director, but by now he had became quite an important director in his own right. But I turned him down, because I was working for Yamashta. It was an unpaid job, it was nothing, but I felt that as I had commit myself to this production, then that was what I had to do. So I said, "No". Just crazy, really. In commercial terms, absolute bloody crazy. And of course, Davros came back again and again, and it could have been me! So that's a memory I have. I remember telling my children the story, and my daughter still talks about it till this day."
David's appearance in Doctor Who finally came about in 1976 when he was approached by director Michael E. Briant for a part in "The Robots of Death". "Everyone wanted to do Doctor Who. It was a cult thing. It was a good series, it was well done, and we all took it very seriously. Not just the actors - everyone. You played it for real. I think if you don't do that, and instead start to send it up, then the whole thing will just fall apart."
Cast as the mad scientist Taren Capel, David was intrigued by the amount of thought that writer Chris Boucher had put into the psychology of the character. "It's strange, but until the recent release of 'The Robots of Death' on DVD, I had a vague recollection of Taren Capel being a robot who had thought he was a man, whereas now I see that he was a man who wanted to be a robot. I find that very interesting. Robophobia is a perfectly understandable condition, frankly, as presumably it's always in the back of everyone's mind that these damn things might one day go haywire and kill you. I can see absolutely how this could lead on to a neurotic condition, and I can also see how in extreme cases that fear can get so intense that the victim starts to identify with its cause. Terrifying really, but wonderful to play."
Taking all this into account, how did the above affect David's performance? "Clearly there were three aspects to the character. You have Dask, the man who Taren Capel was pretending to be, then you have the man who Taren Capel believed himself to be, a very calm and precise figure, and then, underneath that, there was the man he really was - a raging sadist. Obviously, for the benefit of the plot, I didn't want to give the game away too early, so I played him as fairly laid back. Almost cooler than cool, which you can get with this kind of suppressed madness. Eventually, of course, it leaks out, and you have that scene outside the door to the command deck where I'm screaming frenetically, 'LET ME IN'. It was all quite deliberate."
Although "The Robots of Death" had an excellent cast with a number of well-known actors, David had worked with very few of them before. "Brian Croucher, certainly, I think I had previously worked with him in the theatre, but that was about it. It was quite interesting working with Russell Hunter because I had watched him in that detective series Callan, and as for Pamela Salem - such a beautiful girl, and a wonderful actress. Yes, it was an impressive cast and I got on with almost everyone."
David pauses for a moment and then smiles. "I don't think Tom Baker liked me. I don't know why. He didn't even speak to me at the end of show party. In fact he ignored me, and pretended I wasn't there." David smiles again, and then laughs, "Tom's idiosyncratic, like the rest of us, I suppose, and I think he was brilliant as Doctor Who. I don't think anyone could touch him. Of the other actors who played the Doctor, I think William Hartnell certainly came close, I liked his performance very much, but Tom, he had it all."
Within a year David was working for Michael E. Briant again, this time on the Blake's 7 episode "Project Avalon". "It's funny, but I tried to contact Michael quite recently. He's actually working in Holland at the moment, again as a director. I did about three things for Michael, during the 1970s, Doctor Who, The Onedin Line and of course Blake's 7. That's not unusual, you tend to get popular with certain directors, and they use you again and again. I do recall seeing my Blake's 7 episode on its first transmission, but I've not seen it since. I played a rebel who survives a massacre, but I don't remember the character's name [Chevner]. He was a goody, wasn't he? I remember for that one there was a lot of location filming in the caves at Wookey Hole. I had quite a number of scenes with Stephen Greif [Travis], Gareth Thomas [Blake] and Sally Knyvette [Jenna]. I knew Stephen from the RSC. It's funny, but there was this other guy called Stefan Gryff and he worked at the RSC at the same time, and, curiously enough, they both looked very similar. Stefan Gryff wasn't English, I think he was a continental, but the similarity was really quite remarkable.
"Sally was very lovely to look at, in fact there were lots of beautiful women in that story. Jan Chappell [Cally] was another one, and let's also not forget Julia Vidler [Avalon]. I also remember Glynis Barber was there as well, dressed up in leather and PVC. Oh, and of course Jacqueline Pearce. A very mysterious lady actress I was at RADA with. Jacqueline was a doll. Beautiful. You know I used to fancy all these women! It was a happy production from a visual point of view!"
Another visual effect that David recalls is being shot in the back. "They were going to use a stunt man for that, but I asked especially if I could do it myself, and they said, "Okay". It was quite a tricky business, as I had to be wired up to an electrical connection that would then activate a small explosive charge on my shoulder. When I heard the sound of the shot I had to press these two contacts together and then, as the charge ignited, whip round and fall to the floor. I quite enjoyed that.
"In fact, this reminds me of something that happened to me during the filming of Gladiator. In the battle scene right at the beginning of the film, you see Joachim Phoenix arrive on this big, monstrous battlewagon and he asks me the way to the battlefield. I tell him, and he's supposed to get off the battlewagon and onto a horse and then ride off. Anyway, I'm standing directly in front of this horse with the battlewagon to my right, so I said to the director Ridley Scott, 'I'm not scared of horses, why doesn't he just gallop straight at me and drive me out of the way, because he's meant to be a big arrogant character, and I'll just crash up against the battlewagon,' and Ridley said, 'No, no, no,' but when we did the take, Joachim mistimed it slightly and I had no choice but to slam up against the battlewagon. Ridley than came over to me and said, "I've got an idea, why don't we have you slam up against the battlewagon. It could be quite dramatic", so I said 'Okay, Ridley, good idea,' and that's the shot they stuck with."
Although David is at present enjoying a successful film career, for ten years he didn't act at all. "Between 1980 and 1990 I got totally away from it. I ran a furniture- making business instead and when we closed that down at the beginning of the 1990s I said, 'Right, I'm not going to start a new career, so it's back to acting.' Although, as it turned out, I did after all start a new career, because while you're in the process of developing your reputation as an actor, you have to keep occupied. As a consequence I became a computer programmer."
So is David planning then to follow in the footsteps of Taren Capel? "No, because I'm now fed up with doing that and have taken up photography instead."
Of course, there is already a famous photographer called David Bailey. "Well, yes, the most famous fashion photographer in the world. It could certainly get interesting! He spells his name slightly differently to mine. It's LEY, I'm LIE. I don't think he can really object, as I can prove it's my name and I don't think they can stop you using your own name."
Finally I asked David how he felt about recreating the role of Taren Capel for Kaldor City. Had he, for example, rewatched "The Robots of Death"?
"No. I took my performance from the Kaldor City scripts, which I thought were very good. Sometimes you'll read a part and instinctively you know you're there, and it's wonderful when that happens. I also found the production side very interesting. I remember getting the scripts and thinking, 'Jesus, there's a lot of writing in this!' but then I've never done radio before, and really it's completely different to film, theatre and television. With an audio play you have to rely almost entirely on words, as words are basically all you have. I found the experience quite a challenge, but also very enjoyable. Taren Capel has returned, and I am more than happy to once again give him a voice."