Gods and Villains
Celestial Toyroom Issue 386
Julian Glover is one of Britain’s most celebrated actors, recognisable to millions around the world for his appearances in The Empire Strikes Back, For Your Eyes Only, Quatermass and the Pit and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. However, he is equally well-known for his telefantasy roles, beginning with Richard the Lionheart in the 1964 Doctor Who story "The Crusade". He spoke with Fiona Moore about his career.
Prior to "The Crusade", had you worked with director Douglas Camfield before?
That was probably the first job I did for him, and I went on to do several things for him later when he was working for Thames Television, as a regular staff director. He used me quite a lot, but Doctor Who was probably the first one, as it was in 1964, which was fairly early in my career. And you don’t often get asked to play Richard the Lionheart! Funnily enough, Douglas Camfield cast me as Richard the Lionheart in the film Ivanhoe, which I played in a completely different way to how I played him on Doctor Who, and, of course, I didn’t have Jean Marsh as my sister in that one. I’m very fond of Jean, and we like each other, so that was an inducement too, and her playing my sister was a good laugh. I have to say, I hadn’t seen the story until I did that commentary for the DVD release, and I was really very impressed with it. Technically, it was quite basic, but they didn’t have the machinery then to do much more than that, there were no pyrotechnics and a cast of thousands, but I thought the quality of the actors' work was really quite high, and not old-fashioned at all. I thought it might seem dated, but it didn’t. I looked like me, I sounded like me, Jean looked like her and sounded like her and I thought there was very, very good work from Bill Hartnell and Maureen O’Brian, and I can understand why they were so successful in it. Richard the Lionheart was an attractive part, as he was an historical character, but the producer, of course, wouldn't allow us to play what we wanted to play, which was to hint at the relationship between the two of them, between brother and sister. But then it was a children’s programme, so you don’t do that sort of thing, do you?
You had been making a name for yourself playing villains. Do you think casting you as Richard the First gave the character a bit of an ambiguous edge?
Yes, I hope it did. I started off playing a villain in the film Tom Jones and that led to a whole career as villains, really. In fact it got to the point where I would tell people not to employ me because the audience would see me and instantly know that I did it. Which was rather foolish of me, as I probably talked myself out of quite a lot of work. However, King Richard wasn’t entirely sympathetic in the script anyway, in that he had his brutish side, and his kingly, authoritative, taking advantage of his position, side as well. He wasn’t an angel, and we tried to bring as much as we could into what was then known of the man. But yes, I think that may have been one of the reasons why Douglas cast me, in that I did have this edge.
What was William Hartnell like to work with? I’ve heard that he could be a bit insecure and offish?
I don’t know whether he was insecure or not, but he was very difficult to work with. God rest his soul, but he was very difficult. I suppose it was insecurity, he couldn’t bear to be upstaged, he couldn’t bear not to be in the centre. It was extraordinary casting in that part, I mean, if you think of all those films where he played military people, and all that. He was absolutely wonderful playing those stern military types. That was his strength, playing union men, playing representatives of working class bodies, and so it was extraordinary that he was cast as Doctor Who. That’s probably the reason Bill Hartnell, as has been suggested, felt insecure. That was the reason for it; he felt like a fish out of water to start with, and he was determined that he should win, and my God, he did win. He was personally responsible for the success of that series, and why it’s still going today. I don’t deny that, but he wasn’t easy, and I had to just swallow it, as he was the governor, and Doug said, “No, don’t upset him.” My background was, at the time, a bit la-de-da for him, with the Royal Shakespeare company, and all that Shakespeare stuff. Unlike Roger Moore, who had never done anything like that at all in his life, and just used to call me “Mr National Theatre”, and we laughed all the time. He found it amusing, but William Hartnell didn’t.
Your wife Isla Blair appeared with you in Indiana Jones and, although she didn’t appear in the same stories, you both did Blake's 7 and Space: 1999. Any connections there?
Well, only in that Douglas Camfield directed the Blake’s 7 my wife was in. The fact was, there was so much television going on then, with these series which we were all in, and the directors used to float around from one to another, and actors would float around from one to another. Of course, it's completely different now, the whole work, it’s completely different. The connection is simply that directors would see Isla or me in something and would then cast us in something they was doing., but those are the connections. I mean I was in all those series, and most other actors were. Name one of them, and I bet I was in it. Randall and Hopkirk, Jason King, The Avengers, The Saint, you know, all of them, and several episodes of each, and I was always the villain. I even did one episode of The Saint, which was about the third I did, where I drove the same car on the same location, and basically did the same thing, and I remember saying, “Didn’t I do this in episode 43, on the same old piece of wasteland out the backlot?” wonderful.
Your Space: 1999 episode was called "Alpha Child". What do you remember about it?
Oh, I played the chap with the legs in that one, didn’t I? What was he called? Jarak. I was younger then, and when I first come onto the set in those silver shorts, I heard one of the girls muttering, “Oh, God, look at those legs. It’s not fair”. It made me laugh, and it was such a silly costume. My wife Isla did one with Tony Valentine where they had these domed heads, and they were penis shaped heads, there’s no question at all, that’s what they were. When they first come into the studio they just couldn’t look at each other. They weren’t even allowed to go into the studio restaurant, as they looked so rude. There you go!
When you appeared in the film Quatermass and the Pit, had you seen the original serial first?.
Oh, certainly. It was a groundbreaking serial, with Andre Morell as Professor Quatermass, and Anthony Bushell playing my part, Colonel Breen . I was very impressed by his performance, but I wasn’t phased by that, because a film is very different, and there was a different Quatermass, and a completely different emphasis on everything. I was too young for the part actually, but I had great fun doing it.
Aside from Quatermass, you haven’t done a great deal of horror.
There was a thing called Theatre of Death, where I played the young hero, which is very unusual for me, and that was with Christopher Lee, of course, who took an instant dislike to me. He quite likes me now, but he didn’t like me at all on that. In fact it got to be quite a joke. Christopher used to devise ways of how to be horrible to me, to see how I would react, because I’ve got quite a short fuse. But I much respect him; he is, quite rightly, something of an institution in the cinema, and he deserves every bit of it, because he’s terrific.
Gareth Thomas, who you appeared later with in Blake’s 7, also appeared in Quatermass and the Pit. Did you remember each other from then?
No, we didn’t mix. I was a senior army officer! Gareth reminded me of that the other day. He remembered me because I was the guy in the uniform strutting around being pompous, but he had a small part as a labourer, and then went on to become a big star.
What about working with Paul Darrow?
I got to know him quite well when we were doing Dombey and Son, the Dickens serial. He played my crooked clerk, Carcer-- what a wonderful name, Carcer. And he was ideal for it. That aquiline face he has. Sunken cheeks and dark hair. Mean, mean man! He was terrific in that, and we were quite friendly then.
Can you tell me about the Blake's 7 episode “Duel”, which featured your wife?
That was the first time our son Jamie went into a television studio. He was about four or five, and we’ve got this lovely picture of him behind the camera.
You appeared as Professor Kayne in the Blake’s 7 episode “Breakdown”. How did you see the character?
Well, he was a surgeon, obsessed with his hands, as I remember. Egotistical, ambitious, and yet also ambiguous. A good part, I thought.
You also appeared in one of the most popular Doctor Whos, “City of Death”. You’ve said previously that you didn’t think it was a good script and that the cast had to do a lot of work on it. Are you proud, therefore, that it's such a firm favourite?
Looking back now, I realise it was a better script than I thought it was at the time. I agree to eat a bit of humble pie on that. I think my initial reaction was quite understandable. I thought it was so silly, but then what are we dealing with, you know, it’s Doctor Who, and once I’d got into that, I realised that it wasn’t silly in the sense of Doctor Who, in fact it was very credible, in that it was set in the modern day, and yet I was playing a character that had been splintered throughout all of time, and to play someone whose there in all time, in different guises, was a really interesting thing. The scenes themselves, however,… Well, we did have to work, the actors and the director, Michael Hayes, we had to work, and we had to change quite a lot. Who wrote the script?
Douglas Adams cowrote it with Graham Williams.
Douglas Adams? The Douglas Adams? He wrote that one, did he? Good lord. Well, well. My wife Isla Blair was supposed to be in that, and something went wrong and she couldn't do it, and it was eventually played by that lovely girl, Catherine Schell, but that would have been a lovely bit of synchronisation, wouldn’t it? I don’t know what happened. There was a clash of dates, or something. We enjoyed doing that. People later said to me, “Oh, you were lucky, you went to Paris”, I didn’t go anywhere near Paris. I was stuck in the studio, thank you, wearing a mask of green spaghetti. I remember a shirt was made for me with an especially big collar size, so that it would accommodate the green spaghetti mask. And I had this big eye in the middle of it all. I also had to wear a scarf to cover up this quite dramatic join. What was I called? Scaroth, alias Count Scarlioni and Captain Tancredi. And I had to tear off this rubber mask, to reveal my real face. The changing face of Julian Glover!
And again in Quatermass, when you were burnt…
Yes, the make-up job in that was horrible. It was not comfortable at all. Of course, when you’ve got all that make-up on you can’t move your face, or the make-up cracks.
So tell me about the James Bond film in which you appeared, For Your Eyes Only.
That was wonderful. That was such a good time. Before that, I’d had a terrible period out of work-- six months in all, and I was in despair, and had to sell the house. Then I suddenly got a movie in Greece, with three weeks filming, and two days before I was going to go, the Screen Actor’s Guild strike happened and I was out of work again. But then I went up for another thing, which, by an extraordinary chance, was in Greece again, which meant that the Apex tickets that my wife and son had bought to go out to the hotel could be used, and they went out a few days later. It was a terrible thing called The Search for Alexander the Great, it didn’t work at all; it was a disaster, and it paid about fourpence a month, but that’s not the point, as in the middle of that I was called back to London to see them about this Bond film. I thought the chances of me getting the Bond was slim, but they gave me the part, and I was cast as the main villain. And not only was it also being filmed in Greece, it was also being filmed in Corfu, which was about twenty-five minutes from where I was. So I was able to trade in my first class ticket and get the money for it, and when I got to Corfu, I was handed a thick brown envelope with money in it. I hadn’t seen any proper money for two years. It was simply fantastic and then on top of all that, I was working with Roger Moore, who is such a witty man. Of course, we also had a three-day audition period, where you knew very well that if they weren’t pleased with your performance, you’d be out. Never mind contracts, that would be it. But they were pleased with me, so I stayed on it and it was a great part, and I had a lovely time.
He’s an interesting character, Kristatos. He worked for the Allies, but was a double agent, and even though he’s a villain, he seems to recognise that he’s a villain, in that when he meets Bond he attributes all his crimes to another guy.
I think it’s a very good idea that, to have a guy who in fact did work for the underground during the war. People who work for underground organisations are, by definition, crooks. They are very useful in times of war, because they’ve got those organisational abilities, and also he was sponsoring this young woman for the Olympics and he really wanted her to win. He only got unpleasant when things got unpleasant; he wasn’t unpleasant until bloody Bond arrived and screwed everything up. That’s my opinion, anyway. When you play villains, you’ve got to find something about the character to like. But I thought Kristatos was all right. I liked him.
Talking of villains, more recently, you appeared in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Yes, I did, playing a giant spider. When I went to see them I said, “if you cast me for this, I'd better warn you, I’m an arachnophobe, I am absolutely terrified of spiders,” but they cast me anyway. Thank God I didn’t have to see the film. I’ve only seen clips, and it’s absolutely bloody terrifying, that thing. Even thinking about it makes me squirm.
Considering your filmography, do you think your appearance in the Faction Paradox audio series, playing an Egyptian God, with your wife playing your acolyte, is in fact a natural continuation?
Oh, yes completely, it’s called progress. It’s called maturing. I love that direction in the script, “he also has got the head of a jackal, if that helps,” in the character description of what I’m doing. It was very helpful, especially when it came to the bit about my character's ears. Comparing my ears to Anubis' ears. Yes, and my wife playing a villainess, which is good for her, because she's played a vampire before.
Have you previously done a lot of radio?
I invented steam radio, but I haven’t done any for yonks now, because the people who used to employ men have all retired, but I used to do two or three a week for years. Did a lot of classical work, Chekovs and Shakespeares and Ibsens and restoration plays, when they used to do them on the radio.
So what do you think of your character Upuat?
He’s lovely, he’s so laconic. He’s so cynical about it all. I love the idea of an Egyptian god being cynical. He’s sees all these magnificent processions and says, “Oh, god, this is so boring”. “A sun? Who would worship a sun? Who in their right minds would worship a sun?” And you think back to the Inca civilisation and the Aztecs (laughing). Wonderful stuff.
Julian Glover, thank you.