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My Theatre Firsts: Land of Our Fathers' Clive Merrison

Merrison's Theatre Firsts include Laurence Olivier, Guinness and doing the rumba with fruit on his head!

Chris Urch's critically acclaimed debut play Land of Our Fathers starring Clive Merrison (The History Boys), received its world premiere at Theatre503 last year. It transfers to the Trafalgar Studios next month.

We caught up with Clive to find out some of his 'Theatre Firsts'.

What was the first show you went to?

I didn't really see a play professionally performed till I left my dear little seaside town of Tenby and went to drama school in London. I remember going to panto at the Swansea Grand and seeing the great welsh comedian Norman Evans doing his "over the garden wall" sketch. Les Dawson nicked that for his double act with Roy Barraclough.

When did you first decide to become an actor?

I still haven't decided. Pretending to be other people for a living can't be right at my time of life. Must get a proper job!

Who was the first actor you were inspired by?

In 1952 we were taken as a school to the local cinema to see two films, The Conquest of Everest and Richard III. I didn't want to be Edmund Hilary or Sherpa Tenzing but I did want to be Laurence Olivier - badly. I wrote him a fan letter and got a reply! Fast forward 20 years and he asked me to join his company at the Old Vic. Perfect! He's still my acting hero.

What was your first professional role?

At the age of six I was a child impersonator. They were fashionable at the time. I appeared with Old Mother Riley and Kitty in Cardiff. I did Johnnie Ray, Terry Thomas, the Welsh comedienne Gladys Morgan and Carmen Miranda. I did the rumba with fruit on my head while my mother played the Maraccas in the wings. I retired when I was eight.

What was the first piece of advice you were given in your acting career?

Apart from "be better" I can't recall. I do recall Clint Eastwood asking me to "do less in the shot" for 5 takes. I've been trying to "do less" ever since but- it's a struggle.

How did you react to your first review?

I still have a cutting with a photo of the six year old me with a permanent wave on my head and the caption "A Child Star is Born". It's been downhill since then.

What is the first word that comes into your head when I say theatre?


What is the first thing you will do when your run in Land of Our Fathers comes to an end?

Go back to my little woodland retreat in Suffolk and continue with my semi retirement.

If you were directing Land of Our Fathers, who is the first person you would think of to cast in your role?

The great , Oscar winning welsh character actor Hugh Griffith. I've been channelling Hugh ever since I took this job on.

If you could choose any role that you would like to take on next, what is the first that comes to mind?

Being in charge of the NHS. Kicking out the covert attempts to privatise it and restoring it to Aneurin Bevan and Clement Atlees vision. A proper job.

Land of Our Fathers opens at the Trafalgar Studios on 8 September.