Founder of The British Comedy Company
Actor / Comic / Writer
A Personal Journey
I am an old Colonial boy ...
... educated to run the Empire ...
... but I became a clown.
I joined The FLIES REVUE, a sketch group, as a cast member, mainly performing in existing sketches, but I soon began to discover my own voice.
Left: Ian Johnson, Mandy Turner, PW, John Collis.
After some of The Flies flew off, the remnants joined the busker Don 'Rosie' Partridge to perform street theatre in South Wales for the summer. Left: Duncan Coppock, Don Partridge, Peter Till and PW 'Doo-wopping' in St. David's city centre
Right: A pastoral idyll.
I met Mike Manicardi at a mime class and, with Pete Somerville, a musician friend of his, THEATRE SLAPSTIQUE was born. In 1975 Pete and I sold out at the Edinburgh Festival as a double-act when Mike took a breather. There were 125 shows on the fringe that year and John Milligan, the Fringe Festivals' first administrator, thought it couldn't get any bigger!
In 1976 we were joined by Justin Case for the FESTIVAL of FOOLS in Amsterdam, around Holland and eventually the rest of Europe. The group became more musical as members came and went and Mike and I eventually went our separate ways. Highlights included supporting Dr. HOOK, and the final line-up was supporting RALPH McTELL with Mike, me, Dave Shortt, Sharon Landau, Joanie Borgman, Maurice Adamson on bass and Nicky 'Topper' Headon (yes, him!) on drums.
Above left: Mike, PW and Dave Shortt at the Melkweg, Amsterdam, at the Festival of Fools.
Somewhat at a loose end, I was invited to join the GSLMT for a 4 month tour of the States which took us from Salt Lake City through Colorado and Wyoming to Oregon, San Francisco, back to Salt Lake and then to Milwaukee and finally LA, before returning to Europe for the Festival of Fools, after which I re-connected with Justin and helped out with his solo shows in Frankfurt.
Justin Case and I then teamed up, something that had been on the cards from our first meeting. "IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF FRANKENSTEIN" was our one constantly changing, developing and evolving theatre show, the last barely recognisable from the first. We also indulged in a lot of street theatre and plied our trade at theatres and festivals across Europe. Eventually our ideas took us in different directions.
THE OMELETTE BROADCASTING COMPANY was formed when Justin and I joined up with Jim Sweeney and Steve Steen to create the first performance impro show after Keith Johnstone's Theatre Machine. We were regulars at the first Jongleurs in London and sold out at Edinburgh and the Latchmere in 1983/4, securing a TV pilot with Humphrey Barclay. Lee Simpson (Improbable Theatre) and Alan Marriot came in for Jim and Steve when they decided to go solo, or rather duo. These were the best of times.
Above left: Steve, PW, Justin, and Jim. Above right: At the 12 hour charity IMPROVISATHON at the Donmar Warehouse, coping with John Sessions. Right: A classic 'arms through' scenario with Steve and Justin at the Robin Hood Fair - mid 80s.
Next came BANANADRAMA,
the ultimate B-movie.
A first attempt at narrative impro.
The Banana Cabaret in Balham.
Right: Neil Mullarkey, PW and Ros Adler.
Then along came LATE-AT-THE-GATE (1988 > 1994), a weekly, late night, sketch impro show at the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, and most of the improvisers of the time guested there at one time or another.
Left: The 1st line-up. PW, the (sadly) late Joe Hobbs, Lee Simpson, Flip Webster and Jeremy Stockwell.
The bus and the phone number plate date the leaflet!
Out of this grew NOT THE EDINBURGH FESTIVAL in 1989/90 which included the narrative impro show COURT IN THE ACT!, which was filmed for BSB but not broadcast when Sky took it over. It subsequently played at the Palace Theatre, Watford, the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, the Nottingham Playhouse and the International Impro Festival in Berlin.
Left: Paul Rogan, PW and John Voce
Below left: with Natalie Haverstock.
We also staged an award winning children's show of THE THREE MUSKETEERS directed by Flip Webster.
Right: Lee Simpson as Louis the Umpteenth & PW as Roquefort, the big cheese.
My solo performing started with a monologue - FRANK SHOVEL - PRIVATE EYE - with The FLIES REVUE. It developed into a 40 minute solo piece, running in conjunction with a constantly changing monologue with THEATRE SLAPSTIQUE, at The Comedy Store and in the early years of the Alternative Cabaret circuit.
This was followed by a 20 minute version of FRANKENSTEIN, hijacked from The 2 REEL CO. show, and then finally I went the whole hog and created ROBIN HOOD for a full evening's entertainment.
Richard Hannay Spy Parody
My first, full length, one man theatre show, ran for 20 years, playing all over Europe.
Poster by Keren Luchtenstein.
OUR MAN IN MARZIBAH
Written to exorcise the demons of my colonial past and public school education!
Co-written with Tony Osborn.
THE 39 STEPS... I COUNTED THEM
Combined the best bits of the Buchan's book and Hitchcock's film, and continued my obsession with adventure stories!
CAMPUS holds a special place in my memories. Started by Mike and Judy Freeman, it grew out of the old ELEPHANT and ROBIN HOOD fairs in Cornwall and Devon, it was a festival created for families. Described once as, "A field full of Guardian readers from Totnes" (who are as entitled to entertainment as anyone else) it had workshops during the day and allowed parents to see theatre and music in the evenings while their kids were being looked after by story tellers and 'village parents' round camp fires.
I performed at the first one in a couple of impro shows but really discovered it (and it discovered me) in 1992 when I did ROBIN HOOD there for the first time. It was the most extraordinary experience. They 'got it' from the moment I first appeared on stage, before I had even done anything! It went so well they had a whip round for me to do it again a couple of days later. I subsequently did it every year, including when I hadn't planned to do it at all!
Along with OUR MAN in MARZIBAH, I did three one-off shows that never appeared anywhere else. A WING and a PRAYER (written by Robert Lipscombe), SATURDAY NIGHT at the MOVIES, featuring 3 short pieces - FRANK SHOVEL, FRANKENSTEIN and The WARRIOR KING, a Sword'n'Sandals epic.
However, the best of the lot was IT'S a HOOT! with Flip Webster and the late Joe Hobbs.
A spoof 50s radio variety show with a Dick Barton style thriller serial in 5 episodes, PASSPORT to DANGER.
In its penultimate year at Escot House, near Ottery St. Mary, there was a freak flood, which caused its cancellation half way through and contributed to its sad demise after one more year. At the final one, Flip wrote THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT... for the two of us.
In 2001/2002, Judith and Nigel Martin, two stalwarts of CAMPUS, staged the SALAMANDER FESTIVAL as a fitting tribute to CAMPUS,
and it was at the second that I premiered THE 39 STEPS... I COUNTED THEM as a solo show.
IT'S A HOOT!
Flip Webster as special guest star, Country and Western singer Tammy Wincyette.
(Note the old OMELETTE BROADCASTING COMPANY microphone)
PASSPORT to DANGER
PW as Major Brickbat.
During the student takeover of Hornsey College of Art in the seminal year of 1968, The FLIES REVUE performed to a packed house.
After the show they asked for people to join the group. I was the only volunteer.
Once on stage, I found myself completely at home.
Discovering Buster Keaton and Marcel Marceau awakened my visual sensibilities, and the Goons released the nonsense within.
Thus equipped, I embarked on a career of comedy, physical theatre and improvisation in small groups, a double-act and solo shows, that took me all over Europe and the U.S.
My training has been entirely in front of audiences. They let you know how you're doing.
Where the comedy came from is a mystery best left unsolved.
This was interspersed with commercial ventures, including Shakespeare at the Old Vic, children's theatre at the Unicorn and a variety of fleeting appearances on TV, Radio and Film.
Complete list of groups I've run, guested in and performed with:
The Flies Revue - The Loose Change Show - Theatre Slapstique - The Great Salt Lake Mime Troupe - The Entire Company - Alternative Cabaret - The Impro Soap - Theatresports - The 2 Reel Co. - The Omelette Broadcasting Company - Spontaneous Combustion - Comedy Store Players - Bananadrama - Late-at-the-Gate - Not the Edinburgh Festival - Brickbat's Volunteers - Stiff Upper Lips - The Laughing Cavaliers - Dogs on Holiday and finally... The British Comedy Company.
FESTIVAL OF FOOLS
Pride of place on the programme cover - 1978.
FRANK SHOVEL - PRIVATE EYE
My longest running character - Good script, poor accent.
Pete Somerville & PW - Holding down one of my 3 chords.
I was usually upside-down at least once a show.
COLDITZ - THE LAST RESORT
Written and performed by
PW, Steve Steen and Jim Sweeney - Oval House 1979
CINEMA VARIETE - The MELKWEG - 1980
Justin as the Director, PW as Buster Keaton, Jim as Stan Laurel, Steve as Charlie Chaplin and Cindy Marler as Marlene Dietrich.
THE 2 REEL CO. - St. Ives September Festival 1981
Street theatre with Steve Steen.
THE 2 REEL CO. in COVENT GARDEN
Faffing about with Justin, paying our dues. Mid '80s at a guess.
The Old Vic - 1988
My second and last. Peter Guinness as Sebastian, PW as Antonio and Max von Sydow as Prospero.
TOO CLEVER BY HALF
The Old Vic - 1988
My first full length play (of two). I joined the play in preview week, 3 days before press night, due to injury to Tim Barlow.
THE ENEMY WITHIN - 1991
Impro show set in a sunken submarine.
From top: Lee Simpson, Simon Godley, PW,
Phil Clarke and Mandy Knight.
Photo taken on H.M.S. Belfast.
THE 2 REEL CO. - In the studio for publicity pics.
Arboreal performance art in Highgate Wood
ROBIN HOOD - The Final Arrow
This was my longest running and happiest show. Robin dies as he shoots and the arrow goes straight up, much to Little John's consternation.
OUR MAN IN MARZIBAH
Sir Romney Chater-Bowkes
British Ambassador, with a fine nose for Glenfiddich.
OUR MAN IN MARZIBAH
Col. JimJams, dictator of Marzibah, by the perimeter fence, Marzibah airport. On location in Gozo.
Four characters from TVS series LITTLE ARMADILLOS - 1984.
Never repeated or released on DVD. Can't imagine why.