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Piers Morgan's Life Stories

  • Episode: 

    6 of 6

  • Title: 

    Tim West
  • Transmission (TX): 

    Fri 11 Dec 2015
  • TX Confirmed: 

    Yes
  • Time: 

    9.00pm - 10.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 50 2015 : Sat 05 Dec - Fri 11 Dec
  • Channel: 

    ITV
  • Status: 

    Last in series
  • Amended: 

    Thu 10 Dec 2015
Timothy West joins Piers Morgan to look back on a five-decade career as one of Britain's best-loved actors.
 
Living legend Timothy West is one of the most versatile actors ever to have graced our stages and screens, having played nearly 250 characters over his long and successful career.  When talking to Piers for Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, which will be on ITV at 9pm on Friday 11th December, Timothy discussed:
 
 
- Sneaking onto the Coronation Street set dressed as President Gorbachev
 
- The challenges of coping with his wife Prunella’s dementia
 
- Re-building the connection with his estranged daughter, Juliet, from first wife, Jacqueline
 
- His roles in both Coronation Street and EastEnders and the battle of the soaps
 
- His royal friendships and being asked to read at Charles and Camilla’s wedding
 
 
Timothy’s varied and wide-spanning career, and sneaking onto the Coronation Street set dressed as President Gorbachev
 
During his career, Timothy has played numerous roles, including playing Churchill three times.
 
Timothy said of playing Churchill: “Well I mean we all know the way that he delivered his speeches and what he sounded like, because he used to work on them very intensely beforehand. He used to rehearse a lot so it was a very conscious delivery. But you think, well that can’t work when you’re just asking for a cup of tea, or a glass of brandy, in his case.”
 
In the 1980s, Timothy played Mikhail Gorbachev in a TV movie Breakthrough at Reykjavik. Piers said:  “You were filming in Manchester, and you nipped off from playing this great heroic figure to have a look round the Coronation Street tour…”
 
Timothy responded: “Yes I did, I was rather fascinated. I slipped out of a side door and I was in my costume and makeup for Gorbachev with a birthmark and glasses. I shouldn’t have been there.  One of the workmen said, ‘Hey! Who are you? What are you doing here, do you work here?’ And I said [in a Russian accent], ‘No, I’m the General Secretary of the United Soviet Socialist Republics.’ And he said, ‘Oh, well you’ll have to ask at the main gate…’”
 
Timothy told Piers he got in and carried on pretending to be Gorbachev.
 
Piers, in disbelief: “So let me get this straight. They actually just let you in, as the Russian leader, in to the Coronation Street set?”
 
Timothy laughed: “Well, it would be dangerous to keep him out.”
 
Timothy’s wife, Prunella Scales
 
Timothy met his wife of 52 years, Prunella Scales, with whom he has two sons, when they starred together in theatre and on TV.
 
Piers asked how important Prunella has been in his life. “Oh, absolutely vital. We probably share the same idea about why we’ve stayed together so long: prolonged and frequent separations,” laughed Timothy.  “Because we do spend a lot of our lives apart, we’re always very pleased to see each other.”
 
Timothy described the occasion he and Prunella first met: “We met in a really appalling television drama called, She Died Young.  There was a television electrician strike that by the time we ran out of recording time, had not been resolved. So I turned to Pru, who was the nearest person, we’d been having a Times crossword flirtation during rehearsals, and I said, ‘well let’s go to the pictures’, and we did.”
 
Piers: “You old smoothie, you. Now, you had a remarkably romantic proposal…”
 
Timothy recalled comically how he asked Prunella to marry him:  “I was driving and we were at a red light and I thought, ‘I could do it now really.’  I said, ‘Right, will you marry me?’, and Pru said, ‘Yes.’
 
Timothy smiled as he told Piers how he knew Prunella was the one for him: “The fact we loved and respected each other on all sorts of different levels.  The way we worked, the way we thought, the way we valued things and our general attitudes about life. I just thought it was going to work, and it has.”
 
Piers showed Timothy a picture of the couple on their wedding day
 
Timothy, taken aback: “What an awful suit… I have some hair!”
 
Piers taunted: “See, typical actor, you’re only looking at yourself! Can we start with the bride and then move back to you? Your bride looks beautiful.”
 
Timothy: “Yes she does, and always has.”
 
15 years ago, Prunella was diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer’s.
 
Timothy explained what it’s been like living with Pru’s dementia: “Well, the sad thing is that you just watch the gradual disappearance of the person that you knew and loved and were very close to. There’s a lot of her left, and we still enjoy life and there are a lot of things that Pru is able to enjoy and we’re able to do together. If you live from day to day it’s manageable. It’s when you start thinking of the past and thinking, ‘oh what a shame she can’t do that any more, she doesn’t appreciate that any more and we can’t talk about this any more’, then it’s sad.”
 
Timothy talked about when he realised that dementia was creeping it:  “(it was) a very long time ago.  It’s stunned everybody that it’s developed so slowly, mercifully.  It was a play that Pru was in and I thought, ‘Hmm, it’s not that Pru has forgotten her lines or she’s not saying the lines properly, it’s just that I can see her thinking’.  She never delayed her responses but it was just the difference between what she already had been – entirely inside the character, and her thinking, ‘Am I going to manage this?’  I knew there was a something wrong, but for quite a long time didn’t realise what it was.”
 
Piers commended Timothy and Prunella on their decision to talk openly about her condition, Timothy said: “Not to do it would be dishonest, I think, particularly if we’re going to appear on television together doing something.  Enough people know about the condition to say, ‘oh, why aren’t they mentioning this’. I just thought it was unfair, stupid and dishonest not to mention it, and not to keep people abreast of it.”
 
Timothy talked about the most difficult aspects of Pru’s illness: “Communication really. When we’ve been to a concert, or a play, or a film, there’s nothing very much we can say about it afterwards because Pru will have a fairly hazy memory.  She’d have enjoyed her evening and she’ll perhaps talk about the acting, but she’s not able to cope with talking about what the play was saying.”
 
Piers asked: “Is it more frustrating for Pru or for you?”
 
Timothy answered: “I should think it’s very frustrating for Pru, but she’s very kind and doesn’t let on about it. It is frustrating for me (as well), of course.”
 
Timothy continued: “I think we need each other very much, and we’re conscious of that.”
 
Timothy’s upbringing
 
Timothy talked about his school days, revealing he went to about 13 schools. He said coyly: “I had an argument with a particular headmaster, put it that way, and I decided that I didn’t want to be with him any more. And he, obviously, doing the natural thing said, ‘Don’t come back then’ … and I was expelled! I just got on my bicycle and rode off into the country on various occasions. I didn’t even tell my parents, I just played truant.”
 
Piers asked whether Timothy has any wartime memories, Timothy recalled: “I do remember one morning waking up and thinking that it was sunrise and it was time I got out of bed. I drew the curtains and the whole of the city of Bristol was on fire, and the sky was just this livid pink colour, just like a sunrise. I think that brought it home to me.”
 
Piers encouraged Timothy to recall the time he spent early in his career as the Box Office manager at Frinton Summer Theatre in Essex, where one of his jobs, “probably not a coincidence”– was booking the usherettes.
 
Timothy: “There was a particular girl – these girls were paid 10 shillings a night to be usherettes, 10 shillings in 1953 was quite considerable  - and I remember being taken behind the laurel bushes at the back of the theatre to be impressed with her… suitability for the job.”
 
Piers, after letting Timothy reflect a little further: “You’re still smiling at the memory I notice. Did she get the job?”
 
Timothy replied, laughing: “Oh yes! Three nights a week!”
 
The failure of Timothy’s first marriage and losing contact with his daughter Juliet for a number of years
 
Having worked various regular jobs, Timothy’s passion for acting soon prevailed and he began seeking a career on the stage. At one of his earlier productions he met and fell in love with fellow aspiring actor, Jacqueline Boyer. The couple married in 1956 when Timothy was 21 and had a daughter together, Juliet. While Timothy was honing his craft on the road with a different show every week, at home his wife was suffering with severe mental health problems. After five years of marriage they separated. Timothy began to lose contact with his daughter.  The years spent apart from Juliet were reconciled 10 years ago, when the pair at last made contact.
 
Piers asked Timothy what the reality was of leaving his 4 year old daughter at home and barely seeing her for many years after. Timothy said: “It was partly physical because Jacqueline married again and went to live in South Wales and Juliet was with her.  Also I think I must have put up a sort of barrier. I thought, ‘this is going to be very painful’.  He continued: “I feel guilty about it but I also feel a sorrow that I’ve missed the time that fathers should spend with their daughters, and be showing them things about life, and introducing them to things. In a way it got quite difficult to sort of woo Juliet into my way of looking at life, which wouldn’t have happened, I suppose, if I’d been really strong about it and said, look, I need to see my daughter X hours a week ”
 
Piers: “To go years with no contact, who do blame more for that?”
 
Timothy: “Me.  Oh yes.”
 
Piers: “Did you not find it slightly unbearable to be annexed from your daughter like that?”
 
Timothy: “Yes, I did but it wasn’t a sharp pang, just something that gnawed.  I probably only became conscious of it really when Jackie died and Juliet was more available.  Also she was being looked after by Jacqueline’s mother, who was a rather unapproachable person.”
 
Piers asked whether there was a cathartic moment when Timothy and his daughter first shared a hug between each other. Timothy said: “I think there must have been. I can only remember it vaguely now but I can remember the moment when I started to feel happy about it again.”
 
Piers: “Did you ever feel the need to apologise?”
 
Timothy: “Yes, I’m full of apologies.”
 
Timothy’s family with Prunella
 
Timothy has two children with Prunella - Samuel, who’s an actor, and Joe who works as a teacher, translator and computer programmer.
 
Timothy talked about the long labour Prunella endured before Sam was finally born:  “Pru was in labour for rather a long time , 30 something hours and I was with her quite a lot of the time…”
 
Piers interrupted: “You ran out of patience, didn’t you?”
 
Timothy: “I was hungry and thirsty.”
 
Timothy explained that Richard Briers (The Good Life) had a house opposite the hospital, so he went to see him.  “Immediately after I left, of course, Pru went into delivery.  She said, ‘where’s my husband?’”
 
After calling numerous relatives and friends Pru eventually thought to ask the hospital to call Richard Briers. 
 
Timothy joked: “There was Richard and me sitting there saying, ‘isn’t it awful the pain our little women have to go through…just a small one (he mimicked getting a drink) – there we were knocking back the Scotch.  Finally they did ring and said, ‘get over there now.’ I ran across Goldthorpe Road and they hastily put me in a mask and a gown and everything, and put me in the lift and I got there and just saw Sam popping out. And I said, ‘very good, no retakes.’”
 
The progression of Timothy’s acting career – including his work on Coronation Street and EastEnders
 
Timothy’s big acting break came at the age of 40 with the cult-hit TV show Edward VII. From costume drama to comedy, for the following 30 years Timothy was one of the most in-demand actors in TV.  However, as he entered his eighth decade, his work dried up, until he was picked up by the country’s best-loved soaps.
 
In 2013 Timothy played the role of Eric Babbage in Coronation Street, and the following year he joined the cast of EastEnders as Stanley Carter.
 
Piers recalled one of Timothy’s best known on-screen moments when his character Stan in EastEnders died of prostate cancer in April of this year. He asked Timothy what it’s like dying on camera?
 
Timothy: “Well I’ve died on TV a few times now. As you get older it gets slightly more worrying.”
 
Piers asked whether it’s true that Timothy ordered his own death on the show.
 
Timothy explained: “Well I did.  I felt he owed it to the character that he had a finite life.  Otherwise I’d have gone away to South Africa, or prison or something…”  He continued: “I was there for a year.  I don’t do many jobs for a year.”
 
Piers asked Timothy what Danny Dyer was like to work with.
 
Timothy replied: “Oh he’s lovely. I mean he swears like a trooper, but of course we don’t swear on EastEnders so he could be doing all the ‘f’ and ‘c’ words and then go (on set and say), ‘Oh, goodness me, that’s a mess, what have you been doing here?!’”
 
Piers asked:“Which is the better soap?  Coronation Street, or EastEnders?”
 
Timothy diplomatically said: “I think there is no answer to that.”
 
Piers: “I think you’ll find there is.  I beg to differ – the answer is Coronation Street or EastEnders?”
 
Timothy: “I don’t think they actually do the same thing.  Coronation Street is funnier – I like that.  EastEnders deals with more up to date subjects and that’s good.”
 
Piers: “If you could only watch EastEnders or Coronation Street for the rest of your life, which one would you watch?”
 
With a bit of hesitation, Timothy said: “I think I’d watch EastEnders because I know more about it now.”
 
Piers: “With all your former Coronation Street colleagues watching, who are now absolutely distraught at the way you’ve thrown them under a bus, what do you have to say to them?”
 
Timothy laughed: “I’d say it was his fault (pointing at Piers).”
 
Timothy’s royal connections
 
Timothy has lobbied for a wide range of social and political causes, from protecting local shops and libraries to education and tax. While he is unafraid to take on the establishment, he has also forged close friendships with royalty: Prince Charles asked Timothy to read his favourite poem at his wedding to Camilla.
 
Piers asked Timothy how he landed the royal wedding gig. Timothy replied: “I don’t know! Prince Charles has always liked things that I’ve done on cassettes. I’ve done most of the novels of Anthony Trollope, and Prince Charles listens to them in his car, so he thought, ‘that’s a voice I like.’”  He continued: “I was very, very pleased and honoured. It was a good do.”
 
Piers asked Timothy what his relationship is like with the royal couple. Timothy said: “We meet occasionally, he’s somebody who’s very involved in a lot of things that I think are very important, and I’m very impressed by what he does.”
 
Piers: “Is he a good laugh, Charles?”
 
Timothy: “I think so, yes. Yes, he is.”  He continued: “We’ve been to Sandringham…”
 
Piers: “What happens when you go there?”
 
Timothy: “Oh, it’s lovely.  We tell jokes.”
 
On Timothy’s proudest accomplishments
 
When asked how he’d like to be remembered. Timothy said: “I think just as somebody who kept trying to get it right.”
 
Piers asked Timothy what the things are that he’s proudest of.
 
Timothy, after some consideration, said: “I think the thing I’m genuinely proudest of is having recorded those Anthony Trollope novels, because I don’t think anybody could have done it as well as me, and I don’t think I could have said that about anything else that I’ve done.”  He continued: “I became a great grandfather the other day. I don’t mind the title at all. What I did get a bit uneasy about was being a father of a grandmother… Doesn’t sound quite the same does it?”