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I love to perform in Welsh but for passion I prefer Russian; TV DETECTIVE PHILIP MADOC ON HIS EXTRAORDINARY ACTING CAREER.

PHILIP MADOC'S voice has the sound of Wales to it - a poetic resonance that rumbles from somewhere deep within.

When he says "Rhondda", for instance, the teacups rattle and a rolling phrase like "let us be resolute in our righteousness" almost brings the house down.

It is a voice that has marked him out as one of the most successful stage, film and television actors of his generation - he is 64 - and viewers will know him most recently as the no-nonsense Detective Chief Inspector Noel Bain, star of Channel 5's and S4C's gripping crime series A Mind To Kill.

Genial, stocky and bearded, with a slightly grizzled look, he has been filming a new series - an exhausting business, because it is made in Welsh and English.

"We always do each scene in both languages,"" he said, when we lunched at a quiet restaurant near his Hertfordshire home.

"Because of the different length of some words, or shades of meaning, the same scene can vary in length according to the language I'm working in. It's a matter of subtleties, really.

"I love working in Welsh. I'm very pleased that Welsh is so much healthier now than when I was a boy.

"But, of course, it is now a spoken language far more than a written one.""

He finds the character of Det Chief Insp Bain a fascinating challenge.

"He is quite unlike the other TV detectives - particularly Morse and Jack Frost.

"The scripts are very good and he emerges as a deeply compassionate man, one who is often affected by the way society has treated people.""

Philip booms one of his cutlery-rattling laughs. "It's funny that John Thaw and I should both be playing detectives now.

"I knew him at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.""What was John Thaw like as a drama student?

He paused and thought for a moment, and just said: "John? Nice bloke. Could be difficult, though.""

(What? John Thaw, like Morse, difficult? Never.)

One of the highlights of Philip's career came when he played that great Welsh political hero - hero to some, villain to others - Lloyd George in a nine-part series. It was a part that seemed made in heaven for him.

"It was a great chance. Which Welsh actor would not give a limb to play Lloyd George?

"The interesting thing is that, had television been around in his day, he would have been a natural for the medium.

"Did you know that he would practise his speeches in front of the mirror, studying himself from every possible angle?""

And Philip received a major compliment from Lady Olga, one of Lloyd George's daughters, who came to visit him when they were filming on location.

"I was in my full rig and make-up as her father,"" he recalled, and she walked across this field towards me. When she reached me she just said: 'You look so like Dada.'""

Philip came to admire Lloyd George - and his flamboyance.

HE said: "When he stood outside the door of 10 Downing Street, he looked as though he owned it, even the pavement. Not like Blair or Attlee, with their temporary' look.""

The Merthyr-born actor came late to showbusiness, having first trained as an interpreter and translator (he speaks five or six languages, including Russian, German and Albanian).

He studied in post-war Vienna as a young man - very much the city of the film The Third Man, with a great deal of intrigue going on."

He acquired a good knowledge of Albanian when teaching English in Vienna in 1956, the year of the Hungarian uprising against communism.

Philip is today a lively member of the British-Albanian Society - and recently had a rare opportunity to use the complex Albanian language.

"A couple of chaps were delivering furniture at home one day,"" he said, "and one of them turned out to be a refugee from Albania.

"So I started talking to him. You should have seen the expression on his face.

"He was just amazed to find an Albanian speaker in the English countryside!""

This gift for languages has given him a distinct advantage over others who are condemned to stand and stare in incomprehension.

At the height of the Cold War, for instance, he was an interpreter when Wales played East Germany at soccer in Cardiff.

"East Germany lost,"" he recalled with a husky chuckle, "and when we got back to their hotel I suddenly heard a lot of shouting. It was their team manager giving the East Germans the most almighty bollocking you've ever heard.

"They were going home in defeat and shame - and to God knows what fate.

"What fascinated me was the presence of the party man, one of the shady men, who just stood there and listened.

"They always accompanied such teams - and were always looking and listening. And reporting back, presumably.""

During those Cold War days, even being able to speak an Eastern European language in those countries was a ground for suspicion. "

"In countries like Bulgaria and Romania, they certainly didn't like the idea at all,"" he said, "even if it was only a few words. They wanted complete control. And you were from the decadent West.

"You were certainly under suspicion if you could speak the language - particularly in Albania.

"In some countries they are still cautious, despite all the political changes. Once, when I was on holiday in Russia, they didn't like it at all because I could understand and find my way around the Moscow underground system. They were rather angry, in fact!"

PHILIP laughs now at the memories, but at the time they were frightening. "I was followed, which I didn't like, and it was always frightening to see soldiers toting loaded guns everywhere.

"I always kept quiet and just watched. Just sat in a cafe(c) and watched. You saw a lot that way!

"And once, in Albania, a soldier suddenly started waving his gun at me.

"I had strayed on to an Albanians-only beach.""

Like most linguists, he has his favourite languages. "I think English is the richest of all, with its poetry and shades of meaning."

But the most beautiful?

"Oh, there can be no doubt about that. It is Russian. When it is well-spoken it is quite beautiful-sounding. There is a poetry to it.""

Away from showbusiness and the world of linguistics lurks another of Philip's passions - ballroom dancing.

"I just adore it," he said. "It was a big thing when I was young. "

"I used to go to the dances at the YMCA in Merthyr - and it was a marvellous way to meet girls.

"I also did a lot of dancing in Vienna - marvellous memories.""

He and his wife Diane (he was formerly married to Ruth Madoc, star of Hi Di Hi!) enjoy travel. Flying off to remote destinations in far-flung corners is his biggest extravagance.

"I love to work," he said, "and I never intend to retire.

"The very idea of living on a pension is anathema to me, anyway.

"I just do not have a concept of retirement.""

He boomed for the sake of emphasis - and the cutlery rattled back in response.

The new series of A Mind To Kill will be shown on TV later this year.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Callan, Paul
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 25, 2000
Words:1205
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