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SCOTLAND'S real-life Ronald Villiers can be unmasked today as bit-part actor and Elvis Presley impersonator, John Smyth.

Unemployed plumber John, 57, has tried and failed for 20 years to make it big on the small screen.

Just like the error-prone Chewin' the Fat character played by Ford Kiernan, John would love to be first name on the roll of credits, instead of the last.

But his chances of landing leading roles are slim. The lowlights of his acting career include:

He appeared in 20 episodes of Taggart, but was never allowed to talk.

He was offered a part in Chewin' the Fat but, amazingly, didn't make the filming because his car broke down.

He was sent to the back of the dole queue in Rab C Nesbitt because he was too scruffily dressed.

He was the lone regular in Nesbitt's local, but he was never allowed to speak. And he drank only non-alcoholic lager.

He was upstaged by his own pet collie Cas in football film The Match. Cas was allowed to bark when goals were scored, but the director told John he could only wave.

He has had hundreds of parts, but only twice has he been allowed to talk - in an advert for Irn-Bru and in a religious documentary about prayer, when he played the part of a priest.

His biggest break was in the advert for the fizzy drink, where he played the part of a football manager and was allowed to speak for a nerve-wracking 20 seconds.

As the priest, in a BBC documentary called Right to Differ, dad-of-three John spoke for just 15 seconds.

But he still dreams of the movie-star lifestyle, complete with a luxurious mansion.

Meanwhile, he lives in a high- rise council flat in the Gorbals, Glasgow.

He said: "I started off in an Elvis tribute band doing impersonations of the King. That enabled me to get bit parts where film companies were looking for Elvis lookalikes, and from there I have managed to get other parts.

"I must have appeared in almost 100 different TV series and films, but managed to get only those two speaking parts.

"However, I am positive that, when I finally do get my big break, I really won't fluff my lines like Ronald Villiers does."

John has had a succession of TV and film parts in Taggart, High Road, Para Handy, Dr Finlay, Rab C, The Baldy Man, Bad Boys, Looking for Jo Jo, Bombay Blue, High Life, The Last Musketeer, Taking Over the Asylum, The Match, House of Mirth and The Advocates.

He has appeared alongside Robson Green, Gregor Fisher, Mark McManus, Robert Carlyle, Natalie Robb, John Grieve, David Rintoul, Ian Bannen, Annette Crosbie, Freddie Boardley, Carl Howson, Ian Pattison, Gillian Anderson, Neil Morrissey, Bill Paterson, Sam Fox, Jimmy Logan, Derek Lord, Ian Richardson, Ken Stott, Charlie Sheen, Alan Cumming and Dan Aykroyd.

He has popped up as a pub regular, a teacher, a gravedigger, a hardman, a pool player, a mourner, a wedding guest, a football manager, a priest and an opera fan.

Widower John has also appeared in an edition of the Channel 4 quiz programme Win Beadle's Money, hosted by Jeremy Beadle.

He has also worked as a concert security guard at T in the Park, where he met Hollywood star Keanu Reeves, and at the Scottish Exhibition Centre, where he guarded Boyzone, Supergrass and Crowded House.

He has taken part in more than 20 episodes of Taggart, both as a uniformed policeman and a detective.

In one episode, he played a mortuary attendant who showed Mark McManus one of the many dead bodies. But neither John nor the body spoke. One of his biggest roles - non-speaking, of course - was as a gravedigger in a Sherlock Holmes film Bloodlines.

In a 10-second scene, he removed a coffin lid with a spade before Ian Richardson, who played a policeman, took over.

John can currently be seen in the video release of House of Mirth, with X-Files' Gillian Anderson and comedian Dan Aykroyd, in which he plays an opera fan.

He also features in repeats of Rab C and Taggart on the UK Gold cable channel.

He is usually paid around pounds 100 per appearance for shows such as Taggart and Rab C, but gets nothing extra when the programmes are repeated.

John has no shortage of work but, it seems, producers reckon he is better seen than heard.

So, 20 years after his thespian career began, he is still waiting for his big break and big speaking part.

When he is not waiting for a call from the film studios, John, who has three grown-up sons, does voluntary work with the elderly at a centre in the south-side of Glasgow.

There, he hones his skills by treating the pensioners to his renditions of Elvis classics.

And now and again, he can't help being reminded of the occasion when he was even out-acted by his own Hound Dog - his pet collie, Cas.

Both were hired as spectators in the football film The Match, which starred Bill Paterson, Sam Fox and Neil Morrissey.

Cas's job was to jump up and bark every time a goal was scored.

John said: "Cas had the only speaking part. He was allowed to bark as much as he wanted. I was told to be quiet and just wave my arms."

Ronald Villiers would understand.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 8, 2001
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