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culture: Mondeo man has unlikely baggage; Rodney Bewes is back with a likely hit on his hands. David Whetstone hears about his new show.

Byline: David Whetstone

RODNEY BEWES, the most likeable of the Likely Lads, is one of those actors who quite literally takes his show on the road.

He packs his set into a trailer which he hitches to the back of his Mondeo and off he goes on a theatrical odyssey - a true man of the greasepaint in search of an appreciative audience.

Actually, he doesn't have to search too hard. While an awful lot of water has passed under the Tyne Bridge since Bob and Terry were getting up to mischief on our TV screens (The Likely Lads long since having passed into the realm of golden age TV), Rodney, who was Bob, is still a much loved figure.

Unlike the media-shy James Bolam, who was Terry, Rodney seems to revel in his contact with fans and even the media.

He rings from Edinburgh, where the Mondeo is currently parked and the annual festival and its fringe are in full swing.

"I came at the beginning of August, I did my tech rehearsal on the 1st and I'm here until the 30th. I do the show every day, starting at half past four and every evening we're out to some concert or the ballet. It's a brilliant thing, all this culture." Like Bob, Rodney has an endearing but rather dry sense of humour. Sometimes it's a bit difficult to know when he's being serious or not, as with his complaint that he's still waiting for his knighthood.

If theatrical knights were created on the back of hard graft rather than a string of fancy performances for the RSC, Rodney would have had his shoulder tapped by Her Majesty years ago. But it does seem a little sad that he assumes a kind of honorary freedom of Newcastle although he has never actually been granted the right to graze a cow on the Town Moor.

That said, despite his famous role in The Likely Lads, he is not a Geordie, has had homes in London and Cornwall for years and, although he fondly recalls visits to St James's Park when he was at the height of his celebrity, he jokes that "nowadays the girl of reception would probably say, 'Who are you'?" Anyway, he adds: "I've been going to see Chelsea since 1963."

But Rodney has not rung to talk about football. Since he does his own scripts, his own directing, his own performing and his own makeup, it is no surprise that he is on the phone to publicise his latest one-man show, the one going down so well at the moment in Edinburgh.

It follows on the heels of Three Men In A Boat (something of a busman's holiday sinc Rodney is a keen oarsman) and Diary Of A Nobody.

The latest, another by Jerome K Jerome, is called On The Stage - And Off: Jerome wrote a book of this title about his experiences as an actor over three years in the 1880s. The title, ending in that defiant colon, is a cryptic little number which appeals to Rodney as much as it evidently did to JKJ. "He loved words and that's his sense of humour," says Rodney, who would be chortling if he were the chortling type (his chortles are better described as pauses pregnant with implied mirth).

The colon, Rodney explains, would seem to be implicit of anything you liked. Heralding a non-existent list, it seemed to give the author the freedom to stray from the path, to digress, to wander.

But having acquired a first edition via eBay, says Rodney, he established that the original title was On The Stage - And Off: The Brief Career Of A Would-Be Actor.

It is an affectionate portrayal of the profession which Jerome never quite became master of, according to Rodney. In his stage version, he strives to catch the same mood.

"I'm in Jerome's study, because I always like a nice set. I don't do black drapes and a chair. I've got a very nice set which I tow behind the Mondeo and the play opens with me sitting in the study as Jerome when he's 65. I say to people, 'It's very hard for me to play 65. It's a big acting challenge to get up to that age'."

This is another of Rodney's mildly unsettling jokes for he will actually reach 70 later this year, on November 27 (for good measure, he adds that this is his seventh trip to the Edinburgh Festival). He sounds as if he can hardly believe it.

Proudly, he relates that he actually silvers his temples to play a man nearly five years younger than himself. And he recalls a funny thing a man once said to him: "I remember you in black and white."

Rodney identifies strongly with Jerome K Jerome. "I play him at 65 talking about his first book. He wrote over 30 books and nine plays, but he is only remembered for Three Men In A Boat. Rodney Bewes has been an actor for 55 years, but I'm remembered for The Likely Lads. I hope that makes people laugh ."

He explains how he enjoys a bit of banter with his audience, sometimes breaking out of period and character. Latecomers are liable to find the costumed figure on stage whipping out a torch to show them to their seats.

Having heard that a well-known comedian in Edinburgh had abused an audience member whose mobile phone went off, Rodney was appalled. "Apparently he asked for the house lights to be turned up. You don't swear at the audience and risk alienating everyone there. I love my little exchanges with the audience."

That may be so. Personally, though, I wouldn't want to put this to the test.

Rodney, you will have deduced, is heading our way, accompanied by his supportive and loving wife Daphne, who "built the set with me". He will be at Alnwick Playhouse on September 1 and the Gala Theatre in Durham on September 7, and if you miss him there, he will be making a first appearance at the Queen's Hall Arts Centre in Hexham next February.

Rodney says he is rather nervous about the Durham visit since it was Simon Stallworthy, director of the Gala Theatre, who first asked him if he had ever heard of the Jerome K Jerome book about acting.

This is the result. Rodney hopes that Simon will approve of his treatment of a very good idea. If he doesn't, it's very likely that plenty of others will. A Likely Lad, you see, can do very little wrong in the North-East.

For Alnwick tickets, tel: (01665) 510785; for Durham tickets, (0191) 332-4040.


FOREVER A LAD: Rodney Bewes is heading to Alnwick and Durham.
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 28, 2007
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