Knowing Russ

Getting to know Russ (an excerpt from a 2005 interview)

The first thing I do when I wake up is ... I'm very lucky, and my wife brings me a cup of tea first thing. 
If money was no object I would ... Probably spoil the family, buy them a place each - it would stop them coming round to me.
The greatest gift I have ever received was ... My two younger children had a family photograph made which looked like a portrait. 
My one piece of advice would be ... Be polite and courteous, don't be rude.                                                                                                      My first job was ... A drummer. I had part time driving jobs but my first real job was drumming with my cabaret group, the Black Abbots.
I'm scared of ... Heights. 
I'm excited by ... The fact that I'm going to do My Fair Lady. 
If I could go back in time and do one thing again it would be ... I suppose I'd get married again - to the same woman that is. 
I love ... Show business. 
I hate ... Bad drivers. 
You have to read ... King Lear. 
Everyone should listen to ... Themselves before they get angry. 
You must watch ... My Fair Lady, and It's A Wonderful Life at Christmas. 
If I could be anyone else I would be ... I'm quite happy being myself, but I wouldn't mind being Robert De Niro in The Godfather Part II. 
My ultimate ambition would be ... Just to stay wanted in the business. 
My biggest inspiration has been ... That wonderful era with Morecambe and Wise and Tommy Cooper, when TV entertainment was at its peak. The evening programme is just there to make a profit now. 
The first time I fell in love ... Was with my wife. 
I think God is ... About.
I think the death penalty is ... Now really out of date and I don't think it's a deterrent. People suffer longer in prison, and why make martyrs out of them? 
My epitaph would be ... It was my fault. It's a little joke we have in my family. 
Fur or faux? I don't mind - I'd usually have to say fake, but it depends on the methods used to kill the animal. 
Mayonnaise or salad cream? I'm not a fan of either. I'd have English mustard. 
Eastenders or Coronation Street? I don't watch the soaps. I'd normally try to watch a drama or a documentary, the best thing I've seen recently is 24. 
Daily Mail or Guardian? The Telegraph. 
Harry or William? I think they're both nice guys. 
United or City? Liverpool. 
Chav or scally? I just ignore those kinds of people.

20 Questions With...Russ Abbot (an excerpt from a 2003 interview)

Date & place of birth
Born 18 September 1947 in Chester, Cheshire.

Lives now in...
Wentworth in Surrey.

First big break
Oh gosh, I suppose it must be The Russ Abbot Show.

Career highlights to date
Fagin in Oliver! but TV-wise September Song.

Having done so much in your career, what type of work do you enjoy most? 
I love doing musicals like My Fair Lady and Oliver!. It's incredibly rewarding doing eight shows a week, it's great.

Favourite production you've ever worked on
My West End debut which was in 1984 at the Prince of Wales theatre in Neil Simon's Little Me. I was the lead. I played eight parts and had 21 costume changes. It ran for over a year.

Favourite co-stars 
It would be unkind to name individuals. I've had such a great time with them all. But recently, the late Michael Williams (Judi Dench's husband), who I worked with on September Song, because it was my first TV drama and I learnt a great deal from him.

Favourite directors 
I haven't really had a bad a one. David Bell was wonderful when we did MadHouse because he believed in me.

Favourite playwrights
Charles Dickens for Oliver! - does that count? - and Ken Blakeson for writing September Song.

What roles would you most like to play still?
I'm enjoying playing Alfred P Doolittle, but as to roles I'd like to play in future, it's hard to say. It depends what comes out. I do like musicals, though. I'd like to do Professor Higgins one day too. I'll have a go at anything.

Why do you like to return to the stage?
The reaction you get is spontaneous and immediate - and once you step out there's no turning back. With TV, you aren't in the living room so you don't know what people really think. And what is it they say? There's nothing like the smell of the grease paint and roar of the crowd.

What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
Maggie Smith and Judi Dench in The Breath of Life. That was a wonderful experience, to see two great dames together on stage.

What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Go out and see a bit more of it. They shouldn't be afraid to be seen in public - it would probably do those politicians a bit of good to switch off.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
I'm lucky, I've had a pretty good time being me. I'm not envious of anybody else, so I've no reason to change. But if I had to say someone, maybe Father Christmas.

Favourite books
I haven't read a good book for a long time. Dickens again really - Oliver! is my favourite. I've just finished reading Pygmalion and that's good, it really helped me with Alfred P Doolittle. The great thing about the first day of rehearsal is doing the read-through. When we did for My Fair Lady and I heard the songs narrated rather than sung, it made me realise just how good the lyrics are. Of course, they are all taken from George Bernard Shaw's play.

Favourite holiday destinations
Barbados in the Caribbean.

Why did you want to accept your part in My Fair Lady? 
I saw this production when it first came out. After seeing it, my family and I talked about it and I said I'd love to be in it, but never dreamed I'd be offered the part. When Trevor Nunn and Cameron Mackintosh asked me to play Alfred, I was flattered. And Cameron is a wonderful man to work for. The respect he gives his people is second to none so you know you'll be working in a wonderful environment. His productions, especially with Trevor Nunn at the helm, are wonderful. And I had such a good time doing Oliver! I couldn't refuse.

What's your favourite line or song from My Fair Lady?
I've got two of the best songs. To try and choose between "A Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church" is impossible, and I only have to listen to "I Could Have Danced All Night" and I get a lump in my throat. As I said before, when you sit around and hear the lyrics spoken you realise what classics these songs are. But I suppose my favourite line is when Pickering says to Alfred, "Have you got no morals man?", and Alfred says, "No, I can't afford them". He wants a fiver to leave Eliza with Higgins but won't take a tenner, all he wants is the price of a pint. At the end of play, Alfie invites Eliza to his wedding saying, "Do you want to come and see me turned off this morning?" I like that one, too.

What was the funniest thing that happened in rehearsals?
We have to work on travelators, so bits of stage move, and if you aren't careful, you'll fall into a compromising position!

What are your plans for the future?
I try not to plan too far ahead, but I'd like to do more TV drama.

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