|Image: Martin Parsons/Fohnhouse|
Maurice Roëves has been in everything, from Eastenders to Judge Dredd, and his career shows no signs of slowing down after 50 years. We sat down in Nottingham’s delightful Edin’s Café for a long chat about his career, but keeping to our planned questions proved difficult as Maurice, by his own admission, tends to veer off on tangents in conversation.
One thing you never learn as a child, that your parents can’t teach you, that nobody can teach you, is how to grow old. When it does hit, you could be in your fifties, sixties, seventies…it only hit me five years ago when I had a big cancer operation. I went in on a Monday, had the operation, and was back home on the Saturday, no cancer, no radiation, nothing, and that was all because of early detection. I do it because as an actor my body is the tool of my trade, so therefore, if you can spend a lot of money doing an MOT on your car, surely to God you can do an MOT on your body once a year, even if you pay for it yourself. It would save the NHS an awful lot of money!
With this in mind, he tried to offer his services to the NHS, thinking that a recognisable face telling their story might spur other people into having regular checkups. They weren’t interested.
The guy…who was the guy who was a postman and became health secretary? [We didn’t know at the time but this was the Right Honourable Alan Johnson – ed.] He wrote back to me and said ‘no, we don’t need this’. I just get so sick – there’s such a lack of common sense out there at the moment. Whether it’s me getting old or not I don’t know…The best comedy series of this year was watching the football the night before last [this was the rained-off World Cup qualifier between England and Poland on the 16thOctober 2012 – ed.]. It was a joke, I mean quarter of an hour before kick-off it was a lake, but they waited another hour and half to make a decision. There’s no way you’re going to clean it up, just cancel the bloody thing and let people go home! Stupid!
Another important bit of business before we got on to his acting career was his name:
I’d better warn you, it’s pronounced 'ROH-EEVS' – because of the two dots over the E. It’s Prussian. It’s called a diaeresis over the E and an umlaut if it’s over the O. I’ve forgotten where I was going because I’ve gone and diverted – I’m like this all the time!
In terms of background, how did he get into acting?
I was one of the last national servicemen. At the time my parents had moved from the slum where we lived in Glasgow. Not their fault, it was where my dad worked. They’d given them a flat for nothing but it was awful. It was interesting watching Obama talking about slums in Kenya – a slum in Kenya is no worse than a slum in Glasgow in 1945, believe you me! So, they moved to a house in a nice district and I joined the church drama club, mainly to meet girls. A part came up, and they said ‘we’re a man short, would you take it?’ and I said ‘yeah’. I still remember; I counted the lines. 16 lines! I don’t count the lines anymore…I’ll always remember walking behind the stage – I know it sounds corny, it’s been said a thousand times, but I could smell the glue on the set, and I walked into the darkness and the lights came on and I suddenly thought ‘this is what I want to do’. I had a good job. At 21 I was an assistant sales manager selling animal food products for Spillers Ltd, a huge big flour company [who also produced pet food such as Winalot – ed.]. I stayed with the company working, but started doing a great deal of amateur work, amateur musicals, I went into everything. I decided to go to drama college, but suddenly the prospect of giving up a regular job with regular money… and your parents were like ‘Are you crazy?’, you know.
Anyway, I sat the audition and it went extremely well, it was extraordinary, but then I said I didn’t think I could do it. The director, Mr Chandler – he was a wonderful lecturer – came out to the house and said ‘we think you should come in, and if you want to come in next year you won’t have to audition’. And then halfway through the year – I’d taken up dancing, because West Side Story had come out and I thought actors have got to know how to dance – I started going out with a dancing girl. She was going off for the summer season, and I upped sticks and left and went and did the summer season! Got fired because I wasn’t that great! So that was how I got started – came back, went to drama college, three of the best years of my life. I loved drama college. It’s now called the Conservatoire, in my day it was the Royal College of Music and Drama, which I think sounds much better. They wrote to me saying ‘what do you think of the new title?’ and I said ‘it sounds like a greenhouse!’ – I wasn’t very popular about that! We were the first of the working class year that went in…It was terribly [adopts a posh English voice] like that and we went in rough and ready.
Was there a friction there with the old guard?
Oh no, it was rape and pillage from our point of view! The posh girls thought they’d never got so lucky and the guys didn’t like it at all! It was great fun.
The other day I was doing a television thing and a young girl doing the wardrobe asked if I lived in London and I said no, I’ve gone off London. It was so good when I lived there, but I said ‘I’m old now, I was living there before you were born!’ I suddenly thought about it… you know that poem ‘Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light’? It’s a very famous poem about death [‘Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas – ed.]. Well I thought ‘Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Age’, because those ten years from the end of 1960s into 1970s were just unbelievable. There was a revolution in music, a revolution in dress design, everything. A revolution in acting with Jimmy Dean and goodness knows what, it was just tremendous. I look back and I think ‘yeah, I was born then!’ and there’s a lot of people who are quite jealous because you had The Beatles come out, the Stones come out – the ugliest group that you’d ever seen in your life when they came out! That was a great decade. I said to the girl ‘of course, if you’re not born in that age and you haven’t lived through it then you haven’t experienced it, so your age may be equally as good’. From my point of view forget it! I wouldn’t want to live in this age. It’s too full of this [demonstrates somebody glued to their phone]. When I arrived today I couldn’t get in because of all these kids on their phones – whether they were twittering or what I don’t know. It’s like… do you know what a dummy tit is? A comforter for kids, babies suck on it. That’s what the modern cell phone is, a modern comforter for people. I see couples in restaurants and they’re both on the phone, and you go ‘why would you come out for a romantic meal and not talk to one another?’ and somebody said that sometimes they’re actually talking to each other! What?! Across a table through a phone?! God! How crazy can you get?! Anyway enough of this... you shouldn’t have asked!