Put that in your pipe…

The Northern Echo

10:54am Saturday 27th February 2010

BROTHERS IN ARMS: Graham Seed, right, with Adam Best in Journey’s End

MOST actors are recognised by their looks.

Graham Seed is more likely to hear “Don’t I know you?”

when he speaks. “I have a distinctive voice,” he admits. “When I’m in the supermarket, housewives will do a double take and say, ‘Are you Nigel?’.”

For the past 28 years he’s been the voice of Nigel Pargetter in BBC Radio 4’s everyday story of country folk The Archers. He refers to it as “a long-running soap that occasionally employs me” as recording only takes up six days a month.

The rest of the time he’s free to do other acting work, and that’s vital because Nigel has been going through a dull patch as happens in soaps. “For the past five or six years Nigel hasn’t been the principal character he was for years,” he says.

“I don’t know whether that’s because of the storylines or the fact there are a lot of younger characters in it. I’ve not been as busy as I like or would hope. I’ve always been lucky I’ve kept up the theatre and television career. I like to juggle things. That sounds awfully pompous.”

Occupying his attention at present is a tour – including a date at Durham Gala theatre – of R C Sherriff ’s First World War play Journey’s End. He was in rehearsal when we spoke and Seed was fuming, fittingly enough over a smoking issue.

Osborne, an older father figure to the other young men in the trenches, smokes a pipe, but health and safety issues are at stake. Scotland won’t have any smoking on stage (“even though there are lines in the script when I talk about my pipe”) and he’d just heard that smoking on stage in other venues would depend on the local authority’s attitude.

“It’s terribly frustrating because I’ve been rehearsing with my pipe. I can’t see why smoking it should be disallowed. Before long we won’t be able to say ‘is this a dagger I see before me’ because of knife crime.

“I hate smoking but feel a tremendous duty as an actor to portray the society as written. We’ve pulled most of the cigarette smoking out of the show. I feel very strongly about keeping the play Sherriff wrote.”

He’s equally passionate about smallscale touring, a category into which the Original Theatre Company and Icarus Theatre Collective production of Journey’s End falls.

“Acting is my livelihood and I like the idea of taking good plays to small cities and towns. I adored the play and asked my agent to suggest me for it.

“When you are approaching 60 if there’s a good part offered you must grab it. But it’s a bit scary and stretching me.

“It’s funny as an actor because for years I was always the youngest in the company and now I’m the oldest. You think, ‘Will the young actors want to go and drink with me in the pub?’.”

He was playing a hooray Henry in Shaw’s Major Barbara in Birmingham, where The Archers is recorded, when the programme’s producer William Smethurst came calling. He wanted to inject some comedy into the series and felt Seed as Nigel was the person to do that.

HE’S known of Journey’s End since his schooldays because the first poetry he ever liked was “World War One poetry about how futile war is”.

With people still dying in Afghanistan, he feels the play is as relevant today as it ever was.

When he trained at Rada in the late Sixties, the idea was always that you were going into the theatre. “It’s funny, there’s a whole generation of young actors having never done theatre or have any desire to do theatre. I find that sad because they’re really missing out.

“Now they have to get into the movies and get recognised. It’s a long haul as a profession.

“I love the family feeling about the theatre.

We go to work in the evening and it’s like a team, you become a team player.

You knuckle down and tell a story to people who are making a huge effort to go out and visit the theatre.”

– Journey’s End: Durham Gala Theatre, March 11-13. Tickets 0191-332-4041 and online galadurham.co.uk

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