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SIR DONALD SINDEN THE SHAKESPEAREAN ACTOR WHO NEVER GOT HIS CHANCE TO STAR IN A BALLET

September 12, 2014

sindenONE of the funniest interviews I ever conducted was with a Knight of the Realm who said he secretly wanted to be a ballet dancer.

Sir Donald Sinden, Shakespearean actor and star of stage and many television comedies, took his final curtain call on Thursday September 2014, aged 90.

I interviewed him in 2003 at the Palace Theatre, Southend, when he was on tour with the remarkably funny play, The Hollow Crown.

By way of a change we met in the bar after his performance for what I thought would be a quick drink and few quotes.

At the time I was deputy editor of the Romford Recorder, and to celebrate the man and his life, I print the interview in full.

A man who never missed the opportunity to talk about his life and a great admirer of Scotch Whiskey, he held court in the small bar for what seemed a brief hour but belied by the first embers of dawn creeping through the window and the snoozing barmaid in the corner.

By that time my shorthand notes were a shambles and having poured him into a taxi to his hotel, I made for my car and promptly fell asleep in the back seat.

The quality of the night was he appeared on stage fresh as a daisy that evening and I awoke and spent some considerable time in a high street cafe unwinding the squiggles.

He was a remarkable actor and a real human being. 005.ROM.ENTS.S01.45 (Page 1)

 

Sir Donald Sinden, the man who has caused more laughs than there are lentils in a curry, admitted that his secret ambition was to be in a Ballet.

He was speaking at the Palace Theatre, after a performance with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hollow Crown. “It’s a very popular piece,” he said. “And one that I have been associated with since the early 1960s.

“Now you are going to ask me what has made it so successful aren’t you? Well I don’t know is the simple answer.

“Everything you say about it turns out to be negative, but it is very, very funny.

“It features kings and queens and their rise and downfall, and I suppose you could also say it is about history and all that kind of stuff. And that’s the problem you see. When you say that to most people, a glazed look covers their eyes.” But critics have dubbed the 1960-written play as “Fun, fascinating and agreeably hammy,” to which Sir Donald responded: “Er yes, I suppose so but I’m not too sure what hammy means. I would prefer up to the hilt myself.”

Having played all the roles, with the exception of the one woman, Sir Donald is in a better position than most to quantify the production. “As a young lad, I played all the youth parts, but now that I am, how would you say, more mature, I get all the Angle Saxon kings and elder statesmen to have a pop at.”

The secret, which modesty forbids the actor to pass on in an interview, is that he is one of the funniest multi-talented actors on the stage today, with the unique skill and ability to turn anything in which he appears, into a masterpiece.

The Hollow Crown came to reality when writer John Barton worked with Sir Peter Hall at the RSC with the resulting anthology of words highlighting the fall and foibles of the kings and queens of England. Its success was instant, and the one-off play has survived these 43 years and still draws in the audiences.

“I know I said it’s history, earlier on,” said Sir Donald. “But it should be a great opportunity for schools to confront their young charges with a superb condensed history lesson. There are a few gruesome bits, but young people love all that, and it did actually happen.”

Featuring in the play is Clive Francis and Richard Johnson who was in the original performance in 1960, also Susannah York.

“She is an absolute delight to work with,” said Sir Donald. “Actually I have appeared with six leading ladies in this play, including, Peggy Ashcroft, Dorothy Tutin and Diana Rigg.

“The women have to go from a 15 year old Jane Austen to an 87-year-old, where as I stagger from King Arthur to William Thackery.”

A man of many parts, the theatrical knight refuses to be pigeonholed as an actor.

“I am up for anything,” he said. “I had a wonderful four years with Elaine Stritch in Two’s Company on television.

That was a wonderful series and we have remained the very best of friends.

“In fact we met up last month when she was over here for her one-woman show at the Old Vic.”

Sir Donald celebrated his 80th birthday on October 9 and has notched up 62 years in the profession.

“I was at the Theatre Royal in Windsor on my birthday night,” he said.

“When at the end of the play, the doors burst open and the theatre staff bundled in absolutely loaded with bottles of champagne.

“What a way to celebrate your birthday eh? Everyone got a glass.”

Known for his long association with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sir Donald has been involved in almost every form of entertainment.

“I even have a piece of paper that says I can command a circus ring,” he said. “However, there were two things I have never done before, and I admitted to them in a BBC radio interview some years ago.”

One was opera the other was ballet.

“The next day I got a call from the English National Opera offering a part in Ariadne, which I did for three seasons. Absolutely magnificent fun.

“However, no one has come up with an offer of ballet yet!”

 

 

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