Great Actors

Voice Over: (Graham Chapman) Just starting on BBC1 now, 'Victoria Regina', the inspiring tale of the simple crofters daughter who worked her way up to become Queen of England and Empress of the greatest empire television has ever seen. But right now it's time for 'Great Actors', introduced as usual by Alan Semen.

Alan: (Eric Idle) Sir Edwin, which has been for you the most demanding of the great Shakesperean tragic heroes that you've played?

Sir Edwin: (John Cleese) Well, of course this is always a difficult one, but I think the answer must be Hamlet.

Alan: Which you played at Stratford in 1963.

Sir Edwin: That's right, yes, I found the role a very taxing one. I mean, er, Hamlet has eight thousand two hundred and sixty-two words, you see.

Alan: Really?

Sir Edwin: Oh yes. Othello's a bugger too, mind you, especially the cleaning up afterwards, but he has nine hundred and forty-one words less than Hamlet. On the other hand, the coon's got more pauses, sixty-two quite long ones, as I recall. But then they're not so tricky, you see. You don't have to do so much during them.

Alan: You don't.

Sir Edwin: No. No, not really. And they give you time to think what sort of face you're going to pull during the next speech so that it fits the words you're saying as far as possible.

Alan: How many words did you have to say as King Lear at the Aldwitch in '52?

Sir Edwin: Ah, well, I don't want you to get the impression it's just a question of the number of words... um... I mean, getting them in the right order is just as important. Old Peter Hall used to say to me, 'They're all there Eddie, now we've got to get them in the right order.' And, er, for example, you can also say one word louder than another--er, 'To *be* or not to be,' or 'To be *or* not to *be*,' or 'To be or not to *be*' you see? And so on.

Alan: Inflection.

Sir Edwin: And of course inflection. In fact, Lear has only seven thousand and fifty-four words, but the real difficulty with Lear is that you've got to play him all, you know, shaky legs and pratfalls and the dentures coming out, 'cause he's ancient as hell, and then there's that heartrending scene when he goes right off his nut, you know, 'bliddle dee dee diddle deebibble dee dee dibble beep beep beep,' and all that, which takes it out of you, what with having the crown to keep on. So Lear is tiring, although not difficult to act, because you've only got to do despair and a bit of anger, and they're the easiest.

Alan: Are they? What are the hardest?

Sir Edwin: Oh... um, fear.

Alan: Fear?

Sir Edwin: Mmm, yes, never been able to get that, can't do the mouth. I look all cross. It's a very fine line.

Alan: What else?

Sir Edwin: Apart from fear? Er, jealousy can be tricky, but for me, the most difficult is being in love, you know, that openmouthed, vacant look that Vanessa Redgrave's got off to a tee. Can't do that at all. And also I'm frightfully awkward when I try that happy prancing, you know. Which is a shame, really, because otherwise Romeo's very good for me. Only three thousand and eight and quite a lote of climbing and kissing.

Alan: Sir Edwin, get stuffed.

Sir Edwin: I've enjoyed it.