A life in the day
26 September 2002
I like to wake early. My yogi (Buddhist teacher) tells me that the morning is when the gates of the body and the gates of the soul are open as one. I don't know about that, but I certainly feel a lot more vital if I get up at six and spend an hour and a half stretching and breathing than if I sleep in until 7:30.
My wife, Catherine, is just the reverse, and is often still asleep when I take Abigail and Oliver to school. She's a writer, and doesn't really understand the hours we actors have to keep! In a sense, it's hardly surprising - when we first married, I was "resting" (unemployed) and she was supporting us writing recipes for Woman's Own. I swear, her cooking hasn't changed a bit since 1976!
She often sleeps in the spare room. Because of my yoga. The children understand.
After the school run, it's straight over to the set - fortuitously, a fairly short zip around the back streets. I've seen how some of the younger actors, who travel in by tube, are; it takes them take after take just to train the anger out and get into character. Still, frustrating as it may be, it's great to have the chance to work with some of the brightest new stars in the BBC Choice firmament. The talent here is just incredible; I just feel honoured that I'm watching them grow.
There's a terrific buzz around the set. Partly it's all the fresh faces - Yolanda (Jenkins, 18, who plays Soozie Howard) in particular is full of beans. But also there's a real feeling that we're doing something important. Something for the future.
Everyone remembers Howard's Way. And I'm not too proud to hope that some part of the immortality that great actors like Maurice Colbourne and Jan Harvey achieved might just rub off on a humble toiling thespian like Dan Hauser.
We're already shooting the final episode, but you won't see it for another three months, and in fact half of us haven't even seen the script for the middle four episodes - that's what make "tellydram" so much more challenging than stage acting! It certainly was a strange coincidence to discover that the Rolfe boatyard set was built on an old Saxon boathouse, but the nation's gain is Auntie's loss! Sad, really, when so few people are going to trek out here, compared to the many whose enjoyment of episodes seven through ten may be endangered by zoning regulations. Still, Maxie (Prevet, director) has been terrific, and he's really taken the new bugs - and some of us not-so-old bugs! - in hand. Never too old to stop learning, I say, even if my wife may not agree!
Maxie really is a trooper - it's great to work with such an old pro. When that stink kicked up about the Radio Times' "Name the New Howard's Way" competition. "Darlings," I remember him saying, sucking on that funny old pipe, "Howard's Way Two? Howard's way too what? Old? Bleep-bleep rubbish? Badly scripted? Too much of a hostage to fortune. Never let the bleeps at the Grauniad see your belly, I always say."
I caught Yolanda (Jenkins, 18) laughing out of the corner of my eye, fit to raise the roof. He's a funny old stager. Even said the bleeps, natural as daybreak.
So, a lot of the braver decisions on Howard's Way Back - Gareth (Thomas, who plays Peter Rolfe, long-lost brother of Jack) says it's a good omen that it's so much like the name of the first episode of Blake's Seven, and who are we to argue with a veteran like that? - will rest on his shoulders. Having Claude come back as a cyborg....well, that risks alienating a lot of the first show's fans, but we do have to reach out to the younger constituency. It's amazing what they'll go for if you just treat them like adults.
My character is very much a swashbuckler; an adventurer in the Charles Frere mode. I don't want to spoil anything for the folks at home, but you might expect romance - and even I don't know who's the lucky (?!) woman! Or man! You just never know with Howard's Way Back! I do have a few ideas, though; we'll probably get a lot of letters about how I'm old enough to be her father, but older men with power and money can be very attractive, and we'll just be reflecting that reality. Not everyone in boatbuilding is an angel, after all!
Besides, my daughter's 15. It's completely different.
We begin shooting with a readthrough, then blocking rehearsals, and then we really get our teeth into the filming - due to time and budget, we're really working without a safety net, and it's always a great laugh to watch some of the little mistakes Joe public never notices. Like when people are talking to Jack (the late Glyn Owen, who played curmudgeonly boatbuilder Jack Rolfe, is added by CGI in post-production) and facing the wrong way. And every so often there's a real classic for the bloopers reel - the filthy mouths us actors have! We can be very naughty.
After a few celebratory drinks - just mineral water, of course - with the boys and girls, I'm often home after Catherine has "hit the hay". All that creativity is tiring work - and I should know! So it's off to the spare bedroom - plenty of time to catch up together when filming ends - for a quick breathing exercise, and then to sleep. Because every morning's a big morning on Howard's Way Back.
Howard's Way Back will be appearing on BBC Choice, every Sunday at 6.15pm, from January 5th.