At 73, actor Christopher Timothy could be forgiven for taking it easy. Nothing could be further from the truth as Katherine MacAlister finds out
Christopher Timothy is still hard at it. About to open in Hitchcock classic Dial M For Murder, he’s been in endless successful plays since we last spoke on the advent of his appearance in Anne Frank at the Oxford Playhouse.
Throw in some voiceovers and an episode of Casualty and you’ll see that his work ethic and popularity show no sign of abating. And yet, without wanting to put too fine a point on it, he could be taking life a bit easier at the ripe old age of 73. “Nonsense,” he laughs, “but then actors never retire do they, and anyway I need to keep working financially and for my own sanity.”
With seven children under his belt and four grandchildren, one of whom he’s looking after when we speak, he’s certainly got his work cut out for him. And although perhaps not as famous as his glory days in TV great All Creatures Great and Small, he’s happier work-wise than ever. “Young men always want to play heroes, but when you get older you realise that baddies are much more interesting characters,” he says.
And detectives? I’ve only played one once before in a series called Murder Most English which was on BBC2 years ago,” he smiles. “But even as a boy I remember thinking that the detective in Dial M For Murder was the best part. It was rousing even then and very atmospheric.”
Having watched the classic thriller at least 20 times on the big screen Christopher Timothy is well versed in his latest theatrical incarnation. “Yes, the only thing I do differently is play the policeman as slightly less posh. “No disrespect to them but I’ve never met a public school one. They tend to be bright grammar school boys don’t they?”
As for the stage version the septuagenarian says: “I’m feeling good about it and enjoying it. “But then Frederick Knott wrote the script meticulously and this is very faithful to the film or the other way around. “So it’s set in the 1950s, all raincoats and hats, but I can’t say more than that because I don’t want to give anything away. All I can say is that although its suspenseful it’s not a whodunnit, but more of a will-he-get-away-with-it.”
With Graham Greene’s Living Room and Pinter’s Hot House, both in the West End, under his belt between Oxford visits, Christopher Timothy is used to living out of a suitcase and has touring down to a fine art. I’m used to being on the road, although it doesn’t have quite the attraction it had when I was younger. There’s still nothing like waking up in your own bed. But it will be good to catch up with old mates. I’ve done enough sight-seeing to last me a life-time, so I will read and go to the pictures on a wet afternoon. What more can a man ask for?”
With a granddaughter at Oxford University already texting him about a night out, it looks like he’ll have his hands full. “I have four grandchildren and I love being a grandparent. To be honest I wasn’t around much when my first family were teenagers because our marriage had broken down by then. So while I heard about what was going on and was there for high days and holidays I didn’t have to live with it as much,” he says frankly.
“In fact they asked me if I preferred being a parent second time around, which I knew was a leading and dangerous question, but I was honest and said ‘yes because I was older and knew what I was doing, so I was better at it now’. I hope that’s true.
“So yes, it is tricky having a family life in this business but thousands of actors manage it, and thank God I’m still working.”
Dial M for Murder is at Oxford Playhouse from Tuesday until Saturday, March 1. Call the box office on 01865 305305 or see oxfordplayhouse.com