• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

A man for all seasons

THERE is only one drawback to interviewing Kenneth Cranham, but it is not one to dismiss lightly.

FLYING HIGH: Kenneth Cranham is best remembered in television's Shine On Harvey Moon. Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty
FLYING HIGH: Kenneth Cranham is best remembered in television's Shine On Harvey Moon. Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty

He's engaging, funny, cultured, all those things that go into making someone a treat to meet. But before and after seeing him one falls victim to TTT, or Theme Tune Trauma.

For those of a certain age it is impossible to think of Cranham, now filming Maleficent with Angelina Jolie, without recalling Shine on Harvey Moon, the ITV comedy drama which ran for four series from 1982. (A fifth aired in 1995, but without Cranham.)

Written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (Love Hurts, Birds of a Feather), the series had as its theme tune Shine on Harvest Moon, a song that, once recalled, lingers in the mind for days. All together now: "Shine on, shine on harvest moon, up in the sky; I ain't had no lovin' since January, February, June or July ..."

The tale of a soldier returning from the Second World War to London's east end, and as Cockney as a wee cock sparra born inside a Bow bell, Shine on Harvey Moon (with Cranham as Harvey) regularly had viewing figures of more than 13 million, with the highest numbers in Scotland. Go figure, as they don't say in Stepney or Saltcoats.

"It was very popular in Scotland," says Cranham about the tale of mum, dad, mum-in-law, son and daughter. "I always thought it was because it was very like The Broons."

Cranham had particular reason to be delighted by the programme's Scottish welcome as he was born in Dunfermline in 1944 to a Scots mother, Margaret Mackay Ferguson. The family moved to Lochgelly when he was two then mum, dad (now back from the war for good), and Kenneth left for Essex, then London.

The 67-year-old was speaking in Edinburgh ahead of the film festival premiere of Flying Blind, a BBC Films co-production and his third movie this year after Maleficent and Suspension of Disbelief. Directed by Katarzyna Klimkiewicz, it's a British drama about an aviation scientist, played by Helen McCrory, who is engaged in secret state work when she finds herself the object of a foreign student's affections. Cranham, playing her father, is among those wondering if McCrory is doing the right thing in becoming friends with the stranger.

Now that Flying Blind has had its premiere, Cranham can turn his attention to Maleficent, a new take on the age-old tale of Sleeping Beauty. With Angelina Jolie in the title role, and Cranham as King Henry, the fantasy drama, out in 2014, also stars Miranda Richardson and Peter Capaldi.

While keen to get started, he was not looking forward to riding a horse. "Honestly, my life will start again once I've survived that. I will take off this overcoat of fear. The horses always know when they've got an idiot on their backs. They'll put up with it." When we speak he has yet to meet his co-star, Jolie. "I've seen her encampment of Winnebagos at Pinewood," he laughs.

Though his cv includes films – among them, Made in Dagenham, Valkyrie, Hot Fuzz and Layer Cake – it is heavier on theatre, television and radio. That morning, he had been in a studio in Leith to narrate a documentary about football.

"If you swap it about, do television, theatre, film, you can go on surprising yourself. The problem is you get employed to do something you've already done. They want something from that sheep pen of performances they've seen you do. Luckily, I've played good people, bad people, vicars, gangsters ..." The list goes on in a career that spans from 1967 (Ways with Words, a television series) to Maleficent.

In the theatre, he became best known for one role – Inspector Goole in An Inspector Calls. Stephen Daldry's Royal National Theatre production in 1992 was a groundbreaking, stylised reimagining of JB Priestley's 1945 work, complete with elaborate, mechanically engineered sets, including a collapsing house.

"It was a hard show. It was always a fight to survive against the production. I always felt like St George taking on the dragon, and that each time I did it I won out in the end. There was so much going on."

After a run in London, Cranham went with the play to Broadway, turning in 796 performances in total. I wonder how gruelling it is to be on stage night after night in such a part. Every stage actor who plays a big role never stops working on it, says Cranham. It's a way of keeping things fresh. "You create a blueprint of your best performance and you're happiest the night you surpass that blueprint. That won't happen that often but it will happen. It's like sculpting, you keep refining. When you have a piece that is yours, that is just you, that becomes obsessive, you think about it all the time."

Cranham can trace his love of cinema to Lochgelly, where he went to the town's two cinemas most nights. Otherwise, it was school that fed his hunger for acting. He went to a school that had teachers with an interest in the bold drama and radical literature of the time.

"I was fantastically well versed by the time I left school. I had a teacher who put A Clockwork Orange my way, and Catcher in the Rye."

From school he went to the National Youth Theatre and RADA. From Shakespeare to Pinter, from Orton to Chekhov, it would be quicker to list what Cranham hasn't done in the theatre or who he hasn't met. If he has any advice to young actors it is to look out for remarkable writing. "If you can, try not to get yourself manacled financially so that you have to do some terrible old rubbish early on. Try to get yourself a cv of decent stuff, some good writing. I was very lucky in that I was around for the right period. A lot of it is timing."

Of his two daughters, one, aged 18, says she would like to follow him into acting. With her dad in London, at least she won't have to go the traditional actors' route of living in awful digs while they learn their craft. "I'll look after her," says Cranham. He's certainly an example to follow when it comes to staying in work for nearly five decades. It's all a question of timing and keeping up with the changes, he says.

"You have to succeed as a young actor, then as a dad actor, those would be my Harvey Moon years, then as an old actor."

Which leads us back to Harvey Moon. It was a drama ahead of its time, says Cranham, showing parents who had separated and tensions within a family. Besides a strong cast, which included Elizabeth Spriggs as Harvey's mum and Linda Robson as his daughter, Harvey Moon had a lot of heart and a dash of politics besides. Cranham fondly recalls one of Harvey's speeches, on the glory of the NHS. No wonder Scotland took to it.

In case you're wondering, there are boxed sets available. Mind out for that Theme Tune Trauma, though.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

105975