On the sofa with Davros, lord of Daleks
Actors would give their eye-teeth for pivotal roles in The Archers and Dr Who.
Actors would give their eye-teeth for pivotal roles in The Archers and Dr Who. Terry Molloy tells Steven Russell how he landed both - and how he's come to love East Anglia
I'M sharing a tatty sofa with Davros, mad scientist and creator of the Daleks - Dr Who's most amoral and persistent enemies. Only he's eating cheese-and-tomato sandwiches, complete with home-made bread, rather than plotting which universe to grind into dust. A few metres away there's a noisy scuffle in a railway luggage-car: bangs and the odd gurgling scream puncturing the late-lunchtime calm. Life doesn't get much more surreal. Strictly speaking, chameleon-like actor Terry Molloy isn't playing the one-armed, shrivelled-walnut-headed megalomaniac from Skaro today. Nor is he Mike Tucker, the Ambridge regular he's voiced in The Archers radio soap since 1973. This afternoon he's rehearsing for his latest role: the villainous Dr Egon Hartz in a touring production of The Lady Vanishes - adapted from Ethel Lina White's novel The Wheel Spins and a story made famous by Alfred Hitchcock's 1938 film. That locomotive luggage-car is, of course, a stage-set.
For East Anglian-based Terry, stage work is a pure joy, “because as an actor you are charging up your creative batteries with an audience, which you don't get with television or the radio”. That said, he loves the variety of switching between TV work, radio and theatre, and enjoys each discipline for its own challenges and rewards.
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“I flit between the three, which is lovely, and I consider myself fortunate to be able to,” says Terry, who is also Italian innkeeper Salvatore in the comedy-thriller ensemble piece. “Radio I'd say is my favourite medium: I can do most in radio, because it doesn't matter what I look like! I can play a 15-year-old punk or a 90-year-old West Indian. It's about how you create the character and paint that picture for the audience's mind.”
We join Terry and the rest of the cast during the second week of rehearsals in a nondescript industrial unit in Southwold. It's perishing cold but the welcome is warm and there's that magical behind-the-scenes atmosphere special to the theatre world. A hot mug of tea and an old but serviceable armchair is all one needs.
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The actor's best known as Mike Tucker, the milk-roundsman in The Archers who's never been Ambridge's cheeriest soul. Mind you, he's had more than his fair share of knocks: bankruptcy, depression, the loss of an eye. Worse was the death of wife Betty in 2005.
The outlook's brightened recently after a whirlwind romance with and marriage to Vicky, who believes life's for living but sometimes lacks a bit of sensitivity.
It was nearly 37 years ago that Terry was summoned to Ambridge. He'd been recommended by a radio producer with whom he'd done some work at Pebble Mill. “They had actually cast Mike - I didn't know the actor's name - and recorded one episode with this guy, who then went off to join radio rep and so was not going to be available. So they had me into the studio, and I did a scene with Dan and Doris - at the end of which they said 'That's fine . . . Can you start on Monday? And your fee will be 12 guineas.'
“When I came into it, I was told it was going to be for five weeks - and he's still hanging in there! Mike originally came as a herd manager for Brookfield Farm. He was a very strong union man. In fact, we got a telegram from the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers in Bolton, who'd sat down and passed a motion wishing to send a telegram congratulating Mike Tucker for setting up a branch in Ambridge!
“For me, Mike is an honest son of the soil who suffers fools with no gladness whatsoever, and opens his mouth only to change feet. It's as simple as that, really. He's a bit of a male chauvinist. He always believes he's got his women sorted, but, as any man knows, any woman will run the man. Betty did it in her own way and now Vicky is doing it her way.”
A month's worth of Archers episodes is recorded in Birmingham over about a week, but cast members are not on contracts; they're simply engaged when needed. The future for any character is thus somewhat unpredictable. Actors can have a long and involved storyline, then go months without featuring much at all. “He could fall under a combine harvester in the interim. You just don't know,” jokes Terry about his alter ego.
How might Terry imagine himself getting on with a flesh-and-blood Mike? He's a bit frustrating and wimpy, isn't he?
“No! You put a pint down there and try and get to it first! Mike, he's a gentle soul underneath a very rugged exterior. He sees things in black and white; he doesn't see a lot of the greys. But he knows which way he wants to go, and he will follow that road. He's mellowed a lot in his older years; he does back off from big confrontations. We've seen that a couple of times with Vicky.
“So . . . god, I like Mike! Of course I do! Part of him is me, after all. You've got to bring something of yourself into it. I certainly admire his forthright honesty in dealing with things - which isn't rudeness, but comes across as rude, sometimes, because, as I say, he just opens his mouth to change feet. He just doesn't think. But there's no malice in him; which is what I love.”
The son of an RAF wing commander, Terry was born in 1947 and has Geordie roots. He studied music and drama at Liverpool in the mid-1960s, admitting much of his time was spent in a soul band that occasionally played at the famous Cavern Club.
Then came rep and touring theatre, including the 1977 national tour of Godspell. His long, long CV features TV shows such as Hollyoaks, Doctors, the Jasper Carrot sit-com All About Me and Byker Grove, while film credits include Truly, Madly, Deeply. He was also a member of Jeremy Beadle's hit-squad: a team of pranksters in Beadle's About.
Terry had an ear for accents from an early age. He spent time in Aden as a child, because of his dad's role with the RAF. His mother worked for Aden Forces Broadcasting Association and the station used to get all The Goon Show transcription discs, ready for broadcasting. “I used to listen to them, memorise the entire thing and do all the voices.
“My mother was on the stage - in variety - so there's an element of that in the genes. For me, dialect is a bit like music: if you're any good at music, you can hear the music in the dialect.”
Norfolk has been home for about a decade - the happy result of meeting wife-to-be Victoria in 1999 at an Archers convention! “She wasn't actually the addict; it was her daughter, who took her away for a surprise weekend and turned up at this hotel in Torquay where we were doing a convention for about 300 fans. We basically met there, sat on the lawn outside the hotel for virtually the entire night, watching the sun begin to come up over Torquay, and that was the beginning.
“Bizarrely, it was a hotel that looked exactly the same as Fawlty Towers on the outside! About six months later I left Birmingham and moved to Norfolk.” Victoria had lived in Ipswich and worked for BT, then pursued a new career and went to the University of East Anglia.
Oddly enough, Terry's first professional engagement had been at a little school somewhere outside Cromer with a touring children's theatre company in September, 1968.
Having spent about 30 years in Birmingham, and missed the coast, he now loves being so close to the sea.
Terry, who lives just outside Norwich at Bawburgh, has three grown-up children. One, Philip, is also a regular in The Archers, playing William Grundy.
Why does Terry enjoy the actor's life?
“I've basically got a thirst for insecurity! Because no two days are the same. I suppose I've got a very low boredom threshold. I'd hate to be in an office all the time and know that's where I'll be forever. I've had the opportunity in my career to be lots of different people in lots of different situations and in lots of different times. And get paid for it - which I always think is amazing. I'm still waiting for people to suss that I can't do it!”
“Doing what I've always done, basically. My mum once said to me 'Do you want to be a star?' I don't know what a star is . . . someone who sits around and does one script a year? I said I just wanted to be a working actor: like Bernard Hepton and Leonard Rossiter - people I admired. Character actors. If it's an interesting project, I'll do it.
“I spent a lot of last year playing Charles Darwin in a play called Re:Design and that was fascinating.
I never plan my career. I basically sit around . . . a lazy swine! I'd rather sit with the dogs on the beach at Holkham and watch the sun go down.”
Hmmm, not convinced.
By the way, does he have any inkling about Mike Tucker and the livewire Vicky in The Archers? I suspect there may be trouble ahead.
“Yes, I do have an idea, but if I told you I'd have to kill you!”
Any chance of trying that again, in Davros's voice? It would sound so good . . .
'That black food-colouring was revolting!'
AS well as Mike Tucker in The Archers, Terry Molloy will be forever linked to Davros - inventor of the Daleks in Dr Who. As with the Ambridge dairy-man, his involvement with the brilliant but psychopathic scientist from Skaro took on a life of its own.
Davros, created by Terry Nation, made his bow in 1975's Genesis of the Daleks. Skaro's inhabitants had been involved in a long war and he was scarred - left with only a single working arm and one eye in the middle of his forehead. Having created the Daleks as his army, Davros believed he could rule the universe.
The first actor to breathe life into him - not without some difficulty, thanks to the heavy latex mask -
was Michael Wisher.
Terry's involvement came in the 1980s, through a director he'd been working with on a TVS series called Radio Phoenix. “I was playing this twit of a DJ - a cross between Tony Blackburn and Mike Read - and he was then going on to do Dr Who. Mike Wisher wasn't available, because they changed the recording dates, so they rang me up.
“I just thought it was a one-off, but they kept coming back! I did it with (Doctors) Peter Davison, Colin Baker and then Sylvester McCoy. Since then I've done (audio book) work with Big Finish, right through to a couple of years ago.”
Terry's TV role of honour, Davros-wise, runs: 1983, Resurrection of the Daleks; 1985, Revelation of the Daleks; 1989, Remembrance of the Daleks.
“I took Mike's characterisation as the base and I basically worked on the voice. Nowadays they've got all these wonderful prosthetics; then, you had a giant foam-rubber mask that didn't really move! You had to work hard behind it to get any movement on the outside. So, like radio, you have to create the character with your voice. Then we started to look at it and move slightly from the original concept of a 'Hitler in space' into other areas of his character.”
Pulling on a rubber mask wasn't the only sacrifice Terry had to make for his art. The Davros look featured black teeth and tongue, achieved with food-colouring. “It took a while to get rid of and tasted revolting. I wouldn't recommend it!”
After an absence of about two decades, Davros was back in 2008, alongside new Doctor
David Tennant and mouthy companion Catherine Tate. Playing the evil one this time around was Julian Bleach.
“I'd have love to have done it, just to square the circle, but I don't own the character,” smiles Terry. “I took it over from Michael Wisher, and it was theirs to give to whoever they wanted. I can't grumble.”
Terry actually missed the screen return of Davros because he was on an Archers-themed cruise to Norway! But, overall, he feels the whole team has done a wonderful job of bridging the gap between the classic Dr Who years and the modern series.
“I'll be fascinated to see what Steven Moffat makes of it.” (He's succeeded Russell T Davies as lead writer and executive producer.) “I was being interviewed and said my all-time favourite episodes were Dalek, The Empty Child, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink and Silence in the Library. They said 'Do you realise they're all Steven Moffat's, apart from Dalek?' I didn't, because I don't pay that much attention! But for me those episodes encapsulate what 'old Who' was about. They had a darkness: an 'unfinished' quality to the darkness. It wasn't 'Lots of people and look at this and we've tied up all the ends.' Dr Who's not about tying up all the ends; he's an unresolved character, and he has to be retained as such.”
A man for all seasons
Terry Molloy's TV credits include
2009: as Eric Clapton in Harry Hill's TV Burp!; Casualty
Earlier: Byker Grove, Hollyoaks, Doctors, Dangerfield, The Bill, Bergerac, Beadle's About
Stage roles include: Charles Darwin, Re:Design; Dick Whittington, Theatre Royal, Norwich; A Chorus of Disapproval; Godspell; Under Milk Wood; Death of a Salesman
Radio: more than 500 plays, as well as poetry and prose programmes, plus commercial voice-overs
In 1981 won the Pye Radio Award (forerunner to the Sony) as best actor in Risky City on Radio 3
A vast collection of audio books, including many as the voice of Davros
Where to see the lady vanishing
After Hull, Winchester, Newcastle and Poole, The Lady Vanishes is at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford (01245 606505) from March 4-6 and the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds (01284 769505) from March 25-27.
Theatre company: www.triodeproductions.co.uk