Interview with Morris Perry
In September 1998, Ray Armfield, Chris Barker and Lynne Sweetman interviewed Survivors Mad Dog actor Morris Perry, whilst he was appearing in The Merchant of Venice and The Honest Whore at the prestigious Globe Theatre in London. The interview took place in the elegantly appointed theatre restaurant during a production lunch break.
Morris Perry: What year was it [Mad Dog] made?
Ray: It was filmed in February '77 [actually, January and March].
Morris Perry: Oh, well — around that period I did quite a lot of telly. So you're sort of known by people. It depends. Tristan de Vere Cole was the director and I'm not sure if I went for an interview or not — I think I did.
Lynne: You worked with Terry Dudley in Doomwatch. I wondered if it was because of the Doomwatch connection.
Morris Perry: You mean my Doomwatch was also done by him, was it?
Morris Perry: Good Lord! How these things escape your memory. I could have sworn [Mad Dog] was the only thing I did with him. Indeed, one might have led to the other, yes. I did Sweeneys around that time, and I had done three series of Special Branch, which finished in '71. So it was a kind of period when I was doing quite a lot of telly. So people know you.
Ray: Would you have had much input into Fenton's character? He was very much a sort of morbid, type loner guy. Did you say 'I want to make him like this', or were you given the script of how he was going to be?
Morris Perry: I think I was told the story, and I kind of worked it out from there. I might well have done what you say, but I don't remember doing it.
Ray: The main thing about Fenton was that he had rabies. Did you think 'how shall I play him?'
Morris Perry: Yes. Tristan asked me to read a book — oh, it's one of those books everyone knows about, but I can't remember the title. [The Story of San Michele]. There's a passage in it about rabies and the effects on a human being. So I read that, and I did a bit of research elsewhere. Except that it's dangerous and makes you froth at the mouth, I know very little [about the disease].
Ray: There's a story going 'round that you used egg white and cold custard [for the scenes where Fenton froths at the mouth].
Morris Perry: Yes, certainly — I'm sure we finished with some egg white in the mixture and I also remember custard being involved, yes.
Lynne: Had you ever watched the series before?
Morris Perry: No. It was completely new to me. Thereafter I did watch some, but not very many, and I was rather agreeably surprised. I thought it was rather nice, rather good story.
Lynne: Were you a skilled horseman?
Morris Perry: No! When I get a riding part, I usually kind of brush up a bit. I haven't done much riding since. They're dangerous creatures — the less you have to do with them the better. Bernard Kay [Sanders] — have you spoken to him yet? No? He'd been doing quite a lot of riding, and he had to jump a small wall at one point. I remember that was quite an occasion on the location. Very nice fellow, actually.
Ray: Would you like to have stayed in the series? Fenton, the character, was killed off — would you like to have stayed in it if there'd been a chance?
Morris Perry: I would think so, yes. I found it very agreeable. I was only involved in the location work, of course. I can't remember how many days that was. Two or three, was it? You don't know?
Ray: It was very cold, wasn't it, up there? Some things had to be re-shot at a later date — the cameras froze up or something.
Morris Perry: Yes, I think we had some snow, didn't we? There was a scene where I was talking to someone, [Denis Lill, as Charles] riding across a field, and that was very cold on the hands and feet.
Ray: Would you have had to wear several layers of clothing during those scenes — blizzard weather, February [January, in fact] in Derbyshire?
Morris Perry: I'm sure they kept you reasonably warm, you know. They usually have blankets standing by for that kind of thing. There are members of the crew who dash after you as soon as you've stopped filming and throw things over you — and your horse! - and then take them away again before you're on to the next take. I'm very good at things like knowing my lines, so my takes are usually limited.
Lynne: [Mad Dog director] Tristan said that a lot of the work had to be cut because it was considered to be too horrific by the BBC. The series went out about 8 o'clock in the evening.
Morris Perry: I don't remember them reshooting my bit. Did Tristan think they did? The bit where I was mostly doing my foaming at the mouth? I remember the roads were not all that agreeable.
Chris: Have you ever had such a bizarre job since?
Morris Perry: I played an ape once — for the Scottish Theatre Company, so that's a bit extreme, isn't it? We had to eat bits of a young baboon. We were playing chimpanzees — so you had bits of mock liver floating about the stage, that kind of thing.
Lynne: Earlier this year , we went to see where Mad Dog was shot at Air Cottage [and] in Monsal Dale. You had to stand on this wall [behind the cottage] and foam. When we went 'round, we saw this sheer drop [below]. We wondered if they did stand you on this wall with the steep drop?
Morris Perry: It's quite a wide wall isn't it? And in those days they weren't so obsessed with ['safety' issues] — nowadays, you can hardly work, because they won't let you climb ladders or anything, you know, because they're afraid of having to pay money if you fall. Dennis Lill was very agreeable, and charming. Again, I have a thing about stories — I forget them very quickly.
Ray: Have you worked with any of the cast or crew since?
Morris Perry: I would only have met the people who were connected with those scenes. Bernard Kay I had known for years.
Lynne: If there was a catastrophe today — like the storyline in Survivors — would you want to be a survivor, and do you think you'd make a good one?
Morris Perry: Well I'm very old for it, I have to say that! I suspect I would have some advantages. I'm patient and phlegmatic, I think that would be right to say: I don't panic easily; I would rely on other people for the technology though. That's not a strong point of mine. When I have problems at home, I call on my third son who only has to look at something to know how it works. But the main thing is to get people around you.
Lynne: [Mad Dog] is remembered as one of the best episodes
Ray: It would certainly be in most people's top three.
Morris Perry: Really? Well, I enjoyed making it very much. What is Tristan doing? I mean he's retired, presumably. Haven't heard from him in a long time.
Lynne: No, he's not retired.
Morris Perry: Really? Well I haven't seen him since then, so he's obviously not a very eager fan of me in that respect! Considering we spend half our time out of work waiting for the next job to come, you know.
Lynne: Do you have any memories of [Survivors producer] Terry Dudley?
Morris Perry: Not on that series. But I worked with him quite a bit elsewhere, actually. Of course he was quite a stalwart at Thames Television. Terry was quite a good director — quite a 'soft man', is how I think of him.
Chris: Which medium do you prefer?
Morris Perry: There's no doubt the theatre is much more interesting, most of the time. But you never achieve what you want, and that is very frustrating. The trouble is, as an actor, you'll sometimes spend hours and hours looking for work and researching and 'phoning people up and something comes out of the blue which you haven't anticipated at all. Thank God! It rather puts the damper on your enterprise. After a bit, of course, I get my old age pension and free travel on the bus pass. Twenty five years ago, was it?
Ray: Twenty one [in 1998].
Morris Perry: So I was fifty two, was I? About that — I suppose my hair isn't quite white in that; or is it? Pretty well? The first time I realise I had white hair was when I went to a show at Hornchurch, and they said "give him a wig of his own colour" and this young stage manager-type person looked at me and said: "white"! You see I used to have blond hair, and it sort of goes white without you noticing it.
Lynne: Did the make up [on Mad Dog] take very long, can you remember?
Morris Perry: I remember there was a lot of fuss about it, wondering if it was going to work or not. The make-up girl might have been a bit difficult I don't remember it as being an ordeal.
Lynne: It was certainly very effective. The photograph you lent us was quite marvellous.
Morris Perry: Oh yes, that was taken by Denis Lill at the time.
Lynne: A photocopy of it about this size [ — demonstrating — ] it's on the wall, frightening my grandchildren!
Morris Perry: [Laughs] Well, there's fame for you! Great days, great days!
Thus the interview was concluded with this scholarly actor. Many thanks to Morris for his time and courtesy, and we hope to see him on our screens again before too long.
Many thanks to all those involved with the original interview. Photographs of Morris Perry are courtesy of Lynne Sweetman and the Survivors Newsletter.
To read a brief interview with Morris Perry, discussing his 1998 performances at The Globe, see here.
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