Holby City's Guy Henry on the Noddy train, sprout-picking and love for the Forest
IF THE Noddy train at Hengistbury Head is ever resurrected do not be surprised if you find Holby City star Guy Henry behind the wheel.
As a teenager Guy spent a summer season as a train driver on the route and is now battling to save it.
The wooden train was replaced by a smaller seafront service after an accident in October, and its future is uncertain.
He said: “I’ve been trying to save it but they won’t listen. I want it saved. I think it is ridiculous, ridiculous, to scrap that train service. I love it.”
The Noddy train is just one strange job that Guy (58) who grew up in Highcliffe and Sway, did when he was a student at Brockenhurst College.
Among them was being a sprout picker on a farm in Lymington. Guy said: “I’ve done all kinds of weird and wonderful things but the Noddy train was the best.”
Although Guy, who plays director of surgery Henrik Hanssen in the BBC drama which he joined in 2010 moved to London to attend drama school when he was still a teenager, his local roots still run deep.
He was in Highcliffe last week in his role as president of the Highcliffe Charity Players and to see their version of the musical Soho Cinders, in which he played the role of the narrator.
Guy’s parents were founder members of the amateur dramatic group, for which he first trod the boards in one of their productions at the tender age of 11 at St Mark’s Hall, Highcliffe, in 1971.
He says proudly: “I was a footman in Cinderella. I appeared in a few after that. I was Thor of the Raven – King of the Dark – in Mother Goose. My voice had just broken so it was quite croaky, quite effective for the role, and I had very thin, long legs.
“My mother made me a very big, black cardboard beak and I had all these black and silvery feathers, it was very exciting. I was all evil, terribly good!
“Except one man said to me afterwards ‘Was that you with the croaky voice and the thin skinny legs?’. I said ‘Yes’ and he said ‘Oh God, I thought you were terribly old!’.
Guy laughs heartily. In Holby Henrik is a slightly menacing, frightening character - but in real life Guy is a great raconteur and very amusing.
He tells me of his role as Thor: “That was one of my great successes at Highcliffe Charity Players – or HCP as we call it. The group was always a fantastic thing to be part of, a great part of my growing up.
“I think my parents are delighted that the HCP is doing so well. I remember it was started in various people’s sitting rooms in Highcliffe, and I think they are proud of how successful it has become over the years.
“Who would have thought that it is still going nearly 50 years later! And it does a hell of a lot. When I go and see the shows I always notice there are so many young people who are members now.
"It gives people a great opportunity to explore, because not everybody can be an actor, not everyone gets the support I got from my parents, not everybody can face being saddled with a huge grant you have to pay back.
“Going to drama school is always unpopular with the authorities and the grant givers, despite the fact it is one of Britain’s most successful areas of expertise: the theatre, TV and film.”
His father Michael was an actor and for most of his showbiz career played the straight man to comedian Charlie Drake – who was Guy’s godfather.
Guy, who lives in South London, said: “Uncle Charles, that’s what I had to call him. He was quite a dark little soul like a lot of comedians, not quite what you saw on the telly and a lot brighter than the fool he played on there.
“I’ve never seen fame like it, though. When I was really young my dad and him had gone to play golf at the Barton-on-Sea golf club and by the time they got to the bar it was absolutely full of people waiting for him, and that wasn’t even at the height of his fame. He was a very funny bloke.”
Guy is very proud of his father, who is now 87 and living in Wimborne with his wife Diz (81) a former Royal Opera Ballet dancer. The two met during summer season when Michael was appearing in the Charlie Drake Show and Diz was a dancer for the Benny Hill Show. They married in 1959.
Guy’s father trained at London’s famous Italia Conti stage school and joined the Barry O’Brien repertory company where he encountered a man called David Claron.
Guy reveals: “They all thought ‘Who is that grumpy man in the corner who wants to be a writer?’. He was very moody, very difficult, and just sat there sulkily jotting things down. His real name was Howard Pinter so he didn’t do so badly, what a genius!”
Guy’s father had to give up his highly successful career with Charlie Drake to care for Diz when she became seriously ill in the 1960s.
Guy said: “He got a temporary job for an estate agency in New Milton, Harris and Partners, but always intended to go back to showbiz. He was going to work with the Ronnie Barker of his time, Arthur Haynes, but just when dad was about to start with him in panto in Blackpool, he died of a heart attack.
“So my dad was faced with ‘Should I try and hitch my star to another comic, be a straight actor, or be at home with wife and little boy?’.
“It was very difficult for him because once you’ve got the acting bug it is very difficult to let it go. But at the same time when I was young he was away nearly all the time, so he decided that he would put his family first and be at home with his wife and little boy,
“He made a very successful business life and helped to form the HCP, which I am very glad about.
“Estate agents get a very bad press, but they actually work hard. He eventually became a partner in John D Wood, managing their country house division in the south west.”
Although he thoroughly enjoyed his time with the HCP when Guy, who was educated at Homefield School, in Winkton, went to Brockenhurst College he had no intention of becoming an actor.
He said: “I studied English and biology because I thought I was going to be a farmer. Mainly I loved driving and I wanted to drive tractors.
“But then a new, exciting English teacher called Clive Marklew started and he was very keen on drama. It was the ’70s and we got this hut in the ground and painted it black with black drapes and one of the plays I did was Pinter’s A Night Out.
“My parents said “Okay, if you really want to have a go maybe this year just audition for one drama school and see how you get on.
“So I auditioned for RADA and to everyone’s surprise – including genuinely my own – I got in.”
Guy is very self-deprecating. Of his RADA days he tells me: “We were a dreadful term, nobody was very talented, I was considered completely hopeless!
“I just wasn’t very good, I was just very shy and inhibited. I was completely useless.”
He could not have been that bad as, after drama school, he went on to join the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. For the RSC he appeared in Hamlet, Twelfth Night. Henry VIII and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
His TV credits include Young Sherlock, Rumpole of the Bailey, Midsomer Murders and The IT Crowd.
He famously played Pius Thicknesse in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part I and II and his other film roles include Another Country, Bright Young Things and V for Vendetta.
Guy’s strangest film role was when he in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, providing the physical and vocal performance for Grand Moff Tarkin which with the use CGI special effects recreated the likeness of Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, for the character.
But it is the theatre that is his real love.
He said: “I don’t think you can get over that feeling of being the storyteller telling people sitting in the dark a story. Because that is essentially what acting is. People just love it and always have going back to when time began.”
Guy currently starring in the National Theatre’s Peter Gynt as the Devil.
He said: “I am thinner than usual as it is a very tiring show but absolutely brilliant. It is a modern version by David Hare. There is still the Mountain King and the trolls – who are like men from the Bullingdon Club.
“They are the Boris Johnsons of this world, horrible trolls, he is disgusting. Isn’t he a vicious, boorish oaf of a human being? I can’t believe that he is about to become our Prime Minister.
“There are modern parallels in the play like the fact that the nastiest troll-like people are in the Bullingdon Club and seek power – their motto is ‘To think own self be true and damn the rest of the world’.
Guy laughs then says: “I mustn’t get too political but it is a very depressing time.”
He tells me how he became president of the HCP.
“I was appearing on Celebrity Mastermind, of all things, and my specialist subject was my great hero Peter O’Toole. Afterwards I got an email from him saying 'I didn’t know the answer to those f***ing questions, no idea where I was at any given moment’.”
It was during the show that Guy mentioned how he had made his first acting appearances for the HCP. A member happened to be watching and the drama group got in touch with him to ask if he would be their president.
He said: “I was absolutely delighted. An ex-friend of mine once wrote to one of the papers saying ‘I don’t know why he is always described as Dorset-based actor, he’s never here, he’s always in London’.
“Well I’ve just driven from where my parents live in Wimborne, past all the places I remember driving my old Humber Sceptre when I was a teenager. We’d hurtle over for lunch at the Three Tuns at Bransgore for lunch then hurtle back to school.
“I spent many years of my life in Stuart Road at Highcliffe. My Aunt Amy’s house was Stuart Lodge, I had a lot of aunts, Minnie, Ethel and they all had houses in the area.
“My connection with Highcliffe is huge. I come down whenever I can and I love it. I love the New Forest, I wanted to buy a tiny bolt hole here but my financial bloke said I certainly wasn’t going to be doing that.
“But if I ever move out of London, I would make it my base.”
He was nervously looking forward to hearing his starring role in Soho Cinders, a musical set in London’s Soho about a young gay man who falls in love with his Prince Charming – a mayoral candidate who is engaged to his childhood sweetheart.
Guy was following in the footsteps of Stephen Fry who had narrated the play for a national tour. He said: “I kept wondering how Stephen would have done it and how brilliant he is with his voiceovers. I think the musical is absolutely great and I’m really looking forward to seeing it.
“I have never recorded a whole narration like this. I did say that perhaps on the night I should do it live, I’d be better live, but I think we all decided that would be far more trouble than it was worth!”.
In October he goes back to Holby City where he hopes his character, who has had to contend with his son having a mental breakdown and going on a shooting rampage through the hospital, has undergone a transformation, revealing: “I think he’s gone a bit soft, he’s had too much grief acting to do.
"The executive producer of Holby came to watch Peter Gynt and I told him that when I come back can we perhaps return him to the martinet, strict, unsentimental type he was, because he used to be so much more wittier and sharper.
“And the producer said, ‘Oh yes he will very severe again’, so he will be closed off again instead of sentimental.”
During a previous break in the TV drama – he took time off from 2013 to 2015 – he learnt to become a coach driver, a childhood dream of his.
He said: “When I was a pupil at Homefield School if the driver wasn’t in his seat, I would jump in it and pretend I was driving – I was a strange child let’s face it.
“So when I had a break from Holby City I thought I hadn’t done that- learn to be a coach driver – so I had better do it before it was too late.
“I went on a course and passed my test. I phoned up Westway of Wimbledon my local coach firm and said ‘have you got any jobs going?’
“When I walked in the main controller was a huge Holby City fan – so I don’t think they ever quite got over the surprise.
“But I did have to say to the passengers who recognised me ‘Don’t worry, I was never a qualified surgeon but I have passed my coach driving test, now sit down and put your seat belt on’.”
Guy says he enjoyed that job probably more than acting saying: “I never like anything I do much. I like it occasionally but you are your own worse critic. When you watch something back you are just thinking ‘I could have done that so much better’. Actors are a mixture of arrogance and insecurity.
“Although I think they are given a bad press, I’ve done a lot of other jobs, taxi driver, van delivery driver, and the public often dismiss actors as w*****s. I don’t think they are. They are very generous-spirited on the whole.”