Another terrifyingly good performance
Nov 2 2007 by Phil Key, Liverpool Daily Post
Philip Key talks to Terrence Hardiman – the demon headmaster himself – about his new role
ACTOR Terrence Hardiman scared a whole generation of children in the late 1990s, playing the title role in three series
of the television drama, The Demon Headmaster.
Next week in Liverpool, however, he will be trying to bring some light relief into one of the darkest plays in English
He is at the Liverpool Playhouse playing an asylum doctor in the comic sub-plot of The Changeling, the Jacobean tragedy
by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, full of bloody murder and lust.
The main story concerns a girl who hires a servant to murder her fiancé and falls into his evil clutches as a result; in
a second story, Hardiman is a jealous asylum doctor who fears – with some justification – that visitors will steal
his much younger wife.
It is certainly stronger meat than the Demon Headmaster, in which Hardiman played in extravagant fashion the head who hypnotised
people with a plan to take over the world.
Hardiman is not so certain it was the kids who were frightened by his character. “I sometimes thought it was the
children holding the hands of the parents who were hiding behind the sofas.”
The Demon Headmaster picked up regular audiences of 5m, “amazing for a tea-time show which they reckoned was an afternoon
drama for children. A lot of adults must have watched it.”
When he was sent the scripts, he recalls reading them in the garden and thinking they were great fun and he would love
to do them.
“The director wondered if I was happy to work with children.Some actors don’t like the idea of doing that,
but I said why not? If the children have been chosen properly and they can act a bit, there was no problem.
“It made a big difference to my career at the time and it’s nice to be in a successful series rather than a
flop. It was just amazing because you never know in advance that these things are going to happen.”
He would have local youngsters knocking on his door asking “Is this where the demon headmaster lives?” and
the role gave him four seasons in pantomime.
He was not concerned about being typecast either. “I am more concerned about being cast at all.” In fact, London-born
Hardiman has been kept pretty busy in a career which began with ten years as a classical actor, first with the Old Vic and
later at the Royal Shakespeare Company. “Looking back, I feel sorry for the audiences because I must have been pretty
awful. But that’s how we got our chance to learn.”
He has happily moved between theatre and television.
“The first television I did was Softly, Softly, which was a little ironic as my father was a policeman. He gave me
a few tips on things like how to hold a truncheon. He was a bit upset that I went straight in and played an inspector, which
he never became.”
Hardiman, 70, has appeared in most of the classic television series and made his mark with regular appearances in Secret
Army as Major Reinhardt, head of the Luftwaffe police and later as Abbot Radulfus, Brother Cadfael’s superior in Cadfael.
He was last on Merseyside doing the television series Court Room, in which he played a judge. “At my age, what else
could I play? I don’t look like an old tramp, so I have to play judges. But I have progressed. Some years ago I was
in Crown Court for Granada, but then I was just a barrister.”
There has also been a lot of stage work over the years.
Earlier this year, he played his first role with English Touring Theatre, the company bringing The Changeling to Liverpool.
That play was the frothy comedy French Without Tears. “The Changeling is very different, you could not get any more
different,” he says.
Two writers worked on the play first staged in 1622, Middleton writing the tragic main tale, Rowley the comic sub-plot.
“In fact, Rowley played Lollio, the doctor’s manservant.”
Hardiman is Alibius, the man running the asylum who has to cope with two young men pretending to be mad in order to steal
his wife, Isabella.
“I am terrified of losing my young wife,” Hardiman explains. “I know people come to the asylum not just
to visit the mentally sick but to get my wife, at least that’s what I fear.
“In a way, my story is also a comment on the main story.” In that, Anna Koval plays the twisted Beatrice who
organises the murder of her betrothed in order to wed another.
The set is rather like a Victorian tenement.
“Some people have questioned the anachronism of things like an Exit sign and lights that switch on and off in a Jacobean
tragedy, but that was a conscious thing to get this mixture of Jacobean and Victorian with that same ghastly mood.”
But is his character sympathetic? “Well, all actors are meant to say their character is sympathetic, but in fact
he’s a silly old fool.”
While the play throughout is dark in mood, Hardiman suggests there are some dark comic tones. “I can imagine people
in the audience at the time sitting down or standing up and having a good laugh at some of the horrible, bloody things that
Hardiman himself counts himself lucky in his career, “lucky that I have survived this long in the business and lucky
at the same time to have had a decent family life.”
He is married to the actress Rowena Cooper, who has been appearing in the West End in the melodrama Gaslight, and they
have a grown-up son and daughter, neither of whom followed them onto the stage.
His son did appear at age 12 at the National Theatre, in Lark Rise. “He did a couple of radio plays after that and
then retired from the business saying he had had enough of it. We were very happy.” He is now an artist in Ireland.
In The Changeling, Hardiman is appearing with a cast who are mostly much younger than himself and he is happy about that
and not worried about the young competition.
“I am not going to take their parts at my age and they aren't taking mine. It’s not like the old repertory
days when you were expected to play old parts as well. In a way I feel sorry for young actors these days who don't get the
opportunities we once had.”
THE Change- ling opens at the Liverpool Playhouse on Tuesday, and runs until November 6