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Former Doctor Who star Paul McGann

McGann On Class Divide: No Money, No RADA For “likes of me”

Treading perilously close to becoming one of the ‘old hams’ he rallied against as a young actor, Paul McGann has attacked the BBC for become less vital.

In a lengthy interview discussing the modern adaptation of Chekov’s Three Sisters (one of those Russian plays that are “…always full of women staring out of windows, whining about ducks going to Moscow…”) at the London’s Southwark Playhouse with The Independent, the Eighth Doctor himself bemoaned the lack of support for real drama; recalling the days when sterling writers such as Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective) and Alan Bleasdale (The Monocled Mutineer which featured McGann) could shake the powers that be during a time of increased Tory scrutiny at the Beeb:

They were mad days. The unions and the left were doing their thing, Mrs Thatcher was in power, it was all crazy. The BBC in particular was getting a lot of stick from the Tories. It was the second or third time Mrs Thatcher had a go at them. She went for the Today programme as well.

What especially riled the Tories were the adverts for The Monocled Mutineer, showing McGann, and a statement claiming it to be historical fact – the drama, which has never been rebroadcast was accused of rewriting history and displaying left-wing bias -which turned out to be wrong.

Those ads weren’t the BBC’s finest. Overall, I was amazed and amused by it. I was just a kid, really, but I felt very relevant… [it was] the same old, same old from a Conservative government about perceived political bias…

Looking around at his chosen profession nowadays, The Withnail & I star has so little hope for any actor born on the wrong side of the class divide that he couldn’t imagine himself getting the break that he had:

…the class divide is even stronger today. I wouldn’t get a start today. There’d be no grant money, no place at RADA for the likes of me… by definition, we’re denying openings to generations, to the children of half of the population; we’re denying chances for all that talent to flourish. Me, my brothers [he’s got three brothers, all of them actors], we would struggle to get started. It’s 10 times harder today. We’re denying so much hope to so many people.

But it’s not all destitute actors; he also talks about Withnail & I and its enduring, prescient appeal:

Because there is something believable about it. Everybody knows someone like that, or they’ve met a fantastically talented person who turns out to be a waster or they’ve lived like that, in a shit hole away from home. Fundamentally, it’s about being students, which a lot of people can relate to.

For more on McGann’s thoughts on Chekov, the Beeb and Withnail’s legacy head over to The Independent.


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