Controversial Devon filmmaker Peter Richardson on upcoming Brexit movie and which county location he’d demolish
PUBLISHED: 16:27 17 May 2018 | UPDATED: 16:27 17 May 2018
DAVID FITZGERALD talks to the man who has never left Devon far from his view during a wide-ranging and controversial career in film
Peter Richardson is an actor, director, writer, but above all Devonian and defender of the Totnes traffic system. He is the man who gave us the Comic Strip and launched the careers of French and Saunders, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson and helped win the legal battle over the one-way street changes in his home town.
He has never shied away from confrontation and admits that trouble has followed him even when making films.
“I have made most of my films here in the county, using all sorts of locations,” he says. “I have returned to Hope Cove several times – in fact my first film, Supergrass, was shot there.
“I chose Dartmoor and a farmhouse by the River Dart for another Comic Strip feature, Queen of the Wild Frontier, where two prisoners escape into the hands of a pair of sex starved sisters.
“Plymouth has been the backdrop to Churchill The Hollywood Years starring Christian Slater and the 2011 film, The Hunt for Tony Blair used the city and Torquay.
“The phone hacking spoof, Red Top, starring Maxine Peake and Nigel Planer also came back to Plymouth where we used the city council building, which has been preserved for some reason!
“I remember getting into terrible trouble in a magazine article when I was asked if there was one building I could demolish, which one would it be. I said…Plymouth. I did have the council building in mind, honest.”
I ask Peter if he always wanted to become an actor. “I was spoiled by my mother; she told me that I could become anything so I went to London to become a star, as you do. So I left Newton Abbot Station when I was 17 to audition for Forty Years On, a play starring Sir John Gielgud and Paul Eddington.
“Needless to say, I didn’t get far but they suggested that I get some experience and representation. So I was given the number of The Eric Blythe Agency and I was always told to ask for the man at the top.
“I phoned and a gruff voice answered… ‘Eric Blythe Agency’. ‘May I speak to Eric Blythe please’ was my forceful enquiry. The voice answered that it would be difficult as he has been dead for three years. Not a good start! I did however get the part in Forty Years On at a later date.”
The Comic Strip team did lose a huge part of its life in 2014 with the death of Rik Mayall, a tragedy which still affects Peter. “The death of Rik was a huge shock. I still can’t believe he has gone – he was only 56.
“He had been suffering from seizures from that dreadful quad bike crash. He was much loved. He was in Plymouth hospital after the accident on the farm. We were all beside the bed when he opened his eyes.
“The nurse standing beside the bed asked how he was feeling. Rik just reached up and grabbed a load of pens from her uniform pocket and started to look around for some paper. He thought she wanted an autograph.
The nurse said that she would love one but maybe not quite at the moment when he was coming out of a coma.”
I tell Peter that his film The Pope Must Die is still the funniest thing I have ever seen.
“Thank you, setting fire to Ade Edmondson made me laugh. It was shot in Croatia, the building that was supposed to be The Vatican was a church inside a prison. Robbie Coltrane was brilliant playing a priest made Pope by accident.
“But there was a horrid atmosphere in the air; the Serbs were about to go to war. On set we had some guns which were firing blanks in the film but I remember the prop man said that they would be used for real in a short while. It was all pretty chilling.
“The film itself loosely reflected some of what had been going on within the Vatican but it was very tongue in cheek. In America it did cause quite a fuss and they changed the name to The Pope must diet!”
And speaking of legal problems…I mention Peter’s first film for Channel 4!
“Oh yes. Five Go Mad in Dorset, which was shot in Devon. The press had been muttering about the dreadful things we had done to the Enid Blyton characters. So lawyers turned up in the Channel 4 studios, which were still being built, and we showed them the film.
“They started watching with steely eyed, expressionist faces but after a while they were laughing behind their legal papers and at the end, rolling on the floor. I would say rolling on the carpet but that hadn’t been fitted yet.
“It was all dropped.”
And the future? “I am working on a film about Brexit, nothing too controversial there. And am about to start a stage tour talking about my career. I am on at The Watermark in Ivybridge on 11 May, with you!”
Five facts about Richardson from the man himself
- I am a Devonian, honest, cream on first every time.
- If I had not become an actor/director I would have been a farmer. I can milk a cow.
- I became Jeff Beck’s manager for a day.
- I introduced Lemmy from Motorhead to Kate Bush…didn’t go well that!
- I was a lifeguard at a Devon swimming pool. Failed the swimming test but they still hired me as they were so short staffed.