Nottingham Post, July 2010 "Cricketing actor back to open on home turf" by Andy Smart

Notts-born actor Michael Jayston returns to his home city next week to star in Quartet, at the Theatre Royal. He shared some favourite memories with Andy Smart...

HIS fame has come from the stage and screen but Michael Jayston's passion is cricket.

Before he established himself with starring roles in movies such as Nicholas and Alexandra, Cromwell and Zulu Dawn, the West Bridgford-born actor was making headlines for Gedling Colliery and Bestwood cricket clubs, in the days when he was a National Coal Board office worker.

He played a few games alongside an ageing hero named Bill Voce, one-time Notts and England fast bowling partner of Harold Larwood.

"I did a bit of both, although I was mainly a batsman," said the ex-Becket School pupil.

Although he is now close to his 75th birthday, the MCC, Lords Taverners and Sparks member added: "I still play, although I am more of a leg break bowler these days."

His most memorable performance came one Saturday afternoon nearly 60 years ago, with Gedling 2nds against Ericssons. "I scored a century and then they put me on to bowl and I took a hat-trick."

But cricket was never going to claim him professionally. By then, he had got the acting bug, cutting his teeth at the same Co-operative Arts Theatre that produced Peter Bowles and contemporaries John Bird and Ken Loach – with Su Pollard and Tom Baker to follow.

"They had a marvellous array of actors and I didn't really think I had a chance. But I was going to go to London and try my luck anyway. Then I won a scholarship to Guildhall School of Music and Drama."

Since then, he has rarely been out of work, switching between stage, TV and movies. Check out his website for the full, impressive list, which ranges from Emmerdale and Heartbeat to Jane Eyre.

"I prefer stage work because it is different every night, but it all depends on the script," he says. "If the script is good, then I don't really mind."

The latest script, Ronald Harwood's bitter-sweet comedy Quartet, is a challenge.

"It is diabolical to learn," he says. "There is a lot of repetition and adjectival sentences. The first week of the tour was a bit hairy but we are on top of it now."

He shares the billing with a distinguished company. Michael, Timothy West and Gwen Taylor play retired opera singers living in a rest home whose idyllic existence is upturned by the arrival of a legendary diva, played by Susan Hampshire.

"It doesn't have any action, just people reminiscing, but it has a lot of humour and a lot of heart."

Quartet opens at the Theatre Royal on Monday, which gives Michael the opportunity to tread familiar steps.

"I will certainly be going to Trent Bridge if there is a game on."

He is likely to call into one of his old haunts, the Trip to Jerusalem but, sadly, not his favourite Nottingham pub, the Flying Horse – now closed.

"I often play proper parts but off stage I tend to relax and a bit of Nottingham still comes out," he says, adding "ey up mi duck" to prove the point.

Quartet appears at the Theatre Royal from Monday to Saturday, July 24. For tickets, call the box office on 0115 989 5555.