Q&A

Ray Meagher, ac­tor, 74

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - Front Page - By Cathy Os­mond Pho­tog­ra­phy Steve Bac­con ◖ opens in Bris­bane on Sept 26; priscil­lath­e­mu­si­cal.com.au

You’ve played Alf Stewart on Home and Away for 30 years, an Aus­tralian TV record. When the pi­lot was picked up in 1988, what did you think would come of it? I re­mem­ber be­ing with Judy Nunn and Nor­man Coburn in re­hearsal and all of us think­ing, “We’ll prob­a­bly get three months’ work out of this be­fore it crashes and burns”. They were the feel­ings of the older, more cyn­i­cal ac­tors!

You were get­ting lots of work in TV and film; why sign up for a lit­tle soap? I’d just done the ABC minis­eries True Be­liev­ers and had three weeks free. I thought there was noth­ing to lose; most pi­lots never see the light of day any­way. When it went to se­ries I was asked to sign for two years and I said no. So they of­fered six months; a few months work­ing in Syd­ney, my home town, had a fair bit of ap­peal for a vagabond trav­el­ling ac­tor. Time flew and it was quite fun, and be­fore you know it…

You’ve made the ex­pres­sion “Stone the flamin’ crows!” fa­mous… Yes, that was mine. I grew up near Dir­ran­bandi in Queens­land, where there was a stock and sta­tion agent called Dick Back­house who man­aged to fit “stone the crows” at least once into ev­ery sen­tence he ut­tered. As a kid I thought he was a re­ally funny man, Mr Back­house. It stayed with me for life.

What was it like grow­ing up on a sheep and cattle sta­tion? My par­ents died when I was very young and my brother Col and his wife brought me up; I went to board­ing school at eight, soon af­ter mum died, and I’d go back in the hol­i­days. I loved the bush and I idolised Col; he taught me many things. The big one is: “Never, ever think you’re bet­ter than any­body else. But never think any other bas­tard is any bet­ter than you ei­ther.”

You played rugby for Queens­land in the late ’60s – how did that lead to act­ing? Some rugby guys were in a show at Bris­bane’s Twelfth Night Theatre; some­one pulled out, so they said, “Come on, you’re in.” I said, “What am I do­ing?” They said, “You’re a horse’s bum.” Af­ter that, it was a Brecht play…

Wait, your first role was lit­er­ally play­ing a horse’s arse? Yes, I was the rear end of a pan­tomime horse. I tell you what, peo­ple talked about that per­for­mance for years. In 2010 you won a Gold Lo­gie for most pop­u­lar per­son­al­ity in Aus­tralia. What did that mean to you? Shock, for a start. But it was nice; a num­ber of peo­ple must en­joy the work I do.

You haven’t had itchy feet? No, be­cause the pro­duc­ers are good about let­ting us do other stuff as long as we give them enough no­tice. Christ­mas pan­tomime pro­duc­ers in the UK would take us over there be­cause we put bums on seats. I did about 20 of those over the years and it was fan­tas­tic. More re­cently they al­lowed me out to do the Priscilla mu­si­cal.

Are you a celebrity in the UK? At the height of Home and Away’s suc­cess in the UK we had 18 mil­lion view­ers a day, so peo­ple know what you look like. Dur­ing Priscilla in Lon­don, ev­ery night I set foot on stage the whole au­di­ence would just go up, you know. And the other ac­tors are look­ing ev­ery­where to see what the fuss is about. That’s pretty hum­bling…

Are you stay­ing in Sum­mer Bay? I’ve just signed to stay for an­other three years. I travel up to the Palm Beach set at least once a week. The charm never wears off… on a lovely day you look around and think, “This is our of­fice. How lucky are we?” is on Seven, 7pm MonThur;

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